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Among motorheads, David Brown is most famous for bestowing past and present Aston Martin grand tourers with his initials: DB. But this car designer turned industrialist had a diverse career–before and after Aston Martin. Here are six facts you might not have known about David Brown.

1. Apprenticed as a machinist

Photo of Aston Martin's longtime owner David Brown at an airport.
David Brown | PA Images via Getty Images

When David Brown graduated from school at 17, he went to work for the gear and manual transmission manufacturing company his grandfather founded, David Brown & Sons. Despite being the heir to the family empire, he rode his bicycle to the Huddersfield factory, arriving at 7:30 every day to learn manufacturing alongside the other machinist apprentices.

2. Raced a motorcycle

Portrait of Aston Martin company owner David Brown taken in 1968.
David Brown, 1968 | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

David’s father, Percy Brown, respected his work ethic. He offered to buy his son a motorcycle to make the commute easier. David chose a Reading Standard with a powerful 1,000 cc V-twin. He further modified his bike and trounced the competition at multiple hill climbs. He was actually scouted by the Douglas motorcycle manufacturer racing team. But when his father realized what was happening, he put a kibosh on any factory race team plans David might have.

3. Built his own car

Aston Martin company owner David Brown sitting behind his desk for a publicity portrait in 1968.
David Brown | Harry Dempster/Daily Express/Getty Images

David Brown had to go to South Africa to help install Brown & Sons gears in a goldmine there. When he returned to England he decided the only way to feed his need for speed was to build his own car. He stayed up every night until 2 AM, first designing his own race car, then building the engine and other components in the company’s machine shop. When his father forbid him from using company resources, Brown modified an existing Vauxhaull with a supercharged 2.0-liter and Aston Martin gears. The result was supposedly capable of 140 mph and took its class in a local race for three straight years.

4. Bought Aston Martin for 20,000 pounds

Aston Martin badge | John Keeble/Getty Images

David Brown & Sons did very well manufacturing gears for WWII. Brown founded a tractor company with Harry Ferguson that added to the company’s bottom line. When he saw a “High Class” sports car company advertised for 30,000 pounds, he needed to investigate. To his surprise the anonymous company was Aston Martin. He drove the latest prototype and found it nimble, but lacking the powerful engine it needed. He talked the sellers down to 20,500 pounds and bought Aston Martin anwyay.

5. Bought Lagonda for an engine

David Brown testing out a Lagonda race car with its hood removed and V12 engine exposed.
David Brown in a Lagonda | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Like Aston Martin before it, Lagonda came up for sale in 1947. While David Brown was touring the company, engineer W.O. Bentley revealed a 2,580 cc I6 engine called the LB6. Brown knew that such a powerplant would make Aston Martin competitive with the finest grand tourer manufacturers in Europe. This piece of technology pushed him over the edge and he bought Lagonda as well. When the company was evicted from its headquarters, he moved it into a hanger near Aston Martin and with their combined technology, the Aston Martin Lagonda DB series was born.

6. Drove a Jaguar XJ

Sir David Brown poses in front of an Aston Martin DB6 grand touring sports car.
David Brown and an Aston Martin DB6 | McCabe/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

David Brown oversaw Aston Martin’s production of the DB1, DB2, DB3, DB4, DB5, DB6, and the DBS. All of these luxury grand tourers bore his initials. But for much of the time he owned and managed Aston Martin, David Brown drove a Jaguar XJ Series 1. Why? He claimed his car was cheaper to drive daily.

7. Was a knight

Detail shot of company owner David Brown's name in the hood ornament of a classic Aston Martin sports car.
David Brown, Honor Blackman and Aston Martin DB5 | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1972, financial trouble forced David Brown to sell both his tractor company and Aston Martin. He focused his efforts on his shipbuilding company, Vosper Thornycroft. Aston Martin Lagonda awarded him the position of Honorary Life President. But in 1968, Brown had received an even greater honor: the Queen knighted him Sir David Brown for his “services to industry.”

Next, learn the truth about James Bond’s first car or watch the history of Aston Martin and the DB series in the video below:


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