The Return of Lagonda (Again)
One of the most evocative and eccentric names of British motoring history, Lagonda, is set for relaunch by owners Aston Martin, with an eye on “new money” in markets like Russia and China where super-rich buyers are multiplying fast.
A statement about the move from Aston’s Chief Executive, Ulrich Bez, released yesterday, says: “The Lagonda brand would allow us to develop cars which can have a different character than a sports car. Lagonda will have its own niche with luxurious and truly versatile products suitable for both existing and emerging markets.”
Lagonda has been linked with Aston Martin for over 60 years, and the badge has been associated with occasional luxury four-door saloons made from time to time by that company, some more serious than others.
The name itself dates back to an English motorcycle manufacturer which built its first car in 1907, the 20hp Torpedo. Ironically, it view of the current aspirations for Lagonda, the early cars sold well in the Russian Empire, after a good performance in a pioneering Moscow to St Petersburg event in 1910.
This market, however, dried up after 1914, but the company survived the First World War and the difficult years afterwards. It made some notable models in the inter-war period – despite having to be rescued from receivership in 1935 – and it was not until 1947 that it fell under the control of the David Brown company, which owned Aston Martin.
Having made, in its time, sophisticated V12 sports saloons competing with the world’s most elite manufacturers, the company was a logical complement to the Aston Martin, and was soon making – in very small numbers – luxury saloons with Aston engines.
It did, however, only ever achieve junior marque status, playing second fiddle to Aston in the British tradition, much as Daimler once did to Jaguar and Bentley to Rolls-Royce.
In 1961 David Brown launched the Lagonda Rapide – reviving a earlier and very elegant name. This was a true 125 mph grand tourer which had slightly controversial styling penned by the Italian coachbuilder Touring.
The big 4.0-litre saloon wasn’t a huge success, only lasting four years, and the Lagonda name then fell into abeyance, being half-heartedly revived a decade later for the occasional four-door stretched conversion of the 1970s-era Aston Martin V8.
Undoubtedly the most controversial Lagonda ever was still to come. This appeared in 1976 in the shape of the futuristic and ostentatiously angular William Towns-styled model, supposed to be a technical showcase as well as a glimpse of the future of luxury motoring. With its absurdly small grille and four pop-up headlamps it certainly looked like nothing else on the road.
Strictly speaking, for this incarnation, the Lagonda badge denoted a model rather than a separate marque. The car also carried Aston Martin identification, adding further confusion which has persisted to this day over Lagonda’s status.
Predictably, on a British car of the 1970s, the electronics designed as a key attribute of the space-age Lagonda were too ambitious and complex to have a hope of working in practice. To be fair, they were probably ahead of any company’s capability at the time.
It took this weird vehicle two years to reach production and many of the car’s planned innovations – such as high-tech touch-sensitive switchgear, LED instruments and a talking computer – had to be watered down or shelved altogether in that time. As it was, the interior ambience for the driver was more like sitting at a 1970s games console than inside one of the world’s most expensive luxury cars.
The wedge-shaped Lagonda, although it was capable of nearly 150mph, proved incredibly impractical as a touring car, being huge outside but tiny within, featuring far less passenger space than much smaller vehicles. After the initial huge impact, the car soon faded from view, and in truth it was a decidedly acquired taste, with many motoring writers considering it a vulgar joke.
Despite – or perhaps because of – this, it remained in production for over a decade – with later cars benefiting from a facelift which cured many of the early faults. The vast majority of the 645 cars produced went to the Middle East where the car’s horrendous fuel consumption was of little concern.
Officially dead again as the wedge-shaped era drew to a close, the Lagonda name next resurfaced on some rather clumsily stretched one-off versions of the 1990s Aston Martin Virage, after which it disappeared from view – until now.
Confusingly, Aston Martin has long been working on a new four-door saloon, planned to be called the Rapide, due out next year. Current reports suggest this will use the Aston badge rather than evolve into the first new-generation Lagonda, although the latter would make a lot of sense from a logical point of view.
Whatever the company has in store, it would need to go a long way to top the sheer extravagance and wilful eccentricity of its 1976 predecessor.
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