'This One Came All the Way From America'
By: Brad Nevin | Ford Communications Network
The Queen (left) and The Duke of Edinburgh (right) stand with Ian MacGregor as Peter Heydon drives by in his 1958 Aston Martin DB Mark III during The Royal Windsor St. George's Day Festival of Aston Martin. Learn more about today's Aston Martin lineup at astonmartin.com.
DEARBORN, -- It was a typical English rainy day, and the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were standing in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle. An impeccable 1958 Aston Martin DB Mark III drove by, and Ian MacGregor leaned over to the Queen and said, "And this one came all the way from America."
MacGregor was one of the organizers of the event taking place before the Queen and Duke that day, the Royal Windsor St. George's Day Festival of Aston Martin. Over 10,000 people had gathered for a parade of cars from the Aston Martin Owner's Club (AMOC), which had gathered in England for its 70th anniversary.
The DB Mark III that caught the attention of the Queen was driven by Peter Heydon of Ann Arbor, Mich. It was the only car from America at the AMOC event. Other Aston Martins on hand included DB2s, 5s and 6s, a 1935 Lagonda, some DB7s, GTs and Zagatos. A highlight came when Aston Martin CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez drove by in one of the first V8 Vantage production models. It took an hour for about 300 Aston Martins to drive past Her Majesty with rain drizzling down the entire time.
The Aston Martin DB5 gained infamy when James Bond drove it in the 1964 film Goldfinger, despite the fact that the car Bond drove in the 1959 novel was a DB Mark III.
Ask him about his own model, and Heydon is quick to point out that the DB Mark III is in fact the car James Bond drove in Ian Flemming's 1959 novel Goldfinger. The DB5 only gained infamy after the 1964 movie version of Goldfinger. This is because when the book was written, the DB Mark III was the Aston Martin du jour; the DB5 was the available model when the movie was produced a few years later.
From the book, Goldfinger: "The car was from the pool. Bond had been offered the Aston Martin or a Jaguar 3.4 He had taken the DB III. Either of the cars would have suited his cover -- a well-to-do, rather adventurous young man with a taste for the good, fast things of life. But the DB III had the advantage of an up-to-date triptyque, an inconspicuous colour -- battleship grey -- and certain extras which might or might not come in handy."
The Aston Martin DB Mark III was built from March 1957 until July 1959. The "Mark" designation was used to differentiate the car from the DB3, which was solely a racer. The Mark III was one of the first production cars with front disc brakes, and it had significant engine improvements over previous Astons. A total of 551 were built, all with a 162-hp in-line six-cylinder engine and a four-speed manual gearbox. Some were equipped with an electric overdrive unit. When the DB Mark III arrived in 1957, it was available in several different specifications, but the higher-spec engines (with up to 214 hp) were known as "Special Series" engines rather "Vantages." When new, the Aston Martin DB Mark III cost $6,995.
While the relationship with his Aston Martin isn't nearly as famous as Bond's, Heydon's experience with his Mark III runs deep. About 10 years ago, Heydon, a retired English professor from the University of Michigan who is now a private investor and philanthropist, decided he wanted a DB Mark III. To get leads on a good one, he joined the AMOC.
To find a suitable model, Heydon turned to his friend, Walter Hayes, the previous chairman of Aston Martin, Henry Ford II's biographer, and Ford's executive assistant. Hayes also advised Ford to purchase Aston Martin in 1987 to take advantage of the esteemed brand's styling and engineering expertise.
After looking at a half dozen models, Heydon found a car he liked in Exmouth, Devon. The car needed work, so he brought it to Aston Martin's Tickford Street Works in Newport-Pagnell for a complete restoration. The Mark III arrived "in the back of a truck with many of the parts in carrier bags, wicker baskets, cardboard boxes and plastic bin-liners," according to a post-work summary from the shop. Heydon estimates that he had about 95 percent of the original parts.
"Restorations of this magnitude take time, but even this car represented the longest and most challenging resurrection in Aston Martin history," wrote Tony Swan in a story about Heydon and his car in the Chicago Tribune.
It took two and a half years and 4,000 hours to finish the work.
"The car is as perfect now as it was when originally manufactured," said Heydon. "What we did when we restored it was bring the car right back to the original condition it was in when new. It has all the pleasures of a 1958 sports car. It has a wonderful, delicious sound and fabulous ability to corner and go fast. I just love it."
Experts have taken notice of the car, too.
"Peter's Aston Martin is probably the best in the world," said Larry Crane, editor of Automobile Aficionado Magazine.
An unexpected twist in the restoration came after most of the work was complete when Heydon and his wife realized their car didn't have safety belts. They wanted their car to be safe, so they took the car back to the Aston Martin shop had them installed.
"In order to attach shoulder harness to the frame, they had to tear up the brand new upholstery to weld the seatbelt bolts to the frame of the car," said Heydon. "They're modern, new seatbelts that work great and are comfortable, but we had to tear up the restored interior to get them."
Heydon said the headlights are typical of a 1950s car, too -- which is to say, dim.
"We put a spotlight on it that casts a light way down the road. We found the light in a Bentley dealership in England. It's an entirely appropriate accessory to fit. Getting it restored this way is part of the fun. The same people who worked on my car have just completed Paul McCartney's car, which is on view at the new Aston Martin factory in Gaydon."
After the car's restoration, Heydon and his wife Rita drove the Mark III through France and Britian in 1999 and again in 2000. The car was invited to the Pebble Beach Concours in 2003, but Heydon couldn't make it due to business commitments. It has won first place at the "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" annual meeting (a group of English car enthusiasts in Michigan) for two years running. Heydon's Mark III is going to be on display at the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance in Rochester Hills, Mich., again this year.
Today, Heydon drives his DB Mark III at least once a month.
"It's refreshing that the affable Heydon, unlike many denizens of the concours car circuit, doesn't treat his cars like hothouse plants," said Swan.
"When I drive this car down Main Street in Ann Arbor, one out of 10 people will give a thumbs up," said Heydon. "That's almost as good as having the Queen herself admire it."
After two and a half years and 4,000 hours of work, Peter Heydon's 1958 Aston Martin DB Mark III is suitable for James Bond himself.