The 2nd Earl of Snowdon, born David Armstrong-Jones and known professionally as David Linley, loves Aston Martins, but he’s also rather partial to fast Fords and tiny continental run-arounds.
Linley is renowned for its bespoke furniture, but in his student days in the early 1980s the founder’s own home furnishings included a rear bench seat that had been ripped out of a Rover, “like you see in the Top Gear studio”. His obsession with craftsmanship stems from making many factory visits – bicycle manufacturers, shoemakers, vast newspaper printing presses – with his parents, the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret and the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones.
It was from his father that the younger Snowdon developed a passion for automobiles. “I had quite an exciting upbringing staring at temperature gauges waiting for the car to boil over,” says Lord Snowdon. Even when it was leaking fluids, though, it was breathtakingly handsome: A Caribbean pearl blue 1964 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible. One of just 123, it had been purchased from the actor Peter Sellers, who famously never kept the same car for more than ten minutes. All this was happening at the same time Sean Connery was driving a DB5 on the big screen. “I was brought up on James Bond. I had the Corgi car, and my father had the real thing. It even had a special gadget – the very first car phone in Britain. It worked a bit like a walkie-talkie; you clicked a button twice and got through to the exchange.”
Given his ancestry you might expect a childhood spent in stately Rolls-Royces, but the cars Lord Snowdon’s family owned were usually more modest. “I started going to school in a Morris 1300 with blacked-out windows. Then we had a Vauxhall Cresta. And my father was a huge fan of Volvos. He started with a 245DL, which was ideal for lugging all his camera equipment. We’d go down to Cornwall once a year on holiday in this rather floppy old Jaguar, which made everyone sick. The Queen Mother had a marvellous Lanchester which was awfully slow. We had to drive up hills backwards because the reverse gear was the lowest.
“The first car I ever went in was my father’s Hooper-bodied Mini. It was a very early one, and it was heated-up. The windows had been altered to wind-down so my father could stick his arm out and have a cigarette. This frustrated Alec Issigonis, the Mini’s creator, who insisted they should be sliding so as not to ruffle Princess Margaret’s hair. So there was a bit of toing and froing between them.”
At 17, he was given a Mini of his own and, a few years later, upgraded to an MG B “which was rather good, but it blew up on the motorway. I put a new engine in it and had it done up by the MG Owners Club. It was immaculate when I got it back, so I considered it ruined. The nice thing was that it was old. Water got in the electrics once, triggering non-stop horn-blaring. It was terribly embarrassing.”
As his furniture business took root, he got into Fords in a big way – including Transits. His favourites, though, were the XR3s. “I liked them in bright red, and ended with an RS1600i, which was highly sought after.”
In 1986, upon David’s 25th birthday, the 1st Earl gave him the DB5, valued at a heady £30,000 at the time. “By then it had already spent a few years at the motoring museum at Beaulieu, and my father advised me it might be a good idea to leave it there. It needed careful maintenance and it wasn’t getting any more reliable. But I was 25, and living in London. The car didn’t stay in the museum!”
It is his biggest motoring regret that he sold the car in 1999, with no way to know that values were about to go through the roof. Snowdon has managed to buy back his dad’s 1966 Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle, and after his mother’s death in 2002 brought her Series III Land Rover back from Mustique, which he now uses at his home in the Cotswolds. Other ancient machinery includes a Citroën 2CV which came with a chateau in Provence (Snowdon claims the car was the main reason he bought the house) and a 1973 Fiat 500 used for nipping between his Chelsea flat and his office at auctioneers Christies, where he’s honorary chairman.
Mostly, he drives a brace of Audis – an S3 hot-hatch and an A6 Allroad “which is pretty much the perfect car. It’s an off-roader when you want it to be, and not when you don’t. I had an Audi Convertible in the early 90s and I’ve been into them ever since. I’ve had several very beautiful RS6s.”
But Astons remain closest to his heart. “I had a Rapide which I bought at a charity auction for the tsunami in Japan. It looked like a bullet and I used it a lot on shooting trips and so forth. I love driving to the south of France, to the north of Scotland and to my uncle’s in Wales, where my father was brought up. I avoid the motorway, I like to take the wiggly-woggly roads. My favourite car to drive is my V12 Vantage. Father always insisted an Aston should be manual and convertible, as this is.
Unsurprisingly, Linley have worked on client’s vehicle interiors and have collaborated with car companies including Land Rover and Aston. Snowdon himself was brought in to consult on the Lagonda Vision Concept, an all-electric autonomous super-limo for the future. He considers this his dream car. “I love driving, but this is a car you want to relax in the back of. Aston are building cars in Wales, so I had them include wool in the interior. There are Loro Piana rugs and deep pile carpets. I think it might very well be the most comfortable and refined car in the world.”
Lord Snowdon: My Life in Cars
1978 – Austin Mini
1981 – MG B (1966)
1983 – Ford Escort RS1600i
1986 – Aston Martin DB5 Convertible (1964)
1992 – Audi Cabriolet
2000 – Citroen 2CV (1981)
2002 – Land Rover Series III (1978)
2010 – Fiat 500 (1973)
2011 – Aston Martin Rapide
2012 – Aston Martin V12 Vantage Roadster
2019 – Audi S3
2019 – Audi A6 Allroad
My dream car: 2019 Lagonda Vision Concept