QOTW #81 – Special interview with Aston1936

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Welcome to BamfordRose and another question of the week. This week I have a chat with Steve over Aston 1936. Aston 1936 website and YouTube channel is a great resource for Aston owners over in the states. In the coming weeks, Steve and I hope to have a few more chats, so I hope you enjoy this one and check back soon for more content with Steve over Aston 1936.

Steve: Hi mike! Thanks for joining us.

Mike: No problem!

Steve: Let me start. I’m just going to jump right in and I wanted to ask you a little bit about your history with Aston Martin. You’ve let it slip in a couple of your videos that I’ve watched that you used to work for Aston, so I was wondering if you could tell us what did you actually do at Aston Martin?

Mike: Yeah! I was a performance development and calibration engineer on Aston Martin V8 and V12 engines. I originally started my career for Rover group, which turned into being merged with BMW, before BMW sank it down the toilet. For rover, I was performance development engineer, drivability calibration engineer on over 200, 400, 600, 800 MGF, a little bit on Range Rover Freelander and then for a considerable period of time on New Mini. So, this would have been the Mini that came out in 2000 in that naturally aspirated and supercharged form.

Then when that project was finished, I started Aston in 2002 and worked there until 2010-11, and did all of the performance development and drivability calibration on 4.3 V8, 4.7 DB9 which turned into V12 Vantage DBS. Before I left, I did a lot of research work on a prototype 565 V12 motor, which was in the new Vanquish and then V12VS. When I started there, we were just finishing off DB7GT and did a little bit on Vanquish S. So, fortunately, I’ve worked on all those projects in quite a short space of time.

Steve: Wow! That is a lot of interesting topics. I have a MINI Cooper S. I’ve got the supercharged version of something you’ve worked on and as most of my viewers know, I’ve got a V12, so I’m driving around in a lot of your work already. Thank you for doing that. Are you an engineer by schooling or how did you fall into the job at Aston?

Mike: At Aston, it was essentially head hunted. But that was because the management team that were putting together Aston’s powertrain team, sort of stemmed from Rover. Sort of in their heyday, sort of late 80s-90s, Rover was a huge empire and employed many thousands of people. So, when Rover sort of disbanded, the management team went to the four corners of the Aston’s globe and you can find, still today, quite a few of those people in very senior positions at a lot of car companies. So, where it all started at Rover was Rover apprenticeship, engineering apprenticeship.

I remember being 16 and going into a hall where about 50 other lads were doing a whole sort of test day and there were lots of different question papers on mechanical principles and English and Maths and a lot of stuff like that probably took about four hours. The personnel guy, after the day was finished, said well, okay, we’re going to probably take on about 10 apprentices from this intake and if you hear something from us within two weeks then that’s good news, if you don’t hear from us within two weeks take that as a “Dear John”.

Apart from four people that I’d like to stay behind now and it was my name that got read out and I thought, oh! This is going to be some guy telling me come on, you’re just having a joke. You need to not apply for this sort of job. But anyway, everyone went and the guy said to us, all right! There’ll be a follow-up second interview for other people whilst they go through the employment process but you four will give an engineering apprenticeship immediately. So, I was pretty surprised about that.

Steve: That’s terrific!

Mike: In my interviews, I thought I’d probably fluffed it in my interviews because they’re asking the normal questions, what do you want to do in the car industry? And I said, look! … Because I knew it was pretty common for apprentices to go in every single department, crash, brake, suspension and everything like that. And I said, I’m not interested in that. I’m only interested in engines, so employ me if you’re going to put me into the engine section, if you’re not, don’t bother, because that’s what I want to do.

At that age 16, I was taking apartment motorbikes and putting them back together and making them go faster without really knowing what I was doing but it seemed to work and didn’t go wrong too often. So, you know, engines were my thing. After a follow-up interview, I remember one guy saying, right, well, that’s it! You’ve got your apprenticeship. You’re in the engine section and they said, you’re happy? I thought, well! I nearly fluffed it at that point. I said, yeah! I’d be extra happy if it was for Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda or Kawasaki, but Rover will do.

Steve: Well! I guess we have to start somewhere, right? Well, let me let me move on and ask you about how you started BamfordRose? What’s sort of the origin story there? Obviously, you must have left Aston and you decided to start your own shop or what was the motivation there?

