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1974 Aston Martin V8
1974 Aston Martin V8

Classic Cars

'Love at first sight' for this Aston Martin Add to ...

Peter Schurmann had already lost his heart to a sexy-but-too-expensive-to-take-home Italian of voluptuous proportions when an elegant-but-racy lady from more northern climes appeared through the glass doors of his Toronto apartment building.

Schurmann had discovered the Italian beauty, Maserati by name, in Grand Touring Automobiles' (then) Front Street Toronto showroom in 1981 but she'd been the consort of a well-known race driver and he decided, perhaps it was a little bit out of his league.

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He couldn't stop talking about her though, and a friend finally suggested he look at a 1974 Aston Martin V8 he knew of as an alternative. Schurmann's response: "Yeah, right. I can't afford a Maserati, how do you expect me to afford an Aston? Who do you think I am, Prince Charles?"

And he wasn't even sure what an Aston Martin V8 looked like. "I just knew James Bond drove a fantastic-looking DB4 in Goldfinger. What a V8 looked like I had no idea."

The contact telephone number was set aside, but when he did finally get around to calling the timing couldn't have been more fortuitous, as its owner was just setting out for an evening drive and offered to drop by.

The car was pulled up under the lighted canopy fronting his apartment building when Schurmann exited the elevator and spotted it framed by the glass entry doors. "I knew in that 20-foot walk that I was going to buy that car. It was in the truest sense, love at first sight," he says. "It was drop-dead gorgeous."

And she most undeniably is, although the product of a difficult time in the history of this storied British marque that was saved from an ignominious end just a few months after she was built, through the good graces of a Torontonian and a Californian.

The Aston Martin story begins with London garage owner Lionel Martin building specials to compete in hill climb events in 1914. Success in the famed Aston Clinton hill climb gave the car its name but by 1925, after sinking a bundle of his own money into it, Martin decided it best to return to the family's granite quarrying business.

Some great sporting cars, and a number of changes of ownership followed, up to and including 1947 when Sir David Brown took over and lent his initials to a sensational series of cars until he stepped aside in 1972. He handed the wheel to a hopeful group that struggled with it until bankruptcy in 1974 resulted in Toronto-based George Minden (Aston Martin distributor and owner of The Windsor Arms hotel and Three Small Rooms restaurant) and partner Peter Sprague, of California, stepping in as saviours in 1975. But they were gone by 1981 and after being part of Ford, Aston Martin is now owned by an investment group.

The V-8 model was to be the successor to James Bond's DB6 and was announced as the DBS (but fitted with a DB6 six-cylinder engine) in 1967, not actually getting its Tadek Marek-designed V-8 until early in 1970.

Styled by William Towns, it has that traditional Aston look - elegance wrapped around brute force. And it had plenty of the latter, with its 5.3 litre, aluminum V-8 topped by four twin-choke Webers and producing something over 300 hp which, in Schurmann's car, gets to the wheels through a Chrysler TorqueFlight automatic. It accelerates to 100 km/h in about six seconds and tops out at about 250 km/h.

Schurmann has always had an eye for a good-looking car with performance to match. He was born in Switzerland and, while on the way to acquiring an electrical engineering degree, participated in hill climbs and rallies in a pair of Alfa Romeos, a gorgeous Giulia and then a stylish open Spyder.

He came to Canada via Brazil in 1976 to work for Siemens in Toronto in sales and later as vice-president of its power generation group before retiring a few years ago.

Owning an exotic car in Brazil wasn't an option, he says, but after establishing himself here it definitely became one - and following his first encounter he was determined it was going to be the Aston Martin. But "she" played hard to get, spending their first winter "together" in his underground parking garage while he and the owner dickered over price, finally agreeing early in 1982.

And she wasn't all she'd first appeared to be. She may have been drop-dead gorgeous from a distance and showing only 19,000 miles on her odometer, but was wasn't quite as pretty close up, having been comprehensively "keyed" down both sides and soon revealing various other shortcomings.

"It felt like it had been driven 150,000 miles," says Schurmann, who for the past 28 years has been restoring the car in a process he refers to as "eating the elephant." His mother had once told me the only way to eat an elephant is piece by piece and never more than you can digest. "So it's been a long-term project," he says, to avoid fiscal indigestion.

The car was originally owned by a successful Toronto entrepreneur and the story goes his son had "borrowed" it and subsequently tried to outrun the police, an adventure resulting in damage to the Aston and a highly displeased dad. The car then went through a series of owners until Schurmann acquired it and began its long rehabilitation.

The rewards have been worth it for Schurmann, who has been an enthusiastic member - he served as president for a decade - of the Aston Martin Owner's Club and is still a keen participant in its events.

The now fully fettled and gorgeous-again-in-brilliant-red-paintwork car attracts long looks and thumbs up whenever it's driven, which is often. "I call her my working girl. She's out a lot," laughs Schurmann, who's put some 80,000-plus miles on her "clock" so far.

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