Aston Martin is one of Britain’s most prestigious and historic car companies, forever linked to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, surviving the 70’s after a close call with receivership, and prospering under the guidance of the Ford Motor Company. It is now again a proper British Motorcar producer, the marque owned by private investment firms based in Britain and Kuwait, with a future that is challenged given today’s economic climate.
At the 2009 Geneva Auto Salon, Aston Martin decided to dust off their Lagonda nameplate with a particularly garish concept that sent the Aston Martin faithful into a state of apoplexy. Is this concept really just another luxury crossover, arguably one with a historic name, or is it the taste of things to come from Dr. Bez and the team that has guided the marque through its current renaissance? With that being said I thought it was time to re-introduce you to the last vehicle that wore this prestigious badge – The 1976 to 1989 Aston Martin Lagonda Saloon. Aston Martin flirted with receivership in the mid-seventies and desperate times called for desperate measures. Traditionally, Aston Martin produced 2+2 grand touring cars. However, the Lagonda was to be a four-door saloon with a brand new V8 engine. As soon as it was introduced, it drew in hundreds of deposits from potential customers, helping Aston Martin to stave off receivership. The car was designed by William Towns in what can be termed an extreme interpretation of the classic 1970s “folded paper” style. It was not unlike the then-current Cadillac Seville, only more dramatic. It was as unconventional a design then as it is now, and there is still debate as to its merits. Throughout its history these hand-built carriages were amongst the most expensive saloons in the world. The only other “production” four-door saloons to approach its lofty price tag at the time were the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit/Silver Spur, Bentley Mulsanne, and Maserati Quattroporte. The Lagonda was a clear departure from the quintessentially British 2+2s that has sustained the marque from the immediate postwar David Brown (DB) era, up through its starring role in multiple James Bond adventures. It was the first production car in the world to use computer management and a digital instrument panel and both were quite failure-prone. The development cost for the electronics was four times larger than the budget for the rest of the car. The second series used cathode ray tubes for the instrumentation, which proved even less reliable than the original model’s LED display. The Lagonda’s striking design and opulent leather interior, together with its then-state-of-the-art instrumentation, went well with its old world engine; All Lagondas were powered by the famous Tadek Marek-designed 5.4-litre 4-cam V8 engine. Although the engines were cast off-site they were machined in-house in the Aston Martin engine shop and each one was hand built by a single engine builder who spent more than a week preparing each engine. Each specific engine builder’s name is recorded on a small plaque fixed on top of the engine. Engine horsepower ranged from 280 (early versions) ending up with over 300 by the time production ended. The transmissions used were the famous Chrysler TorqueFlite three-speed automatic. Only 645 examples were produced, between 1976 and 1989 at the Aston Martin plant located in the town of Newport Pagnell, England. The average selling price of these cars was £150,000 or the then-equivalent of a quarter million dollars. There was one two-door coupe produced by the factory, and a “shooting brake” estate conversion completed in Switzerland by Roos Engineering which is currently for sale in Germany by rare car dealer E. Thiesen. The Lagonda was indeed a truly unique car that helped Aston Martin recover from the brink of receivership and help to sustain the company until it was eventually acquired by Ford in 2004 as part of its now defunct Premiere Auto Group. The original Lagonda, properly updated, should be used as a template for future four-door models to emulate. In my opinion Aston Martin should take the current Lagonda Concept and deep-six it for a new, powerful, luxurious, and striking saloon to compete with Rolls Royce, Bentley, Mercedes Benz, Maserati, and the just introduced Porsche Panamera. And it looks like they will with a production version of the well-received Rapide. In the meantime, The Lagonda nameplate should be used on an over-the-top limousine that merges the sporting Aston Martin coupes and cabriolets with a formal roofline to create a one-of-a-kind ultra-luxury car that Daimler tried to create with the Maybach, but failed. This could be a vehicle that is either owner driven, or chauffeured, that is not an assault of good taste like the current Rolls Royce Phantom. In other words, a car fit for a retired Commander James Bond. Read more of my Retrospective and Recently Deceased postings at Automotive Traveler.