ME & MY AS­TON

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS PETER TO­MA­LIN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TIM AN­DREW

Michael Pye has owned his DB6 from new and tells us he’d never part with it

Michael Pye bought his DB6 Van­tage new in 1966, and he’s still driv­ing it more than 50 years later. This is their re­mark­able story

Ac­cord­ing to the As­ton Martin Own­ers Club’s records, Michael Pye tells me, only three DB6S are still in the hands of their orig­i­nal own­ers. ‘There’s one bloke in Ja­pan who’s got four or five As­tons; there’s Prince Charles, God bless him – the fa­mous Mk2 Volante – and there’s me…’

Michael bought the car you see here in Novem­ber 1966, and the story of how he came to buy it is well worth telling. At the time he’d been in­valided out of the Navy and was work­ing for the fam­ily road trans­port busi­ness. The Pye group was a ma­jor player – at its peak it had 657 ve­hi­cles and 308 trail­ers and de­pots all over the UK – and Michael, hav­ing trained as an en­gi­neer, was given the job of run­ning the engi­neer­ing de­part­ment at the ten­der age of 26. The year was 1958 and it meant tak­ing over the run­ning of the Lon­don works. ’When I look back on it now, it scares me stiff!’ he laughs. ‘But it didn’t scare me then. The con­fi­dence of youth…’

He must have done some­thing right, be­cause he ran the de­part­ment for 14 years. He was also able to in­dulge his pas­sion for fast mo­tor cars. By the early ’60s he’d man­aged to bag a Jaguar XK150S as a com­pany car, but when he spent a year in South Africa his fa­ther sold the Jag and when he re­turned the com­pany was un­der new own­er­ship and his new com­pany car was a Vaux­hall. ‘I didn’t think very much of that,’ he gri­maces. By the au­tumn of 1966 he was on the look­out for some­thing rather more in­ter­est­ing.

At the time he was rent­ing a flat in Sloane Av­enue. ‘If you walk up to­wards Bromp­ton Road, op­po­site the Miche­lin build­ing was the Knights­bridge show­room of the Ea­ton Mo­tor Group, which was an As­ton agent at the time. ‘It was a Satur­day morn­ing, un­usu­ally for me I wasn’t at the of­fice that day, and I wan­dered into the show­room. They had three As­tons in there and I got chat­ting to the sales­man and he asked me if I was in­ter­ested in buy­ing one, and I said I might be.

‘The thing was, As­ton was go­ing through a sticky patch, and he asked me if I’d like to go down to Slough to have a look at their stock. So they took me down the next week, and I walked into the ware­house at the back of the show­room. There were quite a few As­tons, but I saw the DB6 and that was it… love at first sight.

‘They also had three DB5S still in stock and they of­fered me the choice of any of them for £2500 in­clud­ing tax.’ That was a se­ri­ous bar­gain – the list price was over £4000 at the time – and he must have been tempted.

‘Not for a mo­ment,’ he says. ‘I was a young man and you al­ways want the cur­rent model. The DB5 was last year’s model! Also I liked the tail end of the DB6, the Kamm tail.

‘The DB6 was about £5000 but I got it for £4500. It was a lot of money, but my fa­ther had given me £2000 think­ing I was go­ing to re­place the XK with an E-type. But I’d also saved some money, and putting that to­gether was enough to buy the DB6! I took de­liv­ery at the show­room. I don’t re­mem­ber much about that day, but I did very much like the As­ton.’

I love the details on the fac­tory build sheet. The tyres were Avon Turbo Speed GT, the paint­work Good­wood Green – the colour it still wears to­day, though it has been re­sprayed – the Con­nolly Vau­mol leather be­ing de­scribed as Nat­u­ral. Among the ‘par­tic­u­lars of non-stan­dard equip­ment’ were the Van­tage en­gine, chrome wire wheels, three-ear ‘spin­ners’, elec­tric aerial and – my favourite – seven pints of an­tifreeze. Well, it was ap­proach­ing win­ter.

TIME TO WAKE THE DB6. We leave the house and walk across the court­yard to a gen­er­ously sized wood-framed garage. Among the cars the As­ton shares space with is a very dash­ing 1964 Sun­beam Rapier be­long­ing to Michael’s wife, Rose­mary. She’s also owned it from new. ‘We don’t like change,’ chuck­les Michael.

