Lagonda. The Future Of The Past (…a comeback overdue).

20140510_153058 There can’t be a single person amongst our octane-veined community who isn’t familiar with this machine. It fits in with a special category of esoteric intrigue which also encompasses the SR.N4 passenger Hovercraft, the Caspian Sea Monster or the XB-70A. Sure, the Lagonda is just a car, but it carries the same sci-fi credentials as any of the aforementioned. And, as with those heroic machines, the Lagonda was never really given the chance to succeed. I reckon things would have been very different if it had been released, say, thirty five years later. See if you agree after the jump. 20140510_153219 Pop-up headlamps. As a child, that was all a car needed to have if it was to reduce me to a trembling, dribbling halfwit in its very presence. Everyone was doing it in the ’70s and ’80s for reasons of both aerodynamic packaging and stylistic vanity. A TR7 may have been awful, but it had pop-up lamps like a Ferrari which made it automatically awesome. Even the Honda Integra, which was a pretty ordinary device, was elevated to a ludicrously and inappropriately high status through the simple expedient of the headlamps going up and down. The Lagonda had all that, and much more, in 1976. It was the work of William Towns, and was about as extreme as it could have been without Mr Towns imbibing of monumental quantities of LSD. Perhaps it was a very hot day in the design studio and the magic marker fumes were having hallucinogenic effects. Certainly the resultant design was nothing like anybody could possibly have expected. 20140510_153103 The previous Lagonda, built from ’74 to ’75, had been a mild looking affair, very much an enlarged development of the DBS V8 model from which the 5.3 V8 was taken. But that was only really an interim model. The series 2 Lagonda represented William Towns and Aston Martin’s vision of the future. What greeted the press at the London motor show in 1976 caused them to collectively spit out their tea. After the Earl Grey had been wiped from the paintwork, the full glory, or horror, depending on the point of view, began to sink in. This was a car that Gerry Anderson would have probably deemed outlandish. The length, width and extreme lack of height made for a proportional aspect ratio that had absolutely no precedent. Nobody could decide whether to love it or hate it but everybody, everybody, reacted. 20140510_153124 Today is actually the first time I have ever been intimately close to one of these behemoths. The first thing that you notice, walking towards it, is the extreme size. Like when you drive towards a prominent landmark, it takes a long while until you finally reach it. And then, when you get there, you find yourself looking down on it as if it has sunk into the ground. The window line isn’t much higher than my knee. You then make a few circuits of it, taking everything in. There’s a lot of it and, if we’re honest, no one particular aspect is particularly attractive. Some bits; the miniature front grille for instance, are utterly ridiculous. But the overall effect is one of shock and awe. Black is a good hue for unbridled menace, but a lighter colour highlights just how different this car is to anything else on the road. 20140510_153157 And this one is wearing the correct wheels; you see a lot of them equipped with the Pepperpot style items seen on the rather more humble Jaguar XJ series. These ones are far better. And I’d say that the best angle to admire this car from would be from the rear three quarters. From here the slightly tail-up stance of the car, those slightly exposed mufflers glinting away, makes it look like it really means business. Which, of course, it does. The 5.3 litre Tadek Marek designed V8 was never found wanting in the power department. The Lagonda fitted into a very high-dollar slot of the market, comfortably more costly than a Ferrari 400, for example. The only car listed at a higher price-point was the Rolls Royce Camargue. Unsurprisingly, a large percentage of the 645 total sales were from the Arab states where outrageous=good and single digit fuel economy was a mere triviality. Elsewhere, though, really, the world wasn’t ready for it. The super-luxury car market was served amply by Rolls Royce and Bentley. 20140510_153132 Fast forward to now and take another glance at the high-end sedan arena today. The German contingent will sell you the most polished versions of their ÜberWagens, as will the Italians, albeit rather more charismatically, at about £100-120k. Then there’s a bit of a gulf until you reach the Bentley Mulsanne at £225k, and then you can go further North to the Rolls Phantom at £250k and up. So, if the Lagonda was just a bit less than the top ranking Roller in ’76, that would mean its current-day equivalent slotting in just a little way below the Phantom today. Today’s Aston Martin Rapide just doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s a lovely car and all that, but it’s a bit derivative. You can see the VH platform (as per DB9) showing through from every angle and, from side on, it doesn’t always work 100%. And, really, at £150k it’s too cheap. It strikes me that, today, with the current appetite for “ultimates” and the next big status symbol being constantly sought, a new, properly outrageous Lagonda could be quite well timed. In 1993 they had a go at thinking about just how this could be done: mad4wheelscom I always thought that this thing, the Lagonda Vignale, was glorious. It was essentially an in-house job by Ford; it was the work of little Moray Callum, younger brother of now Jaguar and Aston Supremo Ian, and construction was the honour of Ghia- ford owned since 1970. OK, some angles were better than others, but the rear three quarters, again, was magical. mad4wheelscom4 Just like how in 1976 people had moaned that the Series 2 Lagonda was too big, too unwieldy, too out-there, here in 1993 everybody was complaining that the Vignale was too tall, too whale-like and too self-consciously retro inspired. So, look at the current Rolls Royce Phantom. Is there not something in common between the Regal Roller and the avante-garde Aston? I’m pretty sure that, with some mild updating, the Vignale would find an appreciative audience today. mad4wheelscom2 Especially if the (whisper this) Lincoln Town Car chassis and drivetrain were disposed of. A combination of this kind of arresting, one-of-a-kind style and a nice V12 power plant would be an intoxicating recipe, and would sit well above a sportier, DB9 based understudy. The interior, with Art-Deco detailing that was seen by some as rather too chintzy at the time, has aged well and would look good today if modern avionics were applied. Certainly, the Constitution-class flight deck feel is the very thing that would stand out today; and right now distinctiveness is key. mad4wheelscom3 Any plans to reactivate the Lagonda name were placed on indefinite hiatus. From time to time there comes a “spy shot” of a new big Aston sedan and it usually disappears without trace. Depressingly, Aston Martin did assure us that we could expect a Lagonda badged SUV at some point. Bleurgh. The most recent might-be machine (see Autobuzz report here) is pretty damn awesome, but still looks very much a product of 2014. With the Vignale, in 1993, Aston came agonisingly close to producing something that was genuinely ahead of its time. A Lagonda is required that will shake the world by its lapels just like in 1976. 38 years later, there seems no time like the present. (Series 2 images copyright 2014 Hooniverse / Chris Haining. Vignale images sourced from www.mad4wheels.com)

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