It's a job most James Bond fans would dream of.
As a project manager for Aston Martin, Liz Dixon enjoyed the rare perk of being able to borrow the luxury cars at the weekend.
It has meant that the Midland mum has driven everything from the DB7 to the Vanquish.
“Being a high end company, there were nice little perks,” says Liz, who drove a Ford Fiesta as her own car.
“When we had prototypes, they wanted to put mileage on them so if you were going somewhere overnight or for the weekend, they would lend you a car.
“It meant I got to drive them all, except, of course, for the One-77, the £1m supercar we made!
“Over the years, I drove everything from the Vanquish, the DB7 and the DB9 to the city car, the Cygnet.
“I was very lucky.
“My friends loved it. All the neighbours became best friends when I had an Aston Martin on loan because I could take them out in it.”
Liz began her career in the defence industry on the South coast, working as the only female in 100 apprentices for Marconi Under Water Systems.
“In the beginning I’d wanted a career in music,” recalls Liz, who now lives in Upper Boddington, near Daventry.
“But because I had lots of interests outside of music, I came to the conclusion by the time I finished school that if I wanted a music career, I’d have to give up all my other interests.
“At the time I wasn’t prepared to do that.
“I’d always enjoyed physics, maths, graphic communications and technical drawing.
“When I started my apprenticeship, I spent the first five months on drawing but I decided I liked engineering, manufacturing and mechanics instead. I was doing the grass roots, practical side of things, all the oily stuff!
“It was very male-dominated – I learnt very quickly how to hold my own.
“I’d been quite shy when I was at school but by the end of the first year I could give as good as I got, basically because I had to.
“It was basic survival.”
Recognising her talent, Marconi sponsored Liz to do a manufacturing systems degree at the University of Hertfordshire then she returned to Portsmouth to work again.
Later, Liz moved to the Midlands to work for Husky Computers in Coventry before turning to the automotive industry, working on the silver trims for the Rover 75 and the Mini.
Then she moved to Aston Martin in Gaydon, Warwickshire, as a project engineer.
“I started in research and development, working on the chrome trim,” she explains.
“Then I progressed through the company, becoming project manager working on design ideas with the design team through to full production.
“It was fascinating.”
Aston Martin’s specialist vehicle operations (SVO) team got involved with some of the James Bond films.
“It was all fairly cool,” says Liz, 43, who is married to Graham, 50, who works for Jaguar Land Rover as a manufacturing controller.
“The SVO team did get involved in prepping some of the James Bond cars with gadgets and bits and pieces.”
Then, in May 2011, Liz and Graham adopted a four-year-old girl.
Liz took a year adoption leave off work, vowing to return as soon as the year was over.
But she found motherhood changed her view on life.
“I was adamant I’d go back to Aston Martin but as the time grew closer, I realised it wasn’t going to work. My job entailed long hours, often coming back and switching on the computer again to prepare presentations in the evenings.
“I wondered: ‘is that going to be right for our daughter?’.
“I’d always worked since the age of 16 and I knew come September she’d be starting school and that I couldn’t be at home all day.
“I had to do something for my own benefit, even if I wasn’t making the same money as I was before.”
Having always been interested in craft and textiles as a hobby, Liz began making cushions and scented candles and selling them at craft fairs using the name Comfy Frog, due to the fact she lives in Frog Lane.
But this didn’t give her the work/life balance she wanted.
“Within six months, I realised I was losing my weekends at craft fairs which were the family time I’d given up work to have.
“Also due to the economic climate, no-one was selling much at craft fairs. You could say I was a busy fool really, working hard but not getting any gain.”
This time last year, Liz met a woman at a craft fair who was making fairy houses sculptured out of fabric.
“I learnt there was a resin which sets fabric hard and makes it weatherproof.
“I realised I could use my textiles to make sculptures to go outside.
“So I bought a little pack and had a go.”
That very first piece ended up in a gallery in Penzance and Liz realised she was onto something special.
“People have been really positive,” says Liz, who works in a converted attic.
“They say has that really been made from T-shirt fabric? “I trawl charity shops to recycle materials as much as I can.
“A lot of the ceramic vases I make are charity shop finds I’ve brought to life.”
It takes Liz between five and 12 hours to make a sculpture plus the drying time then an hour afterwards to overbrush and finish the piece.
“I made a horse which was a real labour of love. It took around 30 hours to make and used a lot of fabric and chicken wire. It’s about 2ft tall.
“My inspiration comes from a piece of fabric or a stone, that was what inspired the 2ft mermaid on my website.
“Sometimes I just dream up new ideas overnight. I still have lots of ideas that I haven’t made yet.”
Several galleries now stock Liz’s work and it available online. Sculptures cost between £45 and £525, vases cost around £18 and napkin rings around £12.
“My background has definitely helped with the business management, logistics and finance side of things,” says Liz, who still plays the flute and is planning to start teaching her daughter to play piano soon.
“The engineering side has been useful too, especially when I’m working on larger sculptures which require chicken wire. I’m still using handtools to join bits together.”
Not surprisingly, Liz’s biggest fan is her daughter.
“She loves them,” says Liz, who cannot name her daughter, now six, for privacy reasons.
“She comes home from school and says what have you made today, mummy?
“I’ll definitely let her have a go when she’s older. Although the resin is non-toxic, if it gets on anything other than plastic it sticks – I think if she had a go at the moment, I’d have a whole room wrecked!”
* For more information, visit www.comfyfrog.co.uk