To­gether they own seven cars. ‘When we were look­ing for a house, peo­ple said we should be look­ing for a garage that hap­pened to have ac­com­mo­da­tion,’ says Rose­mary. They’ve been in their rather lovely, cen­turies-old Som­er­set home for 15 years now, and you can see why they fell for it. There’s plenty of space for the cars.

Michael’s other great love is his Jensen In­ter­cep­tor. ‘I’m 84 now, and as you get older, power steer­ing, air-con­di­tion­ing and an au­to­matic be­come more at­trac­tive! The As­ton takes more ef­fort – man­ual gear­box, no power steer­ing – but then it’s a driver’s car.’

Among their other cars is a mod­ern MG3 hatch­back, which serves as ev­ery­day trans­port. ‘It’s taken a while to get ac­quainted with it, it’s so com­pli­cated, all the sys­tems,’ says Michael. ‘I’ve rid­den and driven ev­ery­thing from a 125cc Bs­a­ban­tam to a 32-ton­gross ar­tic, and that MG3 is more com­pli­cated than any­thing. It’s “do this, do that” and I say I’ll do what I bloody well want!’

The As­ton is re­served for high days and hol­i­days: over the years it has taken them on a num­ber of Euro­pean tours, with Rose­mary act­ing as nav­i­ga­tor – France, Spain, Por­tu­gal, Monaco, Italy, Switzer­land, Licht­en­stein, all over.

‘Best of the lot was the Mil­len­nium Tour or­gan­ised by Euro­pean Ral­lies and the Own­ers Club,’ says Michael. ‘We as­sem­bled at Mâ­con, ev­ery­one com­ing from all over Europe, the States and other places, then down through Avi­gnon and from there to Monte Carlo. One hun­dred and thirty two As­tons in Monaco. Marvel­lous. Then back to Gs­taad be­fore ev­ery­body dis­persed.’

‘Michael’s love affair has hardly dimmed since the first time he saw the DB6’

Sharing a garage with sev­eral other cars means it hasn’t cov­ered a huge mileage. It was also off the road for a few years in the late’80s. The odome­ter is cur­rently show­ing 62,500, and these days it’s mostly brought out for char­ity events – and the odd pho­to­shoot.

Af­ter a bit of churn­ing, the 4-litre straight-six fires, the ex­hausts send­ing plumes of vapour into the early morn­ing air. Af­ter a bit of cough­ing and splut­ter­ing on its triple We­bers, it set­tles to a gen­tle idle, Michael closes the door and eases it out of the garage. As the tail emerges, I no­tice the per­son­alised plate. The car was orig­i­nally reg­is­tered EBY 6D, Michael tells me. It was his fa­ther, John Pye, who came across the PYE 777 reg­is­tra­tion purely by chance and in 1968 gifted it to his son. The As­ton has worn it ever since.

Michael has a ‘cir­cuit’ of lo­cal roads that he likes to use to ex­er­cise the cars, and that’s where we head now. From my van­tage point, driv­ing the cam­era car for pho­tog­ra­pher Tim An­drew, the DB6 looks su­perb. The light plays on its wings, glints on the chrome and catches that up­turned tail – a con­tro­ver­sial fea­ture when the car was in­tro­duced and one that caused David Brown much con­cern that it would of­fend his tra­di­tional cus­tomer base. Now, of course, it’s the DB6’S sig­na­ture. When we stop, it’s clear Michael’s love affair has hardly dimmed since the first time he saw the DB6 al­most 51 years ago. ‘For me it’s the most el­e­gant of all the As­tons,’ he says.

Over lunch at a lo­cal pub, Michael tells me about some of his other As­ton ad­ven­tures, in­clud­ing be­ing at Le Mans to wit­ness the fa­mous vic­tory by the DBR1. ‘My fa­ther was friendly with Earl Howe, who rep­re­sented the RAC on the Au­to­mo­bile Club de l’ouest, and men­tioned that I was go­ing to Le Mans that year and Earl Howe said he’d ar­range some pit passes. Talk about jam on it. My friend Tony Long and I went down in my MGA and we had these passes so we were able to see it all from above the pits, the start, ev­ery­thing. Moss, Sal­vadori… I get quite choked think­ing about it. I was there at Good­wood, too, when they won the TT and set Sal­vadori’s car on fire!

