Besides James Bond, King Charles III is arguably the world’s most famous Aston Martin driver. However, while 007’s singular concentration has at times wavered, His Majesty has remained steadfastly loyal to the marque. Indeed, Charles has probably driven Aston Martins longer and further than 007 has, and, as Q could no doubt tell you, he is certainly the more careful driver.
So careful that when Queen Elizabeth II, his mother, gifted him a DB6 Mk2 Vantage Volante in Seychelles blue on his 21st birthday, she enlisted Graham Hill, two-time Formula 1® World Champion, to teach him mastery of high-performance cars.
“He took me to the Thruxton circuit and showed how it could hold the road at speed,” Charles told Wallpaper* magazine in 2018. “Lovely man. He gave me so much confidence.”
A lengthened wheelbase and relocated rear axle delivered a top speed of 148mph and gave the DB6 greater stability than the DB5. Charles’s Volante model is one of only 38 to grace the road.
The King’s love affair with the marque spans six decades and covers several bespoke iterations of Aston Martins.
For Charles’s 38th birthday in 1986, the Emir of Bahrain gifted him a newly launched 5.3 litre V8 Vantage Volante. While Charles approved the 400bhp that the V8 packed, he disliked the styling: deep chin valance, extended side skirts and prominent rear spoiler (this was the post-Big Bang ‘wide-boy’ era). A standard-looking Volante but without the cosmetic body enhancements was more to his taste.
Aston Martin agreed to de-pimp. They built a Volante to full Vantage mechanical specification, with a 400bhp-plus X Pack engine. Instead of distended wheel arches, they added flared arches to fit the Vantage’s larger wheels. They reduced the front spoiler and ditched the rear spoiler altogether.
Out went the cigar lighter and ashtray; in went a small compartment for sunglasses and a glass jar for sugar lumps for Charles’s polo ponies. The colour scheme was both culturally appropriate and environmentally prescient: British racing green. For the next eight years, this majestic most powerful four-seat convertible turned heads at fashionable polo grounds.
Impressed by Charles’s new royal carriage, Victor Gauntlett, Aston’s then-chairman, commissioned one for himself. The order book noted, ‘Build to PoW specification’. Word soon circulated among preferred clients of a special royal car proceeding down the line. Between 1986 and 1989, Aston Martin built a further 20 such cars for in-the-know UK customers (and another five adapted for North America).
Neither formally released, nor brochured, and never officially listed, the fleet of 22 cars is so individually tailored that they defy definitive specification. To the untrained eye, they look similar to the Series 1 Volante; and even a trained eye might muddle them with certain standard Volantes that have been converted to look like PoWs. However, the genuine articles are known as the V8 Vantage Volante Prince of Wales or ‘PoW’ for short. They are considered to be the apotheosis of V8 Aston Martins, a true royal mark on the marque.
In 1994, Charles leased another special Volante: a Virage powered by the 6.3-litre version of the V8. He held it until 2007. Meanwhile, after consulting the Emir of Bahrain, he sold his birthday-gifted V8 Volante for £111,500 in 1995. Proceeds went to the Prince of Wales Charities Trust.
In 2008, he took customisation to new realms when he decided to convert his old DB6 to burn bio-ethanol rather than petrol. After a sharp intake of breath from sceptical engineers at Aston Martin specialist R S Williams, Charles insisted he would not drive the car unless it was converted. Green Fuels, a Gloucestershire-based company, came up with a regal ethanol derived from surplus white wine and whey from the cheese-making process at the Duchy of Cornwall estate.
“They had to admit that the car performs better than ever,” said a vindicated Charles. Instead of a gas-guzzler, his DB6 is a fascinating hybrid for our times: blue yet green; convertible yet converted. It chimes with His Majesty’s eco agenda and promotes two of his most cherished missions: to cut his carbon footprint and minimise waste.
As Prince of Wales, Charles lauded Aston Martin as “one of the great cars”, adding, “I adore the design and the lines. They are special. I remember Lord Snowdon had a marvellous DB5 in a beautiful gunmetal colour. It was always the car to have.”
As befitting a young prince as a 74-year-old king, the marque breathes restraint, classicism, individuality and understatement. These qualities lend a masculine British feel and contribute to the marque’s longevity and charm. With each iteration, Aston Martins become more stable, more efficient, more powerful, safer and more environmentally friendly. Very much like another glorious long-running succession.