Several weeks ago I wrote about Sir David Brown who owned two marques, one of which was Lagonda – a classic British sports car, although created by an American abroad.
Wilbur Gunn founded the company to make motorcycles and completed his first car in 1907 – the Torpedo with a six cylinder 20hp motor. Like other budding manufacturers he entered early races and managed to win the Moscow – St Petersburg Trial. This lead to many orders from Russia, it was pre World War 1 and the country still had a Czar and a society that demanded new toys. In addition to the Torpedo, Lagonda sold the advanced 11.1, a four cylinder 1-litre car that had an early monocoque body with anti-roll bars.
Gunn was originally from Springfield, Ohio, and left under mysterious circumstances and named his British company after Lagonda Creek, now called Buck Creek, that runs through the city. Lagonda is the Native American name for a buck’s horn and the creek was named after its curvature. Gunn’s brother-in-law owned Lagonda Manufacturing in the American city and there are still streets named Lagonda.
Incidentally, Gunn’s brother, J. Newton Gunn, was Vice President of the United States Rubber Company that became Uniroyal, who merged with BF Goodrich and is now owned by Michelin!
During World War 1, Lagonda, like other manufacturers, stopped making cars and made armaments instead and then returned to building the 11.1 after hostilities finished. It was upgraded with a 1,400cc motor and renamed the 11.9. Gunn died in 1920 and the company continued with models like the 12 and the 14/60 with a two litre motor. Lagonda also started to produce sports cars with superchargers with engines growing through the 1920s to a three litre. The engines were also Hemi’s by design.
In 1933 Lagonda started selling cars with two litre Crossley engines and these were in production for several years firstly by Lagonda and then by a separate company called Rapier, after the model name. Lagonda also started to sell the M45, a 100mph car with a 4.5 litre Meadows engine. The M45R or Rapide became a Le Mans winner in 1935. Despite the win, the company was struggling and was put up for sale. Rolls-Royce were sniffing around but were pipped by another buyer, Alan Good, a lawyer and financier who managed to persuade W.O. Bentley to leave Rolls and design some new cars. Bentley brought with him a team who revamped the model range and developed a 4.5 litre V12 for the cars.
After the Second World War, the company was put up for sale and bought by Sir David Brown, the tractor magnate and industrialist. Brown had also just bought Aston Martin and he merged them to become Aston Martin Lagonda. Lagonda’s engines became the basis for future Aston motors and the Lagonda name became limited run specials with Italian designs. The Rapide name came back in the 1960s as a very limited run car based on the Aston Martin DB4 using a straight six motor that would also be used in the DB5.
Several other Lagondas were built in the 1970s too, based on the Aston V8 model – essentially a four door version. By several, I mean the number built rather than the number of models – Aston made less than ten and these were known as the Series One Aston Martin Lagonda.
During the late 1970s through to the 1990s, Aston Martin produced the Series 2, 3 and 4 Lagonda models, a futuristic looking car with a V8 and the first electronic dash – a precursor to the Honda S2000 dashboard. Many of the components were ahead of their time and as such were unreliable! The V8 was mated to the classic Chrysler Torqueflite 3-speed auto box. Only 645 of this seventeen foot long car were built and there was even a wagon (or estate car) conversion – definitely longer than your average Volvo wagon!
In the last decade, Aston Martin has had several attempts at reviving the Lagonda nameplate. The first idea was to build an SUV – a prototype with a V12 was shown in 2009 however it never made it into production. I’m sure that the company is kicking itself now with so many luxury SUVs hitting the market. Nearly all their competitors have seen success in this market segment. Despite talking up SUVs, Aston Martin then produced a limited edition Lagonda – the Taraf – a twin-turbo V12 powered saloon. Only 200 were planned to be built and sold exclusively in the Middle East, however it seems many were sold in Europe and the US. The famous Rapide name ended up on another four door Aston Martin, based on the DB9 and is their answer to the Porsche Panamera in my eyes.
Now, Aston Martin has revived the name again as a true marque which they want to be the “world’s first zero emissions luxury brand”. At this stage it is only a “Vision Concept”, however they better start delivering a vehicle as several of their competitors are almost there – Maserati has announced they will be fully electric within five years and Porsche are there today with a working concept – the Mission E.
One thing will be for sure: a high price tag on a very unique car!