“Were you born in a barn?” was a question irritated adults used to ask during our childhood, if we left a door open and the cold came inside. The question probably didn’t have a specific barn in mind: certainly not the barn you find 200 yards down a turning, near the war memorial, in the small Oxfordshire village of Drayton St Leonard. This barn – as we discovered on a snowy March afternoon – is the custodian of one of the greatest motoring marques of them all.
The barn itself has been there for half a millennium; the monks of Dorchester Abbey built it. Since its restoration, almost twenty years ago, it has housed the Aston Martin Owners Club and an associated museum of cars, trophies and artefacts. Aston Martin was the inspiration, just over a century ago, of Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin, who decided to make their own cars and won a hill climb race near Aston Clinton, just over the border in Buckinghamshire, hence Aston Martin. Who knows whether a firm called Bamford Martin would have become so famous? Over the years, the company has moved around – and went bankrupt seven times. Its greatest breakthrough arguably came in the 1950s when the DB range began to race at Le Mans and, unforgettably, when James Bond drove a DB5 onto cinema screens in Goldfinger in 1964. (There’s a parallel here with the exploits of the Mini at Monte Carlo and on screen in The Italian Job.)
Now, with the Aston Martin brand firmly associated with luxury cars, you can get up close to some of its history here. There’s the A3, the oldest Aston Martin in existence, dating back to 1921 and as charming a piece of heritage as you could find. Or you can sit in a Vanquish Volante, a recent joint venture with Red Bull. Just to give a bit of Top Gear madness to the idea, there’s a video of Daniel Riccardo racing his fellow F1 drivers around the track in Austria… while towing a caravan. Collectors of toy cars will find countless examples of model Aston Martins, and there are various racing overalls, trophies and other items – careful you don’t trip over the engine sitting, top-heavy, at one end of the museum.
There is an explanation of how Sean Connery ended up driving a DB5, complete with ejector seat, machine guns and revolving number plates, but you won’t find the car itself – not a full-scale version, anyway – or 007. As Bond tends to cause havoc wherever he goes, perhaps it’s just as well for the barn and everything inside that he isn’t here. We like to imagine that, before things got nasty, he might have taken Goldfinger for a spin in his pride and joy.
“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr Bond. I expect you to drive…”