Aston Martin Bulldog supercar project

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: CMC UK & Unique Cars file

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An ambitious supercar project that stalled 40 years ago has been brought back to life

Automotive history is littered with brave new designs that never made it past prototype stage and, all too often, that one-off example ends up in the crusher. Unless it’s really lucky and someone has had the means and the foresight to at least pack it away and work out what to do with it later on.


That, fortunately, was the fate of the Aston Martin Bulldog, launched to much fanfare in 1980 and promising to be the world’s fastest production car. The plan was to build 15-25 of the monsters, powered by a 5.3lt twin turbo V8 (with ZF manual transmission) promising 600hp in and 678Nm of torque in production form. The engine had in fact been run up to 700hp in dyno tests.


The Lagonda's sharp lines show a similar styling influence, but are a little less extreme when compared to the Bulldog

That lot was intended to punt the wedge-shaped device to a claimed 380km/h, though the prototype had reached ‘just’ 307km/h in late 1979 before the test program was abandoned. While the lines look incredibly stark to modern eyes, back when the car was first penned by designer William Towns, it was in keeping with the fashion of the day. Among Towns’ credits is the similarly sharp-edged new-generation Aston Martin Lagonda of 1974-85.


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Where the Lagonda was a four-door grand tourer, the Bulldog was a mid-engined supercar complete with gullwing doors, a distinctive set of five headlamps set into the grille, and an interior with modern lines but trimmed in traditional leather and wood. Set into that environment was a host of touch controls and LED lamps.

| Read next: Aston Martin Lagonda review


Chassis and driveline reunite during the restoration. A complex process

Then Aston Martin Managing Director Alan Curtis was the driving force behind the project, which was intended to act as a flagship for the company’s effective relaunch as a high-tech concern. It’s said the car got its name from the private aircraft flown by the boss, a Scottish Aviation Bulldog. Its project name was DP K901. Perhaps inevitably, the project scored the nickname of ‘K9’, after the robotic dog in the popular TV series Doctor Who.

Engineer Mike Loasby did much of the initial work, however he went on to work for DeLorean – an interesting development given the similarity in concept between the two cars. Keith Martin took over the project for the following three years.

| Read more: One-off Aston Martin Bulldog concept undergoes restoration


The death knell for the Bulldog was sounded in 1981 by new Managing Director Victor Gauntlett, who decided the project was too costly. In a lovely twist of fate, his son Richard ended up, several decades later, as project manager for the restoration of the car through Classic Motor Cars (CMC) in the UK.

According to CMC, the car was sold to Saudi Prince in 1984 – for a substantial GB£130,000 (Au$231,000) – and it rewarded its new owner by blowing up the engine on his first drive.

| Read next: Aston Martin DBSZ concept


A huge amount of effort and hours went into restoring the chassis

It since did a fair bit of travelling, moving on to the USA and then back to what CMC describes as somewhere in the Far East. It did, in the meantime, make a couple of appearances at international car shows.

Richard Gauntlett commented, "The Bulldog became something of a mythical beast, lots of people knew about it and wondered where it was after it was sold by Aston Martin to an owner in the Middle East. It then disappeared from general view.

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Inviting leather encased interior

"There were sightings all over the world, In the late 1980s it was spotted in a lock up in Arizona, it was back in the Middle East in the 1990s but it was RM Sotheby’s who tracked it down in Asia.

"With top restoration company, CMC being chosen to carry out the 18 months plus restoration and get the car ready for its 200-mph run, the Bulldog was coming home. The car had come full circle not only geographically but in terms of its history.

| Read next: 50th anniversary of Holden GTR-X


"While the physical restoration went on at CMC, a huge amount of work continued to be done forensically piecing together the full history of where the car has been."

RM Sotheby’s car specialist Alexander Weaver added, "Our team of car specialists is always on the hunt for unique, elusive or obscure cars on behalf of our clients and the Aston Martin Bulldog fits that bill perfectly.


A 5.3-litre twin-turbo tyre warmer can only warm one at a time

"We found this one-of-a-kind concept within an exceptional collection where it had quietly resided for decades. As one would expect we were keen to facilitate its sale knowing the interest in it would be strong.

"After extensive discussions and negotiations, the owner agreed to part with the long-hidden Bulldog and we were able to facilitate a sale to our client and friend Phillip Sarofim, through our Private Sales division. We are certainly excited to see the car undergo the restoration to its former glory and I’m personally eager to see the Bulldog crack 200mph, as it was intended and came so close."


Grand uniforms and a Union Jack – it doesn't get any more British

The restored Bulldog finally broke cover last year and was given its first test run in early December at a naval station in Somerset. For Richard Gauntlett, it represented a pivotal moment. "Seeing the car run like this for the first time in 40 years is a dream come true, he said. "I grew up with the car, I had a poster of it on my bedroom wall."

At the wheel for the shakedown run was CMC boss Nigel Woodward, who piloted the machine up to 260km/h. "There is still much to do," he said, "but the session not only validated the car but also provided a lot of very useful data.

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CMC boss Nigel Woodward in the driver's seat

"The fact that, without trying and in the teeth of a 50mph crosswind, we sailed through the 160mph mark in only three-quarters of a mile, on reduced boost and part throttle says much. It was only a lack of bravery on my part and the fact that we were still evaluating the car that prevented us going faster."

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Classic wedge shape was meant to cut the air

So what’s next? The plan called for a little more fine-tuning before taking the car for another test run some time this year. If nothing else it looks like they’re proving Bulldogs can fly...


The Bulldog's namesake – Scottish Aviation Bulldog in air trainer livery 


Unique Cars #464, April 2022


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