WHILE other kids had posters of Ferraris or Lamborghinis on their bedroom walls, there was only one sports car that Richard Gauntlett dreamed of driving – the futuristic Aston Martin Bulldog.
Ever since he could walk, Richard has lived and breathed the iconic Aston brand.
That is because his dad, Victor Gauntlett, was the entrepreneur who saved the British firm at the start of the Eighties and put it back in the James Bond movies.
But the Bulldog is the supercar Richard never got to drive. It was a one-off concept design that was sold to a Saudi prince for £130,000 and is now worth over a million pounds.
For more than three decades, the mythical motor languished, broken down, in the garages of a series of wealthy collectors.
But Richard has now finally teamed up with the latest owner to finally let the Bulldog off the leash.
The anonymous American enthusiast bought the car at auction with the aim of helping Richard get it back on the road where it belongs.
Now product designer Richard, 38, is counting down the days until he can get the angular, gull-winged beauty on to a test track and fired up to its maximum speed of 237mph.
When it was designed in 1979, the Bulldog was twice as powerful as the biggest road-going Ferrari sports car of the time and cost five times as much as any other Aston.
With its heart-stopping 5.3-litre V8 engine and two turbochargers, the plucky little British company aimed to go more fast and furious than its celebrated Italian rivals.
‘I’ll need an underwear change when I drive it’
Devised by dedicated engineers in a top-secret room in Newport Pagnell, Bucks, and code-named Project K901, the Bulldog was meant to transform the face of motoring.
But by the time it was unveiled, in 1980, the UK was stalled in recession and there was an oil crisis on.
Victor realised this was not the moment to try to sell a gas-guzzling supercar with a £200,000 price tag.
So the Bulldog never got the chance to show what it could do — but Richard now wants to put that right and, after his dad died in 2003 aged 60, do him proud.
Richard told The Sun last night: “I can’t describe how excited I am to drive the Bulldog.
“I know I will need a change of underwear the first time I drive it. It is a beast. I am literally scratching down the days on my wall.”
Aston Martin has had a bumpy ride since it was founded in 1913 but has been given kickstarts by a series of investors unable to resist its history and glamour.
By the late 1970s, though, it badly needed to find a new gear and racier image. Designer William Towns — who in 1976 had invented a pioneering petrol-electric mini concept car called the Microdot — was hired to create some show-stopping action.
His Bulldog blueprint, with drop headlights in the centre of a wide front end, and sleek 21st Century lines, fitted the bill perfectly.
But the project was so hush-hush, most Aston staff were kept in the dark. Richard says: “When it was being built, it was in a locked room and very few people had the key.
“It was kept secret from the majority of people who worked there.”
The Bulldog finally bared its teeth when the prototype was unveiled to the public in 1980. But by this time, Aston Martin was in financial dire straits and had to lay off a fifth of its workers.
In rode Victor, who had made a fortune in the petrol industry and loved fast cars. He may now be gone — and in 1991 he sold the firm to Ford, realising the multi-national giant could build Astons on a scale previously unknown — but Richard remains as proud as can be.
He says: “Aston Martin means so much to our family — Dad signed the papers to take over the company after dropping my mother at hospital to give birth to my brother.”
Back in the day, though, money was so tight at Aston Martin that it could not afford to send the Bulldog to a test track big enough to give it a proper run out.
UK circuits at the time had no straights long enough for a car to safely do any more than 192mph — let alone the Bulldog’s baddest 237mph top rate.
Richard says: “It was twice as powerful as any of the top-spec Ferraris at the time.”
But testing was a problem. He says: “They got to 192mph, with two decent-sized blokes on board, and the car was still accelerating, but the circuit wasn’t big enough to carry on.”
Hard-headed businessman Victor knew a recession was not the time to be building what was effectively a private Concorde of a car.
Faced with a heartbreaking choice between halting production or laying off loyal staff, he chose the former.
When a Saudi prince heard the car might be for sale, in 1981 he offered £130,000 for the prized Bulldog.
Although it had no proper number plate for public roads, the naughty royal insisted on taking his wonder wheels for a cheeky spin on the M1. But he had more money than road sense and clumsily chewed the transmission by going from fourth gear to third while speeding up.
The car had to be repaired and, later, fared little better as it remained caged like a magnificent beast in the garages of a succession of owners.
Richard says: “The people who owned it weren’t interested in selling it but weren’t interested in restoring it either. It was a bit like putting a Picasso in a bank vault.”
‘It was like a Picasso kept in a bank vault’
But he always dreamed of finding a way to one day get behind the wheel of the Bulldog, even if he could not afford to buy it himself. His chance finally came when the wealthy US buyer, based in Los Angeles, chose him to be his project manager for both getting hold of the car and renovating it.
Richard got in touch with surviving members of the Bulldog team and drew up a plan to get it running again. With the help of Classic Motor Cars, in Bridgnorth, Shrops, he has stripped down the supercar and put it back together again.
That has been no easy task, as you cannot beg, borrow or steal parts from anywhere on the planet.
Richard says: “Every part of the car is unique, whether it’s the suspension, the wheels, the brakes. The chassis is completely bespoke, the seats, fuel tank, every body panel, the glass.”
One big reason for the Bulldog’s allure, though, is the Aston dynasty from which it hails — and this is mostly down to visionary Victor.
He was the man who realised how important it was to get the iconic British motor back into James Bond movies, following its Sixties outings in Goldfinger and Thunderball.
Roger Moore had driven a Lotus in his Seventies and Eighties adventures as the secret agent and Victor wanted his successor, Timothy Dalton, to chase the baddies down in an Aston.
He talked 007 producer Cubby Broccoli into putting the Aston Martin Vantage in 1987 movie The Living Daylights and ever since then the world’s most famous spy has driven an Aston.
Max speed: 237mph
0-60mph: 5. 1 seconds
Engine: Twin turbocharged 5.3 litre V8
Front lights: Five quartz headlamps covered by a dropping panel
Richard says: “They used my dad’s own Vantage Volante at the beginning of The Living Daylights and, after all these meetings, Cubby Broccoli actually offered my dad the part of the KGB general.
“He replied, ‘Terribly sorry, Aston Martin requires 24-hour assistance.’
“The car in that film was absolutely fantastic, with the skis and rockets. It was nice to see Bond back in an Aston.”
Victor steered Aston Martin into profit but, when once asked how he made a small fortune from it, replied: “Easy, I started with a big one.”
Undoubtedly, though, he loved life in the fast lane.
Richard says: “He was banned from doing parade laps at Le Mans because, before a race, in a rather good mood with lots of people on board, he overtook the pace car.”
One thing is for sure, though — he would have loved to see the Bulldog growl again.
I’d love to take a spin
By ROB GILL, Motors Editor
ASIDE from the fact it looks like the lovechild of a Sinclair C5 and a Tesla Cybertruck, the Bulldog is more than just a mythical car.
It was the original mid-engine 200mph-plus hypercar from Aston Martin.
It is something that only now, 40 years on, Aston are having another go at with the upcoming Valkyrie, Valhalla and Vanquish.
Hats off to Richard Gauntlett, for without people like him these cars would be forgotten and that would be a shame because Aston Martin makes us proud to be British.
I can’t wait to see Bulldog when the team at Classic Motor Cars complete the nut-and-bolt restoration next summer.
Richard: If you fancy giving me a test drive, you know where I am.
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