‘I’ve been to Le Mans a few times – we went again in 1968 in the DB6 and touched 120mph on the Mul­sanne straight – but noth­ing could top 1959. In 1968 we also drove down to watch the Monaco

Grand Prix. Tony Hill, who was comps man­ager at Cas­trol, of­fered us some tick­ets, and a friend in ad­ver­tis­ing who had the Yard­ley ac­count man­aged to find us rooms at the Metropole.

‘I al­ways keep a fuel log with all my cars. On that trip we did 3000 miles and av­er­aged 22mpg, which was pretty damn good. When we got there and parked, the DB6 was the only car in the car park. When we came down next morn­ing, it was sur­rounded by all these Fer­raris and Maser­atis. And we watched Gra­ham Hill win, God bless him.’

Driv­ing a DB6 to Monaco in the late ’60s. I am hon­estly struggling to think of any­thing cooler than that. And to still have that car with all those me­mories half a cen­tury later… sim­ply price­less.

MICHAEL’S DB6 is as won­der­fully orig­i­nal as you’d hope – in­side, the leather, car­pets, head­lin­ing, all of it un­touched, and the orig­i­nal Pye ra­dio (no re­la­tion) – but it’s also very per­sonal to its own­ers in a way only a car un­der long own­er­ship can be, with plaques from the var­i­ous ral­lies and tours they’ve taken part in over the years. Michael points to one in par­tic­u­lar. ‘The Royal Wind­sor St Ge­orge’s Day Fes­ti­val of As­ton Martins, April 2005,’ reads the in­scrip­tion.

‘It was part of the AMOC’S 70th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions,’ Michael ex­plains, ‘and a whole load of us pa­raded in front of the Queen and Prince Philip at Wind­sor Cas­tle. Quite some­thing.’

The only ma­jor work it’s had has been a re­paint. ‘It was suf­fer­ing with mi­cro-blis­ter­ing of the paint­work,’ says Michael. ‘A lot of them do. So in 1993 I took it to Wren Clas­sics down at Shaftes­bury and it was com­pletely stripped and re­painted.

‘It was only then I found out it was Good­wood Green,’ he laughs. ‘I’d al­ways thought it was Bri­tish Rac­ing Green!’ He’s since ac­quired the copy of the orig­i­nal build sheet, which con­firms it.

Me­chan­i­cally, too, it’s just as it left New­port Pag­nell. ‘When the car went to Wren Clas­sics for the re­paint they thought they ought to have a look at the en­gine. There’s an in­ter­est­ing story there. When Wren started, in around 1990, they re­cruited a chap called Ron Washer from As­ton Ser­vice Dorset. Ron had pre­vi­ously worked at the fac­tory, and when he saw the car he said: “I built that en­gine.”

‘He recog­nised the en­gine num­ber, and he found the mark he’d put on the in­side of the tap­pet cov­ers – in more re­cent times they put a plaque on the en­gine to say who built it, but that’s what they did then. Any­way, the en­gine didn’t need any ma­jor work, but then at that time it had only done 50-odd thou­sand miles.’

These days he splits the driv­ing with son David, who shares his fa­ther’s deep af­fec­tion for the car, but then they bonded at a very early age. When David was born in Au­gust 1970, the proud dad col­lected mother and baby from hospi­tal in – what else? – the DB6. And when David mar­ried, the DB6 was there again.

So David will one day in­herit the As­ton, and Michael hopes that he in turn will pass it down to his son, James. ‘He’s only two and a half, but when we start the As­ton he stands by the garage and jumps up and down. He loves it!’

This is a story, you feel, that will run and run. Michael plays down his own role. ‘I just sat on my back­side and the car got older!’ he chuck­les. ‘But it’s not about me. The car’s the star here.’

V

Be­low and right Michael Pye and the DB6 that he’s owned for more than half a cen­tury. Nei­ther the en­gine nor the in­te­rior have ever been re­fur­bished

Above and left On Michael’s lo­cal road cir­cuit through the Som­er­set coun­try­side; Van­tage en­gine, and copy of the orig­i­nal build sheet

Above Michael and Rose­mary with the DB6 in the grounds of their Som­er­set home. It’s the one car, says Michael, that they would never sell

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