Origin and Early Days
The Company was started by an American,
Wilbur Gunn, who had two main interests, engineering and singing. Although
he had been apprenticed to Singers in America, it was as an opera singer
he came to Britain. He built a steam yacht "Giralda" that won wagers as to
which was the fastest boat on the Thames, and eventually started to build
motorcycles in 1898 working from the greenhouse of his home at Staines,
around which the factory eventually grew. The name Lagonda was the Shawnee
Indian name for what is now Buck Creek in Gunn's native Springfield, Ohio.
The Gunns had lived in Springfield since the middle of the nineteenth
century, Wilbur being born in 1859, and Wilbur's father was a founder of
the Lagonda Corporation that made tube cleaning machinery.
The motorbikes were successful, so much
so that a Lagonda represented Great Britain in the International Cup races
held in the interval between the Paris-Madrid and the first TT. With the
addition of A H Cranmer to the firm in 1904, he progressed to three
wheeled forecars and these grew to have twin cylinder water cooled engines
of about I200 cc by 1905 and later, wheel steering as well. About 74 cars were built, of which three survive. No motorbikes are known to
have survived although one was in existence in 1930, but has not been
heard of since. A H Cranmer stayed with the firm as Technical Director
until 1935 and was still alive, at the age of 85, in 1956.
The success of the forecars encouraged
Gunn to go into motor manufacturing seriously and he started with a 10 hp.
car using a lot of parts, including the engine, from the last forecar
model. Only a few were made, however, and the next model was larger,
employing a Coventry-Simplex engine and JAP carburettor. This model then
grew into the 16/18 hp. with Polyrhoe carburettor and electric lighting.
It had heavier axles than its predecessor, the rear one continuing to
employ parallel trailing links to locate it. Both cars employed a
rudimentary form of unitary construction using tinned steel sheet fastened
to a light angle section framework. As you see, Gunn was a farsighted
engineer and not afraid of innovation This model was raced at l3rooklands
in 1909 and took part in, and won, the 1910 Moscow-St. Petersburg
Reliability Trial and, as a result, secured large export orders from
Russia, the cars supplied having a 20 hp. engine and stronger chassis and
axles. About 1910 a six cylinder 30 hp. engine was produced with Lagonda-made
engine, cylinders in pairs, still with cone clutch and outside gear
change. A removable hard top was one of the body types available. None of
these models has been known to survive, although the considerable export
trade to Russia leaves the intriguing possibility that one may turn up one
The "Lagonda Light Car"
In 1913, another of the changes of
policy took place with the introduction of the 11.1, a light car utilising
a more advanced version of the angle iron/tinned sheet steel unitary body
chassis systems as the earlier cars and dispensing with the chassis frame
altogether. The engine had exposed overhead inlet and (concealed) side
exhaust valves to feed its 1099 cc (67 x 78 mm), the sump casting was
fixed to the chassis with the engine bolted to it rather than the normal
way round and the steering was geared direct i.e. 1:1 ratio, like a
bicycle. It sold for £135 as a two seater coupe with transverse leaf front
spring and quarter-elliptic rears. It was joined by a four seater in 1914.
During the 1914-18 war the Staines factory turned out armaments, largely
shells, but on the return of peace the 11.1 was put into production again
with slight modifications. The steering was geared now and, quite soon,
the longer wheelbase 11.9 was introduced with a larger engine of 1420 cc
(69 x 95mm) featuring a separate block and crankcase and an angular
The 11.9 continued in production until
1923 when it became the 12/24 but, due to continued increases in weight,
it became steadily lower geared as time went on. There were several
variants, including a stark cheap model with no starter or instruments and
the bare legally necessary lamps. The 12/24 continued to attract weight
like its predecessor, acquiring concealed valves, a taller radiator,
forced valve gear lubrication, and finally, in 1925, front wheel brakes.
The last models had a more rounded radiator form, which became the basic
style followed until 1939.
The Company continued a slender sporting
programme with stripped cars, including an overbored single seater which,
driven by Major W H Oates, covered 79.17 miles in an hour at Brooklands
and thus won the "Light Car" Trophy. Wilbur Gunn had worked astounding
hours during the war and never really recovered his health afterwards,
dying in 1920. All the models he fathered were technically interesting as
well as practical cars; after his death the products became far more
conventional, though no less practical.
The total production of 11.1, 11.9 and
12.24's is unknown but was in the region of 7000; of these about 20 are
known to have survived, including at least on 1913 car in regular use.
