There are a number of people who had a major influence in the automotive industry that also had a connection to agriculture: Ferruccio Lamborghini, Henry Ford, Harry Ferguson and Sir David Brown. All four manufactured tractors as well as cars or other automotive equipment and like Lamborghini, Sir David Brown is well known for luxury sports cars – his with the DB moniker.
Unlike the others though, Brown was born into a successful engineering and manufacturing family in the north of England. His grandfather, also called David Brown, had started a business in 1860 as a pattern maker before switching to gears and then to higher quality machine cut gears. This business, David Brown and Sons, enabled Sir David Brown to have a well educated upbringing.
He was born in Yorkshire in 1904 and attended a number of private schools that certainly gave him access to a high roller old boys network that would come in handy in later years! When he was seventeen he became an apprentice in the family business, starting at the bottom to learn the ropes. He progressed from riding a bicycle to a motorcycle and like all good engineers, made it better – to a point where he went racing and was invited to be part of the works Douglas team.
When Brown was a young teenager, the family company designed a car that was in production for a few years. This was a portend to Brown’s desire to build his own sports car and he unofficially used the factory to cast an engine block to create his own power unit. When he was caught, he moved the construction to his house and designed the car from the chassis up, buying a 2 litre motor and components from established suppliers. He raced that successfully too.
Being in the family business, he was sent around the world to learn the business and to manage projects which saw him rise up the corporate ladder. When his father died in the early 1930s, he became managing director and started to expand the business. One of his first diversions was with Harry Ferguson to make tractors – firstly called Ferguson-Brown and then later simply as David Brown Tractors. Ferguson was also working with Henry Ford in the US to do the same thing before ditching Ford for Massey Harris of Canada.
After World War 2, Brown answered an advertisement to buy a “high class motor business” – a quaint way to sell a company! The business was Aston Martin and he liked what they were wanting to build – he actually paid 60% of the asking price after doing his due diligence! So in 1947 the tractor business was joined in the group by a car business, however, Brown also heard that Lagonda was in financial difficulties. He saw an opportunity to bring Aston’s sports car together with a new six cylinder engine from Lagonda that was designed by the great WO Bentley. Combined, they spawned a family and heritage of great sports coupe’s: the DB1 through to today’s DB11. In 1955 he added the Tickford coach-builder to the group. He sold Aston Martin Lagonda in 1972 to a British investor group at the same time as he sold the tractor business to the US based Case Corporation, in part due to financial difficulties with the parent company, David Brown Corporation.
As an industrialist, Brown was instrumental in many engineering focused industries and was knighted in 1968 for his services to British industry. However, he didn’t just like mechanical horsepower – he bred racehorses as well. In 1977 he left the UK in disgust when the British Government nationalised one of his companies and he moved to Monte Carlo, a perfect motor sport venue for his interests. He sold the company in 1990 and it is now owned by the US based Textron, an aerospace company.
Family wise, he had two children, both of whom followed him into the family business – the fourth generation to do so. His son was the third David Brown and his daughter Angela, married a famous British racer. BTW, David Brown III is not the same man who has created David Brown Automotive who are building a re-imagined DB5/6 called the Speedback GT. That David Brown is also the son of a man called David J.B. Brown who also created agricultural and earthmoving equipment! Even more co-incidental was that both Brown families were from north Yorkshire!
Sir David Brown died in 1993 in Monte Carlo and he was the classic post war industrialist who loved everything – he flew planes, raced cars and motorcycles, rode horses, was an accomplished polo and tennis player and seemed to have a great but busy life. If you ever see a dark purple Aston Martin or Lagonda from the 1950s or 1960s, it was probably Sir David’s personal car, although towards the end of his time owning the marque, he actually drove a a Jaguar!