ME & MY ASTON
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.’
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