Aston Martin brand set to return to British hands for $1bn

LONDON - Luxury car brand Aston Martin, best known as the car driven by James Bond, is set to return to British ownership as Ford prepares to sell the marque off to a private consortium.

With a price tag of between $700m and $1bn (£400m and £518m), Ford is expected to sell the firm to a consortium led by Dave Richards, who heads up performance car specialists Prodrive.

The sale is part of an effort to restore Ford's troubled finances after last year's $12.7bn loss.

Richards, who is a former World Rally Championship winner with Prodrive, used to run BAR Honda and is also set to make a return to the world of F1 racing in 2008 with a Prodrive team. This opens the way for a possible Prodrive Aston Martin team in F1.

Ford first bought into Aston Martin 20 years ago, buying a 75% stake, as it to snap up large parts of the British car industry. It also owns Jaguar and Land Rover. It bought the remaining 25% of Aston Martin in 1993.

However, Americans have owned the firm, founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, since 1975.

The Aston Martin is best known for being the car James Bond drives. After several movies where he drove BMWs, the brand made a return in the last couple of films, most spectacularly in the franchise's last outing 'Casino Royale' starring Daniel Craig.

Aston Martin is part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, which last year lost £16m mainly due to losses at Jaguar.

A sale of Aston Martin, which accounts for around 1% of Ford's global sales, could be followed with the sell off of other non-core Ford brands.

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