At Your Service - The Aston Workshop
Established in a quiet corner of County Durham during the late 80s, The Aston Workshop has grown to become a world renowned specialist sales, servicing and restoration centre. Living North was invited to take a tour of the state-of-the-art facilities
As I’m led round the impressive 27,000 sq ft facility by Managing Director Clive Dickinson, he explains that the workshop was established by local Aston enthusiast Bob Fountain who today still remains the company’s sole proprietor. After completing his own restoration of a classic Aston in 1988 he sold it on and used the profit to establish the workshop, and through a combination of superb craftsmanship, quality of service, passion for the brand and word-of-mouth, he and his team have built the company to be the thriving motor business that it is today. You might think it unusual that Bob choose to set up shop slightly off the beaten track here amongst the rolling hills of County Durham, but Beamish is located just off the A1, a mere 15 minutes from the centre of Newcastle and the winding country roads are the perfect playground for car enthusiasts to open out their four-wheeled pride and joy. Walking around the showroom we pass between everything from a 1950s DB2 to a 2005 Vanquish loaded with spec, but my eyes are drawn to a stunning baby blue DB6 Vantage Volante Mk II. Only 12 were ever made, one of which is owned by Prince Charles and was pinched by Prince William last year when he took his new bride for a spin down the Mall after the Royal Wedding.
Leaving the showroom Clive takes me through to the business end of the Workshop, the service centre. Aston Workshop have been awarded Authorised Service Centre status by Aston Martin which means every car that passes through the facility will be in experienced hands. A team of 40, comprising mechanics, technicians, metalworkers and finishers, breathe new life into Astons old and new. They kit classics out with the benefits of modern technology: new steering, gears and other features are installed but hidden from view, ensuring the integrity of the original design. Meanwhile modern incarnations of the classic brand are given equal measures of TLC to keep them in tip-top condition too.
In the service reception the plush black carpet, mounted flat screen television and glass cabinets of Aston memorabilia are a class above what you might encounter if you took your Aston to a standard dealership for a service or one-off repair, and this level of quality is reflected behind the scenes through the care and attention shown by the workshop’s expert engineers and technicians, who are trusted to maintain and restore Aston Martins of all shapes, sizes, eras and prices! Indeed, some of the Astons I see in the showroom and service bays carry individual price tags of up to half a million pounds.
Once you’ve left the keys to your Aston at the service reception it would be rude not to pop your head into the showroom where you’re more than welcome to browse the collection of 30-40 cars that are regularly on display. Aston owners bringing their vehicles to the service centre for the first time are presented with a complimentary £50 voucher to redeem at the The Black Horse, an excellent gastro pub located on the same site which boasts a spacious beer garden and panoramic views of the surrounding scenery. Inside the traditional pub you’ll find a restaurant that strives for the same high standards of the workshop and serves excellent food made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. By establishing a quality pub-restaurant on the same site as his Aston facility, Bob Fountain has turned the once lamentable task of taking your car in for service or repair into a memorable day out in the countryside! Clive tells me that if a customer’s schedule prevents them from bringing their Aston into the workshop themselves, they offer a complimentary collection and delivery service within a certain locality.
As well as being one of only three companies worldwide to be ‘Aston Martin Authorised’ outside the dealer network, the workshop is also an approved Category A Repair Centre meaning that should the worst happen, the workshop can help, and when they say ‘the worst’ they mean ‘the worst’. ‘We’ll take on any repair project,’ explains Clive, who knows that the restoration expertise of the team on site is capable of breathing life back into even written-off vehicles and he’s confident they can turn them around to run better than they did before. Accidents do happen – even to cherished Aston Martins – but thanks to the Category A repair status at Aston Workshop the team are approved to carry out any level of repair on any model. Looking around the repair centre Clive points out an Aston Martin sitting on a state-of-the-art jig which is designed to measure to the millimetre whether or not a chassis has been misshapen as a result of a bump. Using this equipment the skilled repair technicians can reset the chassis to the correct shape, making it as good as new. It’s vital to get things right when it comes to repairing crashed cars. A badly repaired car can have serious implications on value, particularly Aston Martins, and handing your car over to the experts in the workshop here represents the best chance of having it returned in pristine condition.
All Aston Martins are hand built and as a result restorations can be tricky propositions. The idyllic thought of unearthing an Aston Martin ‘barn-find’ and lovingly restoring it to its former glory can often be stressful and not always as straightforward as you anticipate. The best and most cost-effective results are achieved when the owner and professional restorer work hand-in-hand to meet individual specifications and standards. Sometimes it’s better to just let the experts do what they do best and here they offer a restoration service that will take you through each stage of the process, from strip and assessment to reconstruction and assembly, culminating in the final commissioning and road test, all designed to leave you with the highest quality end product and return a classic Aston to its rightful position as ‘King of the Road’. Clive leads me into the ‘clean’ engine building facility which looks more like an intensive care unit than a car workshop. Here Aston engines are completely refurbished and built to run better than they ever have done thanks to the skills and experience of the mechanics on hand. With the most modern materials and manufacturing processes available here, Astons that pass through the workshop are often better finished, perform better and are more protected from corrosion and time related deterioration than when they first left the factory.
As we finish our tour of this factory in the heart of the Beamish conservation valley I think I’ve seen just about every model of Aston Martin ever built, from pre-war DB1s to modern incarnations of the famous brand that have just rolled off the production line. As well as Astons you might notice a few Morgans in the showroom, after the Aston Workshop teamed up with Macdonald Racing last year to launch Beamish Morgan Ltd – the only Morgan car dealer in the North of England. To celebrate the partnership the newly formed company launched a carefully modernised version of the famous Morgan 3-wheeler, which prior to the launch had not been in production since the 1930s. Essentially a fun car, the Beamish is designed to be enjoyed at the weekends rather than for dropping the kids off at school. Safer than a Harley Davidson, more affordable yet no less exciting than other classic models, it’s just what retirement funds were made for. The partnership also means that Morgan customers can now benefit from the world class facilities and expertise on site here in Beamish.
Clive explains that they have also launched Aston Workshop Asia, a subsiduary of the business in Hong Kong where classic Astons stir up great interest. The aim is to eventually open a workshop and sales outlet in Asia where they already have a lot of customers who export their cars to Beamish to be worked on. The hope is they can tap into another potentially lucrative market and continue to build the brand further, and long term form a viable workshop equivalent to that in Beamish. Aside from the nostalgic appeal of vintage Aston Martins something that has not gone unnoticed in Asia is the fact their rarity has made them very reliable investment propositions, in contrast to the volatile financial markets of recent times.
Some of the finest Aston Martins from around the world have been sent to this quiet corner of the North East to be looked after by the experts, and if you really care about your Aston, you’ll do the same.
Aston Workshop, Red Row, Beamish County Durham DH9 0RW 01207 233525 www.aston.co.uk