Mike: When we were finishing off MINI, at that point, BMW didn’t have any mini dealerships to sell the cars from. The Rover had been finished, so we knew it wasn’t going to be sold from Rover dealerships, but the MINI standalone dealerships hadn’t sprung up and been created. There were a few of us engineers and the mechanics that have been working on that car for like five years and we knew the car inside out, back to front, and we were going to start a MINI garage. We could upgrade those cars quite easily and work on them quite easily. But BMW sold them with like a three- or five-year service package and when we found that out and they were going to do the standalone dealerships then that sort of put that idea to bed. And then opportunity Aston came along and back then that was absolutely fantastic. Aston was part of Ford. There was a lot of money being invested into Aston, two new models, and it was absolutely perfect. Once I started working at Aston, the idea of doing anything independent of my own bank like that just disappeared because I was working for a great company. It was a great job. I really really enjoyed those early years.

But then as the years progressed, you could see in the UK, that they were selling a good couple of thousand units per annum, but there were no independent specialists, only franchise dealers. There were lots of independent specialists for the heritage cars, but nothing for the new era cars. That sort of reignited the idea of, oh! Well, there’s an opportunity here. And then when Ford sold Aston during that 08 sort of economic crash and Aston went in the hands of, a sort of, private equity group headed up by Dave Richards, the chairman of Pro Drive, I sort of knew then that they’re not going to have the R & D budget to keep, sort of like, my job going. Maybe in the future, they copy and paste engines from another place which is ultimately what they’re doing now.

I worked on about four programs that ended up getting cancelled. One of them was a fully functioning V12 GDI engine, which got cancelled. So, after that and seeing as Aston’s direction wasn’t as safe as what it was in the Ford days, and in the UK, there being no independent specialist, that was sort of like the trigger to pluck up enough courage to start up and go it alone.

Steve: Oh wow! What year was it that you started BamfordRose?

Mike: We started in early 11.

Steve: Early 11. So, DB9 had been out a while, the Vantage was out, and the DBS was out, had the Vanquish come out yet?

Mike: No, Vantage S. So, V8 420 horsepower Vantage S, that wasn’t released. We just finished that. So, all that was in production when we started BamfordRose was V8 Vantage 4.3, 4.7, DB9, the 470-horsepower version of DB9 and 510 horsepower V12 Vantage DB9… Oh, sorry! V12 Vantage DBS. But that was it!

Steve: How big is your team at BamfordRose right now?

Mike: We’re about eight of us. We’ve got a dedicated on-site paint shop. So, we’ve got a paint shop technician. We make most of our own upgrade kits, so we’re a fabrication shop. Me in the office and then the rest of the guys in the vehicle workshop.

Steve: That’s terrific! And man! I wish we had a shop like BamfordRose. I’m over here in the west coast of the United States and we don’t have specialists like you here. For those of you watching from the UK, you have a terrific resource nearby. All right! So, I wanted to ask you a few questions. You’re a business owner, you’re a professional mechanic, essentially at this point as well, there’s always one of those stories that you’d be willing to tell over a couple of whiskeys. What’s the biggest type of whoops you’ve ever seen in the shop or in the test cell at Aston or some place?

Mike: Well, I think the biggest whoops moment inside BamfordRose workshop, I honestly can’t think of anything. It’s probably because we are all a bit old and a bit gray and we’ve made those mistakes in previous walks of life. But in previous walks of life, yeah, there’s been quite a few whoops moments. I mean if you’ve got an engine on a dyno and you’re doing a power curve, and you’re at peak power speed 7000 rpm, and you’re trying to dial in spark fuel, cam timing, everything, all really really quickly, that you’re going to have sausage fingers one day, you’re going to type in the wrong spark value, and it will run it, and the engine will catapult itself across the dyno room. That’s happened!

Steve: So, you’ve watched… You’ve basically been behind the bulletproof glass and watched an engine go before. Oh wow!

Mike: Yeah! Many times, yeah.

Steve: I had another question. It’s also meant to be a little bit silly, I work in a service industry, but I’m wondering do you have any sort of Pet Peeves about owners, a behavior or a question that you hear all the time that… Man! If I hear that again, I’m going to go crazy.