The Two Litre 14/60 and High Chassis Speed Models
At the 1925 Motor Show the 14/60 was
introduced as a successor to the 12/24. This was the first 2 litre and had
a conventional chassis frame and half elliptic suspension, separate engine
and gearbox and very good brakes. The engine was a twin more-or
less-overhead cam design whereby the cams are actually in the top of the
block but above the head/block interface, and the combustion chambers were
hemispherical. The early 14/60's tended to have heavy tourer and saloon
bodies and had a top speed of 60 mph. The engine was 72 x 120 mm, four
cylinders, and giving 1954 cc.
In 1927 the Speed model was introduced
with more power but still with one carburettor; it was lighter and capable
of about 80 mph. The high chassis Speed Model was the first true 2 litre
and the 14/60 soon died out after its introduction, thought the
designation "standard" and "speed" model continued. Both chassis are the
same 10 foot 3 inches wheelbase.
There are various subtle differences
between all the years of 2 litres but the major one is in the front axle
and the early ones are known as "high chassis". These have the front brake
rods attached to the underside of the axle, and the later cars (1929 and
on) are "low chassis" with the brake rods passing through the axle.
Two Litre Low Chassis Speed and Supercharged models
The low chassis cars are a development following the
Lagonda Company's efforts at Le Mans in 1928. For the low chassis engine
the dynamo was moved from the offside to the nose of the crankshaft where
it fitted underneath the radiator. On the earlier engines of this sort,
the idler gear which had driven it was removed, thus reversing the
camshaft's direction of rotation and, since similar camshafts were used,
necessitating a change of firing order. After quite a short production
run, the idler gear was replaced and the later engines returned to the
The inlet passages of the 2-litre engine
were its Achilles heel due to their tortuousness and, in 1930, a
supercharged version was introduced. This had a slightly longer bonnet to
accommodate the blower which was carried vertically in front of the
engine. They also had a more robust, balanced crankshaft and a 3 litre
rear axle. Unfortunately they were never too reliable due to cooling
problems and, although fast, used a great deal of petrol. Many today are
running unblown, though members are endeavouring to return original blown
cars back to this state.
"Continental " 2 Litres and 16/80's
The final fling of the 2 litre was the
unblown "Continental" which had a steel body instead of fabric covered,
slanting slatted radiator and 18" wheel giving lower gears. At the end of
1932 the same chassis was used for the 16/80 which, instead of Lagonda's
four cylinder engine substituted 2 litre six cylinder of 199lcc (63 x
l00mm) made by Crossley. The radiator resumed it's upright stance, but was
of a new shape. Later 16/80's had the ENV pre-selector gearbox available
as an option and quite a number were so fitted. It became standard towards
the end of 1933.
The total number surviving of 2 litres
is difficult to estimate, but the Club's records cover about 450 2 litres
and 150 16/80s. Many of the original cars were fabric saloons and these
bodies have not stood the test of time compared with tourers which
dominate the current member's list.
The 16/65 and "Three Litre" models
In 1925 Lagonda introduced a six
cylinder car called the 16/65 which was 2692cc (69 x 120mm) and with push
rod operated overhead valves. Although designed by Davidson and Masters
who were responsible for the 2 litre and produced, legend says, at the
direct insistence of Brigadier General Metcalfe who was the Director, it
didn't prove very popular; in 1928 it was bored out to 2931 cc to become
the three Litre. Although never as popular as the two litre, it had a long
model run, finishing in 1934 and being succeeded by the 31/2
litre which used yet another variant of the same engine in a different
chassis. Outwardly, the 2 litre and 3 litres of the Vintage period look
remarkably alike but the latter has a longer bonnet and a distinctive sump
shape which enables them to be distinguished
One variant of the 3 litre sometimes
encountered is the "Selector Special" of 1932 which has a Maybach gearbox
with eight forward ratios. Not many were made. Both 16/65 and 3 litres
used a 10'9" wheelbase but there are two kinds of chassis. The earlier Z
chassis bears a distinct family resemblance to the 2 litre and a few early
high chassis cars exist. Later and coinciding with the introduction of the
Selector Special a heavier chassis with straighter (in plan) side members,
tubular cross members and different axles was adopted and it was this ZMB
chassis which was developed into the 41/2 litre M45.
