Nearly a decade before a certain DeLorean became one of the most famous movie cars of all time in 1985’s Back to the Future, Aston Martin was developing an icon of its own, albeit with a much lower profile (in every sense). At only 43ins high, the gull-winged and wonderfully angular Bulldog prototype started life in 1976 as the result of a brief to make a mid-engined, super-fast Aston Martin sports car.
The man tasked with creating the shape for that car was William Towns, the designer behind the striking
Aston Martin Lagonda that launched the same year. Featuring a 5.3 litre V8 engine, multi-tube space frame and the latest in LCD digital cabin instrumentation, the Bulldog was due to be unveiled as a drivable concept by October 1978, but as the Lagonda project took up more of the Aston Martin engineering team’s time than planned, the Bulldog project faltered and then Loasby left (rather ironically to DeLorean).
Work stopped for a year and a new engineer, Keith Martin, took it on and got the Bulldog up and running, finally launching the prototype in April 1980 and clocking 191mph on track (faster than any production road car of its day). Despite the fanfare of that achievement and some initial hopes that the Bulldog might go into limited production, Aston Martin’s financial troubles and many subsequent management changes in the early 1980s resulted in the then-chairman of the company, Victor Gauntlett, selling the one-off.
For the next four decades, the Bulldog’s whereabouts remained something of a mystery, but while the car remained hidden away from public view, members of its adoring public remained everywhere, including Richard Gauntlett, one of Victor’s sons and now the Bulldog’s project manager.
That fascination stemmed — as so many car dreams did for kids growing up in the 1970s and 80s — from a poster on a wall. “I’ve owned one of the original Bulldog posters ever since my dad left Aston Martin in 1991,” Gauntlett recalls. “I never got to see the actual Bulldog as it was sold by Aston Martin the year before I was born, but it has always struck me as the most dramatic thing. My poster shows the Bulldog head-on with its lights revealed and doors up, below the headline ‘The Certainty of Power’."
In the late 2010s, RM Auctions finally tracked down the Bulldog’s whereabouts and negotiated its sale in late 2019 to the American Phillip Sarofim. As a good friend of the new owner, Gauntlett was asked to project-manage the restoration and decided on Classic Motor Cars (CMC) in Shropshire, UK. It was soon decided that the project should not only be about returning the car back to its original specification, but also trying to get the car to crack 200mph, the original projected top speed.
Restoration highlights include new turbochargers based on the originals, but with internal improvements, hydraulic ride height adjustment to get the car back down to its intended stance — “it transforms the look of it”, says CMC’s managing director Nigel Woodward — and even tracking down the car’s original interior trim colour, “Nuella 5016” from Connolly Leather. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic slowed the project from its early 2020 start, but Woodward is confident the car will start moving again this year, and rapidly: “The aim is to get the car driveable by August and make 200mph by the end of 2021 if possible.”
This story is an extract from an article featured in the AM47 issue of Aston Martin magazine, out now. If you're not already a subscriber, visit magazine.astonmartin.com/magazine-subscription so that you can read the full story.