Mike: I think at BamfordRose, we’re really lucky. Because I think the sort of customer that we attract wants to look after their own car in the way that we want to look after it. The only sort of peeve that can happen is when someone has a problem with a car and they downplay it at the point of booking it in or handing the keys over, thinking that that is going to sort of makes it cheaper. And when someone says, oh! I’ve got just a little thing wrong and then actually when you start investigating, it turns into something bigger. If we’d have just been told at the start, everything, it would have actually made diagnosis or finding the fault a lot quicker and a lot easier.

I think you’re getting on to a bit of a bigger subject, but especially in the UK, the garage world hasn’t got the best of reputations. There’s lots of stories of people being head over by garages. We do a really transparent honest job. I really like to see customers driving away happy in their cars. We’ve done a good turn on their car and it’s all been a fair deal. But people can and I myself in previous times have been ripped off by garages, so people come often to a garage with some baggage from a previous experience. That’s not what we’re about and getting over that baggage is not annoying because I can understand why people are like it, but that can be difficult sometimes.

Steve: Well, that makes sense the way you describe it. The problem is not unique to the UK. It’s all over in the US as well. I can see the trepidation an owner might have burying their soul when they come to you because they might equate it directly as to opening their wallet entirely if they give you the opportunity to take it all. But it sounds like BamfordRose is very responsible and you treat each car like you’d want your car to be treated. And that’s all I think I would look for as an owner, just someone to look after my car for me and take care of it. And then I’m happy just to pay for whatever it takes to do that. On that same sort of theme, is there one recommendation you would make to all Aston owners? Like if I could just get one point across to an owner, what might that be?

Mike: I think it’s a tip so that someone can get the best out of their ownership experience and then if they choose to go to a garage that journey is sort of as straightforward as it can be. If I was an owner, arm myself with a really good diagnostic tool, you know, foxwell is a good one. That’s quite intelligent. But even some fairly cheap unintelligent ones will just give you the basics. And whenever you have a fault code pop up on the dashboard or anything like that, plug in, take a note on paper of all the codes that you’ve got, date, mileage, what you were doing when the code triggered, and then just jot down a history of pattern. And then when you went to a garage, you’d have a series of events and the garage would then have a better clue about what’s wrong with the car. And as the owner, you’d sort of be in control of the fix. No one could take you for a ride, making up stuff that it wasn’t… That would be a good tip as an ownership experience, as a thing to do.

Steve: Yeah! Well, I agree that was the very first tool, specialty tool, I bought for my car. It was an OBD2 tool and I do have a foxwell.

Mike: The reason that they’re good on the V12 is that most unintelligent handheld meters are only ever going to read the primary ECU. If you’ve got faults occur on the second bank of the engine, it just will never read them.

Steve: The foxwell can also, not to get too nerdy, but you can also talk to the other control modules in the car, like you can plug into the body port and talk to the transmission and a few other things that I found that my generic one just couldn’t do. So, that’s why I found that the foxwell has just been terrific for me.

Mike: Yeah! I do advise it to a lot of owners and they get a little bit put off by the price of it because it is expensive. But the way I would view it is that it’s a purchase that you make for your whole driving career. That’s going to go from car to car to car and it’s a good investment.

Steve: All right. Well, I’m interested to figure out what Mike likes! My first question is what’s your daily driver? Where do you get to work to and from work in?

Mike: Well, you’d probably be better off asking me, I said earlier when I mentioned some motorbike manufacturers, what do [crosstalk 18:01]… I’m into my motorbikes. I’m into my airplanes. But to answer very quickly, I love to drive cars that I used to work on. And at this moment in time, I drive a Rover 220 turbo. It’s a coupe. It’s quite a rare car. It probably means absolutely nothing to anyone in the states. But it’s one of the very first projects I worked on and it’s important to me, so it’s kind of fun to drive that now, sort of like, over 20 years on because rovers are complete rock boxes so there are none of them left on the road. And now this car is pretty rare and exclusive. It was always a quick car. It was faster not to 60 than the VW Golf GTI in the day and it wasn’t too far off in Escort Cosworth.

Steve: All right.

