Fate can be a strange thing. You never quite know exactly when, where or even in what form it will manifest itself. However, when the fickle finger does come along and tap you on the shoulder, it can lead you down paths that you may never even have contemplated treading. For world-renowned Aston Martin restoration expert John Goldsmith, his brush with fate happened in a small garage in Hursley in Hampshire during the summer of 1974.
The greatest irony is that, on that fateful day, Mr Goldsmith had no intention of driving home in an Aston Martin at all. It was in fact a V12 Jaguar E-Type that had initially caught his eye but, on his way to the viewing, a friend had suggested a last minute detour to take a look at a dismantled Aston Martin DB4 that was up for sale at a nearby garage. What awaited them was no ordinary DB4, but no less than a series V Vantage GT; one of only six such models ever produced. By the end of the day, all thoughts of the Jaguar had been forgotten and Mr Goldsmith had become the proud owner of a very rare breed of car indeed. That day, a life-long passion was sparked and the wheels of a fascinating story were set in motion.
Understandably, when we at Inside Lane were invited to experience for ourselves the driving force behind the story, we simply couldn’t refuse.
The patchwork rolling hills that surround the Goldsmith and Young workshop in the heart of leafy Wiltshire seem a very apt setting for a company dedicated to the care and restoration of such a quintessentially British icon. In 1976 John Goldsmith started restoring his DB4 under a London railway arch before moving to Mere and setting up shop in 1984. It was here where he prepared a Vantage GT for racing, the other four-wheeled passion in his life. As it turned out, this project would become the first of many and the hobby would be transformed in to a full-time business venture. Today, this small company built from modest foundations is not only surviving but thriving as one of the leading Aston Martin restoration and race preparation specialists in the world. As soon as you walk through the workshop doors, it is clear to see why.
It is difficult to comprehend just how many millions of pounds worth of car has passed through these doors over the years. Wandering through the garage and you can feel yourself being transported along Aston’s illustrious timeline, with examples from all eras on display. Take the DB2 for example, perhaps somewhat forgotten among classic car enthusiasts considering some of its more high profile descendants, but arguably the car that started it all. The second model of the company’s post-war era under the wing of British entrepreneur David Brown, the DB2 represented a very significant milestone for Aston Martin; the beginning of their partnership with Lagonda. The marriage of Aston Martin design with Lagonda’s advanced dual overhead cam 2.6 litre engine was fostered by Brown, fully aware of the latter’s merits over the less powerful four cylinder pushrod unit used in the DB1. This partnership would go on to form the bedrock of much of the brand’s future success, making the DB2 a real landmark in the Aston Martin Story. The example before us in the garage today is no more than a shell in the midst of a ground-up restoration. Even in this condition, the distinctive flowing, curvaceous architecture that would go on to characterise all Aston Martin models from the 50s to the early 70s is clear to see.
Venturing deeper in to the quiet hubbub of the workshop, we found ourselves teleported forward in time to a different chapter of Aston Martin’s history. Several superb examples of the iconic Aston Martin V8s of the 1970s and 80s, hailed as Britain’s first supercars, glimmered before us. The real variety of work carried out here by Goldsmith and Young was evident. A DBS V8 was up on jacks, painted in race livery and being readied for track competition whilst another V8 Vantage, fresh from its refit and particularly dazzling in olive green, was almost ready to hit the road. This car, we are told, was sourced from a garage in Nice where it had been tucked away for the best part of 14 years. Remarkably, besides four flat tyres, some well-worn trim and dusty paintwork, it was in relatively good shape mechanically when it arrived with Goldsmith and Young. The team set about recapturing the mighty 5.3 litre V8 Vantage’s full splendour and, from where we were standing as the last few blemishes were being studiously polished out, they have done a fine job. A similarly immaculate example from Italy, nestling under protective sheets, glistened in trademark Aston Martin tungsten silver. The business is virtually self-sufficient, with all specialist bodywork and mechanical work done in house. Only some interior trim work is carried out elsewhere. This is one of the key reasons that has helped earn the company an international reputation for quality restoration, testified by its global portfolio of clients from as far afield as Switzerland and Florida.
Moving away from the workshop itself, we are shown in to the stable of Mr Goldsmith’s personal racing thoroughbreds. The era-hopping continues here as we are greeted by a 2006 FIA spec racing V8 Vantage along with its even more fascinating DB6 neighbour. This, we learn, is Mr Goldsmith’s weapon of choice when it comes to classic car racing. Tuned and modified above and beyond FIA standards, thus making it ineligible for many racing series, this DB6 is fitted with a 400bhp engine as well as competition shocks and springs besides other refinements. We are told that this classic will hold its own on the track even against its contemporary stable mate, as long as you allow for the more exuberant handling style that modern-day traction control and brakes keep in check. Another DB6 is currently being readied for its latest challenge, the prestigious 2016 Peking to Paris Rally, a competition which John Goldsmith is already familiar with having taken part in the inaugural 1997 edition.
The final stop on the tour is an incredible homage to all things Volante, the byword for Aston Martin convertibles. In this room, decades worth of Aston Martin dropheads are assembled shoulder to shoulder in predictably pristine condition. Mr Goldsmith points us in the direction of two particular gems. The first of these is a DB6 “Short Chassis” Volante, one of only 37 of its type. This rare beast is essentially a hybrid, based upon the factory’s remaining stock of DB5 chassis but fitted with tell-tale DB6 cosmetic refinements such as the split front and rear bumpers and triumph TR4 taillights. What was effectively a hotchpotch of spare parts has now become one of the scarcest and most desirable Astons of all. However, the real pride and joy of the Volante collection is something even more remarkable. Of the 37 short chassis models ever produced, three were built with the more powerful Vantage engine on-board. Sat gleaming in front of our very eyes was one of that elite club. The rarest of the rare, a car that carries more value in its wing mirror than most of the vehicles you encounter day-to-day.
So, all in all, not your average day at the Inside Lane office! However, there was one last spectacular treat in store for us before we bid farewell to this classic car nirvana and returned to the every-day world of motoring reality. Purring its way in to the yard, our eyes lit up with a childlike glee at the sheer magnificence of the DB4 GT Zagato approaching us. In the exact mould of the original batch of 19 smaller, lightweight and more aerodynamic DB4 GTs that rolled of the off the handmade production line at the famous Italian design house, this Zagato has been painstakingly built from the ground up my Mr Goldsmith and his team. Starting with just the bare bones of a DB4 GT chassis, over 2000 hours of tireless work have been dedicated to the recreation of every last detail to bring the legend life. Unsurprisingly, the man himself rates this project as his proudest achievement and it doesn’t take an expert eye to appreciate the beauty and splendour that radiates from what is arguably the ultimate Aston Martin. In the words of John Goldsmith himself, this is no replica but a recreation of the great Zagato. He sees himself as recreating the work of the Italian mechanics that first brought this icon in to being. It is a task in which he has taken immeasurable pride.
There is something rather special about classic cars. Naturally, we didn’t get to sit behind the wheel of any of the priceless examples on display today. Nevertheless, you don’t necessarily have to drive one to get a sense of being transported back to a more idyllic and serene era of motoring. As with today’s visit, just seeing these wonderful cars in the flesh is often enough.
Fate is indeed a strange thing. Without it, John Goldsmith may never have crossed paths with that broken up old DB4 and subsequently caught the bug for all things Aston Martin. Without that driving force, the thriving, world-renowned business that we see today and the jaw-dropping collection of cars assembled alongside it, would be just a figment of our imagination. We reckon that fate deserves a rather large pat on the back…