Prodrive boss David Richards is one of a handful of bidders still in the running to take over Aston Martin, it was claimed yesterday.
He was reported to be heading an investment consortium prepared to put up an estimated #450-#500 million for the Warwickshire-based builder of grand touring cars which has been put up for sale by owner, Ford.
Reports said that Mr Richards, who already has close links with Aston Martin, was working with a number of investors, including Egyptian bank Naeem Capital, itself a final bidder. The team, which is being advised by US investment bank Jefferies, is competing against UK-based buyout group Doughty Hanson and Syrian-born property tycoon Simon Halabi.
It is understood that Oxfordshire-based Prodrive, the company behind Aston Martin Racing, is itself not involved in the bid.
Mr Richards, who was said not to be commenting on his reported interest in Aston Martin, is best known as the former boss of the BAR Formula 1 racing team, is a major force in the British high-performance car industry. Prodrive was recently given the go-ahead to develop a #100 million motor racing research and development centre at Fenn End, near Kenilworth, which is expected to create up to 1,500 jobs.
A decision on who will get Aston Martin, the sale of which is being handled for Ford by UBS, is expected soon.
Behind the scenes, bidders are believed to be disgruntled with the way the auction has been handled. Due diligence is thought to have exposed higher than expected pension charges while Aston Martin's estimated earnings have been cut by some #10 million to #37 million.
The company, which employs 1,500 staff at its Gaydon HQ in Warwickshire, is, however, on a sound financial footing and is described as an attractive asset by analysts. Ford said proceeds from the sale will be used to finance its far-reaching restructuring of its North American carmaking operations following massive losses and falling sales.