Mike: There was a one make race series for a 220 Turbo. So, they’ve got a bit of presence and if you fill up a petrol station then someone always comments on the car. Normally they’re surprised that it’s still running because it’s got a Rover engine in it. So, I like to drive something that’s really rare. And 20 years ago, driving that 220 Turbo Rover wouldn’t have been rare. It is today because it’s rare that it’s not rotted back to join the earth.

Steve: That’s cool!

Mike: Motorbikes, I’m absolutely fanatical about the mid-80s, early 90s, 500cc Two-stroke Grand Prix Era. So, Eddie Lawson, Kevin Swans, Wayne Rainey, all of that era of motorbike racing. I don’t watch current GP; I will just look on YouTube of GP races in the 80s. So, I’ve got a few of those bikes of my own. I’ve got a few Suzuki RG500s, two-stroke 500cc Grand Prix rep. And yeah, I love those bikes to pieces.

And then, yeah, I fly airplanes. In the mid 90s I got my first pilot’s license. This was for ultra-lights. Basically, a hang glider with a motor on a trike, hanging off it. Yeah, that’s an ultralight.

Steve: Hmm… I’m seeing sort of a risk factor in your lifestyle. So, if you need to get your car serviced to BamfordRose, hurry!

N. And then in 2015, I got a general aviation pilot’s license. So, now I can combine two things that I love the most. Every year, I fly to the Isle of Man TT, so I leave the middle of the UK about six o’clock in the morning, get to the Isle of Man for about eight o’clock. I’ve got a taxi booked. It takes me to the corner where I’m going to watch the TT. Then come back to the airfield, get home in time for about nine o’clock when the highlights are on the tv.

Steve: And maybe put yourself on the corner or something.

Mike: I’ve done that. I’ve done that before. I’ve watched from the rear-view camera of… It was Michael Dunlop on one of his TT bikes and it was on his rear-view camera. And you can watch back at me pointing a camera phone at his bike.

Steve: So, mike! If you had a… Let’s just say, maybe a 2005 DB9 coupe in merlot red, not like me, but if you had a bone stock DB9. What would you do if it was your car? What kind of things might you do to it at all, anything?

Mike: Totally standard! And if you just wanted to leave the UK, maybe go down to south of Spain in it, that’s a great grand tourer out of the box. And apart from servicing it well, so it didn’t bite you with any problems, then out of the box that they’re really really great cars. If you remember, back in 2005 when that car came out, Aston could do no wrong. You know, that DB9 was Jeremy Clarkson’s… It was so cool, it was in the fridge. It was sub-zero. Out of the box, if you just want a grand tourer, totally fine! Or if you wanted to use the car a bit more spiritedly on some country roads, on a Sunday afternoon, then you haven’t got to do too much to improve brakes suspension, engine performance, and then that car is quite rewarding.

Steve: So, you juice it up a little bit. I know you’ve done videos in the past about maybe upgrading the suspension to the newer Bilstein dampers to make it a little bit better a ride and that might do. Would you do anything with the tires or anything like that or do you have any other basic things that you would tackle with a DB9 to upgrade it?

Mike: Yeah! We always fit Michelin pilot sports on the DB9 now and that just transforms the car, the ride, the comfort, just cabin composure compared to the Bridgestone. So, that’s one thing. The next really cool and easy and quick thing to do would be to DB9 Volante. If you look at an early DB9 Volante, they were built without a rear roll bar. So, all you have to do is retrofit a roll bar from DB9 coupe onto the Volente and you’ve just improved your handling and drive experience to the volente no end.

Steve: And you know, relatively speaking, that’s a very simple thing to install in a fairly inexpensive part too.

Mike: Yeah! UK prices, the roll bar is about 180 pounds. You’ve got a bracket, some bushes and pretty much two anti-roll bar drop link arms and put that kit on and go. That’s a huge improvement, real quick, real easy.

Steve: That’d be a great upgrade for the volante folks. Right. Well, I have a rapid fire and I’m going to actually pull up my list of questions here for my rapid-fire round, where I wanted to ask you some stuff that sort of quick yes, no, one way or another type things, and you just answered one of them. The very first rapid-fire question was OEM or Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, yes or no? Well, obviously, it’s a yes for the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S.

Carbon brakes or Steel brakes? What’s best for somebody that isn’t trying to do a track car?

Mike: Steel!

