Thursday, 27 October 2016

A visit to the Aston Martin museum

Sometimes, one stumbles on places of interest to the James Bond fan quite unexpectedly. A few weeks ago I was driving through the south Oxfordshire countryside – actually on a tour with fellow Bond aficionado Tom Cull (who runs the brilliant Artistic Licence Renewed website) of Ian Fleming's childhood homes – when we saw a brown road sign for the Aston Martin museum. I hadn't noticed that sign before (I was to learn that it had only been put up in February this year) and in fact hadn't been aware of the museum's existence. Unfortunately, the museum was closed that day, but this week I had the chance to pay a visit.

The museum, run by the Aston Martin Heritage Trust, is located in the small village of Drayton St Leonard, near Wallingford. No wonder I didn't know the museum existed. Even following the brown sign and driving through the village, it's not exactly easy to find. I felt as though I was on a mission worthy of Bond as I had to stop a couple of times to consult the directions on the website (the sat nav will only get you so far). And to add to the Bondian air, Chinooks, presumably from nearby RAF Benson, were flying low overhead.

I eventually found the museum, which is housed in a magnificent medieval barn (itself worth the admission fee) built for the monks of Dorchester Abbey. The museum is small – the building shares its space with the offices and archive of the Aston Martin Owners Club – but what wonderful things it contains.

 
Inside the Aston Martin museum
The cars change from time to time, and I was lucky enough to see (double oh) seven of them. These included a 1972 Aston Martin DBS, a prototype of the Vanquish (the model that appeared in Die Another Day in 2001), the Nimrod/Aston Martin racing car, the NRA/C2 004, which tore around Le Mans in 1982, and a full-scale ceramic and plastic model of the exclusive Aston Martin One-77, of which just 77 were built in 2008 and 2009.

There were more treasures around the edges of the barn. Display cases of trophies, medals and flags spoke of Aston Martin's many successes on the race track. Another case celebrated its drivers, among them the legendary Sir Stirling Moss (who takes his place in Bond lore as a character in one of Ian Fleming's unused television series treatments ('Murder on Wheels') and the basis of Lancy Smith in Anthony Horowitz's Trigger Mortis (2015)). Seeing the helmet and overalls worn by Stirling Moss during his time driving for Aston Martin was a thrill.

 
A helmet worn by Stirling Moss
No collection of Aston Martin memorabilia is complete without reference to James Bond, and naturally part of a display case was devoted to toy cars, models and other representations of Bond's cars.

 
The James Bond display
The museum staff were helpful and friendly, and I was privileged to be given something of a guided tour by one member of the trust, with whom I had an enjoyable discussion about cars and Bond and other things beside.

Like the cars themselves, the museum isn't large inside, but it's very well put together and endlessly fascinating. It's a must-see for any Bond fan.

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