The 3 litre was also bored out during its life but the engine size change
does not coincide with the chassis change. The earlier cars are 72 x 120
mm (2931 cc) and later ones 75 x 120 mm (3181 cc). Both versions have
seven-bearing crankshafts. On the 1932 cars a new radiator badge featuring
stylized wings was introduced and this became a feature of all subsequent
Lagonda have always been a sporting
concern and a programme of long-distance events were entered with 2 litres
and later 3 litres. In 1928 D'Erlanger & Hawkes came 11th at Le Mans after
running with a cracked frame and no front brakes for the bulk of the event
and, in 1929, another team was entered but with no success.
The M 45 41/2 litre cars
At the 1933 Olympia Show the first 41/2
litre, the M45, was introduced. It used a Meadows engine of 4453cc
slightly modified by Lagonda's but otherwise similar to that used by the
Invicta. This engine was already somewhat venerable having started life in
1925 as 63.5 x 120mm and been progressively bored out In its Lagonda form
it had the bores offset to get them in. The chassis was basically the
current 10'9" 3 litre but fitted with servo brakes and a heavier rear
axle. The 3 litre gearbox proved inadequate very quickly and Meadows' own
box became standard, most of the early cars being rebuilt with it quite
soon. The engine had dual ignition, one coil one side and horizontal
magneto the other. The M45 was a great success and Lord de Clifford got it
off to a good start with a highly publicised run to Greece in the
prototype, beating the train to Brindisi by 14 hours. For the 1934 TT a
trio of lightweight short chassis cars run by Arthur Fox and equipped with
Girling brakes put up a splendid showing. These cars were virtually M45
Rapides, which were announced a few weeks later. During 1934 General
Metcalfe had died and was succeeded as Chairman and Managing Director by
Sir Edgar Holberton.
At the 1934 Show Lagondas introduced a
whole batch of new cars. The 41/2 litre M45 was
supplemented by a Rapide Model (M45R) on a shorter, stiffer chassis and
fitted with Girling brakes and a more highly tuned engine. A very similar
short chassis was also sold with the 31/2 litre 84 x
120mm (3619cc) engine (M3SR) which was the final manifestation of the
16/65 and 3 litre engine.
The prototype Rapier was shown at the
1933 show but this did not get into production until the following summer,
and when it was it had Lagonda's own 1104cc (62.5 x 90mm) sturdy twin
overhead cam engine designed by Tim Ashcroft, as was the whole car. It had
the ENV Preselector gearbox as standard, with a clutch, in an 8'4"
wheelbase chassis fitted with very powerful Girling brakes. For this model
Lagonda decided not to build the bodywork themselves, probably for space
reasons and the standard bodies were supplied by Abbott of Farnham,
although several other coachbuilders performed on this chassis. The Rapier
was easily the highest revving British production car of the period and
part of its long lasting qualities are no doubt due to the last-minute
decision to cast the block and head in Chromium iron instead of the light
alloy for which it had been designed, without changing the design.
Many Rapiers survive today in active
use, and supported by, the Rapier Register as well as the Lagonda Club.
The Rapier Register is a separate club but as many members own both
models, there are very close links between the two.
Bankruptcy and LG Motors
During 1934-35, as well as the M45, new
41/2 and 31/2 litre
Rapides and Rapier models, the 3 litre and the 16/80 were still available,
Six models was far too many to be economic for the little factory at
Staines and despite Fox & Nichol's win at Le Mans, the Company's finances
grew worse and the Receiver was brought in.
The firm was saved by the intervention
of Alan Good who reformed it as LG Motors and dropped all the models
replacing them quickly with the 41/2 litre LG45
which used virtually an M45 Rapide engine in a revised version of the M45
chassis but with softer springing and Girling brakes.
Ashcroft couldn't accept the dropping of
the Rapier and he hived off its production to the former service depot in
Hammersmith where he formed Rapier Cars Limited in conjunction with W H
Oates and recommenced production until financial problems called a halt in
1938. The Rapiers were nearly all fitted with Ranalah bodies and in 1936 a
supercharged version was introduced. An earlier supercharged Rapier owned
by Eccles lapped the outer circuit at Brooklands at 130 mph which gives
some idea of just how sturdy the 1100c,c engine was.
The Club's records cover about 225 M45s
and M45Rs since 1950 and about 250 Rapiers including the Rapier Car
company's products which have slight differences from the Lagonda product,
notably a cylinder capacity of 1087cc. Only about 50 31/2
litres appear to have survived but there was a very short production run
of less than a year.
The LG 45 Models and W O Bentley
Alan Good had brought in W O Bentley as
chief designer and the LG45 was his work, although really it was only a
facelift. While Bentley got on with the design of the V 12, his
masterpiece. The LG45 lasted from the end of 1935 to the end of 1937,
appearing in two chassis lengths (10'9" and 11'3") and four engine forms.
