The Aston Martin Lagonda is not the weirdest luxury car ever made. Quite the contrary, it was the well-calculated product of an old, established British manufacturer. Albeit one that was feeling a considerable pinch in the financial department. Aston Martin were keen to show that, precarious finances or not, they were not only with the times, but ahead of them. They designed a luxurious super sedan for “the future that never was” and in the process, created one of the greatest cars of all time.
The Lagonda was the first production car to feature digital instrumentation and touch pad controls. When first shown in 1976, such technology was in its infancy (think of a telegraph compared to an iPhone). It’s amazing that a small, traditional, cash-strapped company would attempt something so advanced. Development was protracted and the first production Lagondas were not delivered to customers until 1979.
William Towns is largely responsible for the unmistakable lines. A proponent of the folded paper school of design, he made the car razor sharp and very long and low. In fact, it’s the same height as a Porsche 911. Look beyond the striking styling and futuristic electronics and you start to realize that the Lagonda is more traditional in concept than it appears. It is, after all, a sporting luxury sedan handcrafted in the British tradition with a cabin trimmed in fragrant leather and polished burl walnut.
There is said to be a “golden ratio” in automotive body styling: two wheels in height and three wheels in wheelbase. The Lagonda is one of the very few cars to possess such proportions.
Born in an age of baroque luxury cars, it’s remarkably pure of line without an opera window or padded roof to be found. With the Lagonda, myriad subtle details work together to add visual interest, but they’re so well conceived nothing appears overwrought or contrived. Take the small formal grille; it’s like David Niven’s moustache (suave yet slightly caddish). Viewed along with the squinting driving lamps, it gives the car the air of a well-bred rapscallion. Then consider the large trapezoidal fuel filler door on the chunky C pillar; a circle would’ve done just as well, but would’ve seemed like an afterthought. The main headlamps pop up when in use, but otherwise nestle beneath covers, allowing a very low profile leading edge. The car’s length is even further emphasized by a lateral crease. The windshield is raked at an extremely fast angle, but the backlight cants inward only slightly — sporting, but still formal.
Our feature car wears alloy “pepperpot” wheels, and the circles-within-circles aesthetic nicely contrasts the angularity.
Automotive designer Richard Vaughan had long desired a Lagonda. As a young design student, he’d make pilgrimages to an exotic car dealership and peer through the showroom window like a famished Dickensian orphan, dreaming of one day owning the svelte British machine. Years later, he stumbled across a striking 1984 Lagonda at a British car show. His internal monologue ran, “If this car has a red interior, I’m going to have to buy it.” Car number 372 of 645 produced is the only Lagonda finished in blue with a red interior, and it was also for sale. A deal was struck and Richard has used it regularly ever since.
In spite of a fearsome reputation, Richard has found his Lagonda to be practical in the extreme with good reliability. The cars were handmade and evolved throughout their production run, so it’s reasonable to conclude that some examples might’ve been more troublesome than others.
Richard says his Lagonda handles extremely well, cornering as if “on rails.” The chassis shares much with the Aston Martin V-8, so good performance is baked in. There’s 300 lbs.-ft. of torque, making it one of quickest cars of its day, in spite of offering luxury equipment such as dual air conditioners (part of the Desert Touring Package). The hand-built 5.3-litre mill speaks with a slight American accent — gruff and burbling, taking on a harder edge as revs climb. A Chrysler TorqueFlite handles cog swapping. Disc brakes all around convert momentum into heat. They’re mounted inboard at the rear to reduce unsprung weight. Front suspension is conventional, but the rear employs a DeDion system. This arrangement can handle serious power and keep the wheels perpendicular to the road, but is complex and expensive to build. One of many reasons why the Lagonda cost more than a Ferrari 400.
The last Lagonda rolled off the line in 1990. However, you’re unlikely to find one of these gems in your neighborhood Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. If you want to join the ranks of Lagonda owners Malcolm Forbes and the late Saddam Hussein, do your research and seek the advice of experts. As with so many misunderstood things you’ll profit by ignoring snarky “opinionistas.” Take Packard’s advice and “ask the man who owns one.”
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