When Area 4 member, Mike Jones, wrote his terrific article 'Avon Calling!' for the AMHT's 20th annual publication 'Aston' in December 2018, he didn't realise what a door of opportunity he'd opened. If you haven't read the article, dig it out (pp 30-35). In it, he explained how Avon Tyres and Aston Martin became such a strong partnership from the early 1950s, culminating in the famous Le Mans win of 1959 and Aston Martin becoming the first ever British winner of the World Sports Car Championship. Following that success, nearly all of the 'DB' Astons of the 1960s were shod on Avon tyres, as remains the case for many members' cars and for restorations by Aston Works et al.
The front 3 cars all wear Avon Tyres (Graeme Ford's DBS, Michael & Janet Dee's V8 and the author's DB6)
Following Mike's article, Cooper Tires' (parent company of Avon) general manager for Europe, Jaap van Wessum, invited AMOC members to a tour of the Melksham factory that now focusses on specialist tyres for historic, race and motorcycle applications. Members have also been invited to share the brand's continued celebrations at the Castle Combe Autumn Classic race meeting on 5th October. Thank you again, Mike Jones!
Two Zagatos at a local event was a treat: Jeremy Nicholls' Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake and the Gerring's V12 Zagato
On arrival at the factory, Avon's official photographer, Michael (flown in specially from the Netherlands!), ensured that our 15 Aston Martin cars would make an ideal publicity shot when taken from a cherry picker (sourced locally!). Little did we realise at the time that all of the staff on hand had volunteered to give up their Saturday morning to welcome us.
A welcome coffee on arrival
We then filed indoors for a briefing and to don the necessary safety gear before setting off in three groups to see, hear and smell what happens to create vehicle tyres from their chemical constituents. The analogy of baking a cake is very apposite. In very simple terms, various substances arrive on the 4th floor; they're mixed and warmed on the 3rd; the semi-molten rubber slides down to the 2nd floor where it's rolled and spliced and, at ground level, out pops the finished article. Simple really... not!
Members enjoying the briefing before donning their safety goggles, etc.
Of course, there's also lots of research, testing, legality and admin functions that support an operation that's been in existence for over a century. Some of the machinery that made the DBR1's tyres for Le Mans in 1959 is still in operation today... quality British engineering. So specialised and experienced is Avon's Melksham operation that they manufacture tyres for some of their competitors. These can be unique units, such as for classic 6-wheel Formula 1 cars that would otherwise not be able to race at all.
The good news for Avon (and many of we customers) is that the massive outputs required of major tyre manufacturers (including parent business Cooper Tires in the USA) precludes them from undertaking the kind of work that is Melksham's stock-in-trade and thus guarantees tyre production in the Wiltshire town for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of their perhaps unique position (or perhaps because of it) we were unable to take photographs inside the factory itself, so if you weren't there you have to use your imagination and/or book to join the next tour. That said, this was the first time the company had welcomed a non-industry group, but we think it might not be the last.
After the tour, Members were treated to a selection of gifts including a stunning poster celebrating Le Mans 1959 (visible above) before driving to the nearby Milk Churn pub for a buffet lunch, also c/o Avon Tyres.
Mike & Beverly Jones's DB7 Vantage GT look stunning en-route for lunch
Needless to say, every one of the 29 Members who came along representing AMOC Areas 4, 13, 18, 20 and 22 joined in the warm and sincere vote of thanks for all of the Avon team, with a special mention for Rachel Deacon who had made all of the arrangements and made yours truly's job so much easier.
It doesn't quite end there...
Anyone wanting a memento of the Aston Martin/Avon Tyres Diamond Jubilee of 1959 can purchase a limited edition T-shirt produced by Avon Tyres. Each costs £25 and all of the proceeds will be shared between the Down's Syndrome Association, Sparks Children's Charity and the AMHT.
They will be on sale at the Autumn Classic race meeting at Castle Combe on 5th October, or you can purchase directly by contacting Steve Smith at Avon Tyres by e-mail.
And finally, to read Avon Tyres' press release about our visit, click here.
Photos: Courtesy of Avon Tyres