LG Motors developed a system of laying
down cars in batches called 'sanctions' and any changes tended to be
introduced when a new sanction started. Hence the Sanction 1 to Sanction 4
41/2 litre engines were found in LG45s and Sanction
4 in LG6s. The Sanction 1 was similar to the M45R engine; the Sanction 2
changed the ignition to twin magnetos, both on the exhaust side and the
Sanction 3 had a complete cylinder head redesign, the outward signs of
which are carburettors which bolt directly to the cylinder head. The
Sanction 4 is very similar to the Sanction 3. LG45s also come with two
different gearboxes, the right hand change G9 with synchromesh (Lagonda's
first) on third and top, being replaced later by the centre change G10
which added synchro to second. The centre change made it possible to make
left hand drive for the increasingly important American market but I have
found no record of cars having been built like this.
The most spectacular of the variants of
the LG45 is the Rapide tourer (LG45R). Whereas the M45R had been a chassis
with open, drophead and even saloon bodies found on it, the LG45R was only
made in one form a fairly stark four seat tourer with cycle type wings and
outside exhaust. These later cycle wings are fixed and do not turn with
the steering as do the earlier kind, found on low chassis 2 litres and 3
litres from 1930 on.
The Rapide has a higher compression
ratio, higher gears and various other differences from the standard LG45
cars which were tourers, drophead coupes and saloons of Lagonda's own
manufacture, plus the possibility of buying a chassis for another
coachbuilder to perform upon.
Fox and Nicholl built four special LG45s
to carry on the good work of the previous year, two 2 seaters two 4
seaters. However, Le Mans was not run in 1936 and the 2 seaters ran in the
French G P instead (for sports cars that year). Although they won their
class, overall placing was poor.
One of the four-seaters did much better
in the Spa 24 hours race. In the TT the previous two years' duels between
Bentley and with the former triumphant again, but this was reversed in the
500-mile race at Brooklands. The 1935 Le Mans finishers were allowed to
carry over their places in the Biennial cup until 1937 but only one
Lagonda started and retired after 30 laps. That 1925 engine was beginning
to be outclassed now. However, one of the LG45 team cars did manage 100
miles in an hour, two up, at Brooklands, in November 1937 and the
following year a V12 saloon repeated the feat.
No entries were made at Le Mans in 1938
but in 1939, two special light V12 two seaters were built by the factory
this time, were entered and came 3rd and 4th even though really running as
a development exercise prior to an all out attack in 1940, which was never
Out of a production of 278, about 150
LG45s of all types survive, and all 25 "genuine" LG45 Rapides are
accounted for and nearly all the works and Fox and Nicholl competition
cars still exist in Club members' hands.
LG6 and V 12 models
The LG6 was the last development of the
six cylinder 41/2 litre. It used a similar chassis
to the VI2 but of different wheelbase. 'This chassis has nothing in common
with the earlier LGs, being diagonally cross braced instead of ladder form
and is independently suspended by torsion bars at the front, using unequal
length wishbones. It also featured hydraulic brakes with a tandem master
cylinder so that a failure on one pair of wheels left braking on the
others. The V 12 and the LG6 came out together at the 1937 Motor Show with
production starting at the beginning of 1938. 'The V 12 was also a 41/2
litre, being 4480cc (75 x 84.5mm) and coming in three chassis lengths
according to the sort of body required. All could do about 100 mph, the
lighter ones considerably more. The LG6 came on a 10'71/2"
wheelbase standard chassis and on 11'31/2" long one,
whereas the V 12 had 10'4", 11'0" and 1l'6" wheelbase versions and, in
each case, a taller radiator was fitted to the longer cars to preserve the
balance of their looks. A new design of radiator was employed for both
models with a deeper top tank and a curved top line to be slats, imparting
a rather melancholy expression to the front. The 31/2"
difference in wheelbase between the models is accounted for by the
difference in length between the six and twelve cylinder engines, and
otherwise they were similar. The rear axle was a new one too, being of
hypoid design and American manufacture for the V12 but retaining Lagonda's
tried spiral bevel for the LG6.
Both LG6 and V 12 ranges featured a
Rapide model but, in both cases, it was a much "tamer" car than the LG45R
and the bodywork is normally a close coupled drophead or tourer not very
different from the standard cars and with slight differences in the
engine. The V12 engine has one overhead cam per bank and two SU
carburettors for the standard engine, four for the more advanced ones.
Rather surprisingly, production did not stop at the outbreak of war and
some cars were delivered to (usually American) customers well into 1940.