Steve: Brake Callper Bolts, are they reusable or not?

Mike: Yes!

Steve: On the body finish, paint protection film, is it worth it or not worth it?

Mike: If you’ve just painted the car, it’s worth it. If you have already got some stone chips, not worth it because it would just amplify the visual.

Steve: It looks crappy. `

Mike: Yeah. If you are going to keep the car, definitely paint it, definitely protected film it. If you won’t going to keep the car, just let the stone ration deteriorate the car a bit and then sell it.

Steve: Ceramic coating, yes or no?

Mike: No.

Steve: Favorite color for a DB9?

Mike: I just think DB9 is classic and understated and they look really well in something like quantum silver or something like that. A light color art. So, if you’ve got a striking interior, exterior color combo, I quite like that.

Steve: Another quick question! So, you’re storing a car for the winter, gas tank empty or full?

Mike: Full but without any ethanol in the petrol.

Steve: So, how about your favorite car related TV show?

Mike: I’m not going to go with one of the car mags or anything like that. I am going to pick Death Proof by Tarantino.

Steve: Death Proof by Tarantino!!! Okay. I wasn’t expecting that one. What’s your most favorite Aston Martin that you’ve ever driven?

Mike: Oh, can I cheat and answer that three ways.

Steve: Yep! Go for it.

Mike: First, the favorite Aston I’ve never driven will be a DB4 Zagato. I so badly want to drive one of those cars just for a day and take it on a tour. The next favorite Aston I have driven is a customer car of ours which is a V12 Zagato. Absolutely love that car! It is a normal V12 Vantage under the skin. But with the interior, with the exterior looks, it does transform it. And you can’t help but feel very special when you drive that car. It’s awesome. I’m not normally a green car fan, but this car is in British racing green with a classic sandstone interior and that color combo just works and it’s just absolutely gorgeous and a delight to drive. Third is something a bit different. Instead of a favorite Aston to drive, being development engineer, I get a real kick out of this in that I’ve been the first person ever on a dyno to start a few engines. So, first person ever to start a 4.3 engine, first person ever to start a 4.7 engine, first person ever to start a 177 engine, and in prototype, first person ever to start the V12 DBS 510 horsepower, and first person ever to start a 565 Vanquish variable cam time engine. I really get a kick out of being prototype engineer and you’re the first person ever to press the start button on that particular engine. I really enjoy that!

Steve: I bet you had a big smile on your face when they fire off.

Mike: Yeah! Because it’s your job, it’s sort of a non-event. It’s not special, but then when you look back at it, it was.

Steve: That is super cool. I mean to be able to look back on your life experience and know that those are all moments that were part of it. That’s priceless! As is the future. I’m interested to know what do you have in store for BamfordRose in the years ahead. Obviously, you’ve been working on your social media and sharing information with us but what’s up next for BamfordRose itself?

Mike: Obviously, we’re in the UK and we’ve grown our customer base over the last 10 years. We’ve got a fairly decent reputation in the Aston world. So, much of the same as going forward as what we’ve done over the last few years. If I was going to dream of something, then maybe BamfordRose starts up a franchise somewhere else. Back in 05 to 08, Aston sales were 30% UK, 30% States, 30 % Germany and then 10% rest of the world. So, in the States, there’s an awful lot of cars driving around. It’s just they’re driving around in such a big land mass area. But it’s really tough to start up a business venture in a different country and probably unlikely to happen.

Steve: Well, if it happens, some place in California would be terrific. Some place that I could at least get my car to you would be nice. Well, Mike, I should let you go. I want to thank you for giving me so much of your time so generously. I look forward to having a chance to do something like this again in the future.

Mike: Yeah. Well, it’d be really great to turn the tables and we can let all the BamfordRose viewers see the real good work that you’ve done on your channel and your website. There’s some real technical insights to the DB9 and Aston cars in general on there and it’d be great to dig into that a bit deeper.

Steve: Well, I look forward to maybe having a chance to do that. So, I’d like to remind all of you out there to please check out the BamfordRose YouTube channel and subscribe. Mike does his weekly forum chats where he talks about all things Aston and shares his insights and his knowledge with you. I really like those because he tells it like it is and he knows what he’s talking about. I hope you enjoyed this video, and as always, thanks for watching.

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