There has to be a very good reason before taking up an invitation to attend an event in a remote part of Scotland that I’ve never even heard of before. But the opportunity of seeing the Aston Martin Bulldog break the 200-mph barrier was perhaps the best reason to break out my UK road atlas to find out exactly where Machrihanish actually is. It is a small village on the west coast of Scotland, close to Campbeltown on the southern end of the Kintyre peninsula and a 140-mile drive from Glasgow on the wonderful A82.
As the Aston Martin Bulldog was conceived as a road car and built between 1978 and 1980, it might not be very familiar to many recent converts to the marque. The best I can therefore come up with is that it was the Valkyrie of its day, although arguably even more audacious.
In 1980, the fastest independently tested road car was still the 1970 Lamborghini Miura P400S at 179.3 mph. It took until 1982 to be bettered when a Lamborghini Countach LP500S reached 182mph. So, when Aston Martin unveiled the dramatic gull-winged Bulldog in 1980, the claimed 200 mph top speed was surely a preposterous boast. My trip to Scotland was to witness that this was not just marketing hype but actual reality.
In period, Aston Martin were able to take the car up to 191 mph at MIRA, although the 1.6 km straight was really way too short to go any faster. With the company short of cash, Victor Gauntlett sold off the road going prototype in 1982 and any production plans were cast aside on cost grounds. The sophisticated car passed few a few private collections during the next 40 years but for the most part, it was a non-runner.
In 2020, a US collector and motoring enthusiast, Phillip Sarofim, purchased the car and set Classic Motor Cars in Bridgenorth to get the car running again and return it to the way it looked in 1980. It would have been easy to do a cosmetic restoration, replacing the twin-turbo engine with a normally aspirated production Aston Martin V8 to attend shows and concours. But Phillip had a greater dream – to see the car do what it was intended to do and break that 200-mph barrier: to prove the audacious claim was not a fiction.
The rebuilding of the Bulldog has been well documented, and the finished car has been seen during the last 18 months at prestigious events such as the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court, Villa d’Este and our own AMHT Festival at Brookland’s. The former RAF Machrihanish now rebranded as Campeltown Airport has something that neither MIRA or Millbrook have, a clear and wide 3 km unused taxiway adjacent to the main runway.
The press were gathered at a safe distance near the end of the taxiway, the police had set up a speed trap and the car had been fitted with state of the art Racelogic timing equipment. Darren Turner, Le Mans veteran, AMR Works and Valkyrie test driver made a couple of sighting runs ensuring there was plenty of opportunity for braking and the like and then went for it. The read out on the laptop read 205.4mph. I did hear that the top speed recorded in the opposite direction was reported to be 203 mph – giving a two-way average of 204 mph. Job done.
Well almost. After a welcome lunch break, the camera equipped helicopter went up again, Darren carried on driving and the film crew carried on capturing dramatic footage for what should be a terrific documentary film. The BBC stayed on and reported live from the scene for the teatime main news.
Whilst history was made and the car was finally proven to be every bit as good as its 43-year promise, no records were broken and the list of the fastest cars of all times is unchanged. The Bulldog was a roadgoing concept, not a production car so has to be excluded. Had it gone into even limited production, it would have stood a chance to beat the Ferrari F40 to 200 mph by a good seven years.
I would like to especially thank Philip, Richard Gauntlett, project lead and the team at CMC for allowing me to see the run at close quarters for the AMHT and wider Aston Martin community.
Tim Cottingham, AMHT Registrar and Trustee