The Club has records of about 50 LG6s
out of 82 made and about 100 Vl2s out of 185. It is a pity that the war
interrupted the development of the V12, a complex car which didn't really
reach its potential in such a short time. Two cars were built up from
parts post war.
Post War Models and Merger with Aston
During and after the war W O Bentley was
busy on a new smaller car, the 2.6 litre (78 x 90mm, 2580cc) which had a
six cylinder in-line engine with twin overhead camshafts. Two or three
prototypes of this car were running by late 1945, fitted with Cotal
electric gearboxes. This chassis had some superficial resemblance to an
LG6 with the side members taken away but, in fact, is completely different
and features independent front suspension by wishbones and coil springs,
and rear by torsion bars and semi-trailing axles with the pivots at an
angle, as later used by Fiat and Triumph in modified form. The rear brakes
were inboard which is no doubt sound in theory but requires a great deal
of dismantling to reach in practice.
The Company was unable to put the 2.6
into production for lack of a steel ration and David Brown bought the
company, as he did Aston Martin, and merged them in 1948. The Bentley
designed engine and chassis were the company's chief assets and they and
the car works were transferred to Feltham and the Staines factory sold to
Petters the diesel engine firm, who were still there until 1989 when the
site was cleared and a supermarket built.
Bentley did not go with the company to
Feltham, preferring to set up as an independent and consultant More
prototype 2.6s appeared using a David Brown S430 synchromesh gearbox and,
in this form, the car went into production early in 1949. Most of the
bodies were built by the factory but a few went to coachbuilders, notably
Tickford who slowly took over production of more and more cars. The
Bentley 2.6 engine was later used in the DB2 and DB2l4 Aston Martins, the
latter eventually in the 3 litre form.
The 2.6 litre was slightly altered into
MK2 form at the end of 1952 to take advantage of better petrol becoming
available but the differences are fairly minor, compared with the
following year when the engine was enlarged to 3 litres by staggering the
cylinder bores whilst Retaining the same crankshaft, necessitating offset
connecting rods (83 x 90mm, 2922cc). Although the rest of the chassis
wasn't altered much, a quite different body was designed for the 3 litre,
again by Tickford.
Eventually there were two door and four
door saloons and a convertible. In 1955 David Brown took over Tickfords
and in 1955 the whole operations of Aston Martin Lagonda were moved to
Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire where the Tickford works had always
been and Feltham was closed. In October 1956 a MK2 3 litre appeared,
featuring floor gear change and various other minor changes, and the
convertible was dropped The saloons were discontinued in February 1958.
The total production DB 2.6 litres was 511 plus 6 prototypes and the 3
litres 256. The numbers surviving are difficult to estimate as not a very
high percentage of their owners join the Club.
There was then no Lagonda made for
nearly four years until the Motor Show of 1961 when the 4 litre Rapide was
introduced (96 x 92mm, 3995cc). This was virtually a four door DB4 Aston
Martin and had nothing in common with earlier models. The only major
difference from the DB4 apart from the styling lay in the De Don rear
suspension, different carburation and the availability of automatic
transmission. 55 were made in 1962-1964.
The first hint of a new model appeared
in 1971 when Sir David Brown had a personal car made which was a four door
Aston Martin DBSVB and carried Lagonda badges. However, the company was
about to undergo one of its upheavals and, in 1972, Sir David stepped down
and the company was sold to Company Developments Ltd, headed by William
Wilson. The new owners dropped the 6 cylinder cars and, in November 1974,
produced the Lagonda V8 as a production model. This was a William Towns
design, very like Sir David Brown's car but with alloy wheels instead of
wire ones. Only seven were made up to June 1976.
By then yet another set of owners had
appeared in the spring of 1975 and this group, led by Peter Sprague and
George Minden set in. motion the design process that led to the second V8
Lagonda which was introduced at the London Motor Show of October 1976. It
was a striking looking car and was an immediate sensation with its wealth
of electronics. It remained in production until 1990 and, at one time,
formed the bulk of Aston Martin Lagonda's production, being particularly
favoured by Middle-East sheiks. 645 were built and 631 sold, the rest
being crash test victims, prototypes etc.
Since 1990 there have only been tiny
numbers of Lagondas produced, it being Aston Martin Lagonda's practice to
call four door Aston Martins this. Thus there were half a dozen four-door
Virages, all of which were exported, and the Vignale prototype which was
also badged as a Lagonda. However, the Club lives in hopes that the Ford
management will one day revive the name.