The face of Aston Martin seems to be changing. From a foray into F1 to the Valkyrie mid-engined supercar, the gin-and-tweed brand has come over all carbon fiber. For people who aren’t familiar with a more obscure facet of Aston Martin history, this rush into mid-engined supercars seems like a frantic attempt to align the brand with titans like Ferrari. However, Aston Martin almost beat Ferrari to the punch with a promised 200 mph road car in 1980, but shaky ground forced the firm to abandon the project. This is the tale of the Aston Martin Bulldog and its recent 200 mph shot at redemption.
In the late 1970s, Aston Martin was enjoying a bit of a rebirth. After having gone bust in 1974, the reborn brand was in the midst of a renaissance when then-chairman Alan Curtis wanted to show the world that Britain could compete on the supercar stage. The plan? To build the fastest, most-advanced road car the world had ever seen. Sporting a drag coefficient of 0.34 and brutal punch, project DP K.901 would be like nothing the world had seen. AR Online reports that after a change of project management from Mike Loasby to Keith Martin and a change in project name from DP K.901 to K9, Aston Martin shocked the world with a supercar called Bulldog.
The Aston Martin Bulldog was styled by William Towns. He’s the same man who styled the bold Lagonda sedan, a wedge-shaped slice of ‘70s excess known for its futuristic and unreliable digital dashboard. Unsurprisingly, the mid-engined Bulldog took everything about the Lagonda and cranked the knobs off. With gullwing doors, turbofan wheels, and no fewer than five hidden headlamps, the Bulldog was shaped for ‘80s financial excess. It fits right in with the Cizeta-Moroder V16T and Gumpert Apollo at the table of vulgar displays of capital, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Of course, a supercar needs to pair show with go, so slung just ahead of the rear wheels sat a 600-horsepower twin-turbocharged 5.3-liter V8 that Aston Martin claimed could propel the Bulldog to a top speed of 237 mph. However, actual testing revealed a top speed of 191 mph. Still quick enough to potentially be the fastest production car in the world at the time, but certainly short of the 237 mph claim. However, just as everything seemed set, Aston pulled the plug.
See, financial stability has never been a hallmark of independent sports car marques. Porsche’s longevity is owed partly to its function as an engineering company. Ferrari has leaned on Fiat in varying capacity since 1969. Virtually everyone else? They’ve been passed between owners, gone bust, or seen similarly shaky situations. Around the turn of the 1980s, Aston Martin was in deep trouble. The Times reported that Aston Martin laid off 20 percent of its 450-strong workforce in 1980, and owners Alan Curtis and Peter Sprague passed off ownership of the marque to petroleum magnate Victor Gauntlett in 1981. One of the first orders of business? Canceling the Bulldog project.
In 1984, the only Aston Martin Bulldog ever made was sold to a private collector, and that was more or less where the story stopped for nearly four decades. However, things picked up in 2020. BBC News reports that the Bulldog was found in a storage unit around the start of the pandemic, purchased by Richard Gauntlett, son of Victor Gauntlett, and turned over to the team of specialists at Classic Motor Cars to return the Bulldog to its former glory in hopes of breaking the two-ton barrier.
This week, everything came together. At a former NATO base in Scotland, Aston Martin works driver Darren Turner dropped the hammer and called upon everything the Aston Martin Bulldog had to give. The result? A blistering 205.4 mph. I repeat, 205.4 mph from ‘70s machinery. That’s faster than a Countach, faster than a Porsche 959, faster than a Ferrari F40, all in something initially bolted together by midlanders.
If Aston Martin had the resources to produce the Bulldog, there’s a chance we’d all remember a wedge-shaped Aston Martin rather than a fat-fendered curiosity called the Porsche 959. It may have been the first 200 mph production car, a title that would’ve been impossible to revoke. Still, a 205.4 mph run in 2023 isn’t something to sneeze at. Every dog has its day, right?
(Photo credits: Classic Motor Cars)
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