The 4.5 liter M45 model was announced in 1933,
and was to become the best known and most
successful of the first generation sports
With an engine by W.O. Bentley and body
by Frank Feeley, many thought the LG45 "Rapide"
resembled the infamous Mercedes SSK...
The 1936 Lagonda LG45 Drop Head Coupe was beautiful,
The 1938 Lagonda LG45 Drop Head Coupe featured
subtle styling changes, but still looked sensational...
The Lagonda name would be resurrected in 1978 with
William Towns "Lagonda V8"...
The Lagonda name lives on, here as the Aston Martin
While most classic car enthusiasts
associate, quite rightly, the name “Lagonda” with the legendary
car marque, not many would know that the name originates
from the US and not the UK!
The company’s founder
was one Wilbur Gunn, who first lived in a small town
named Lagonda, in the state of Ohio. As it turns out,
Gunn was a man of many talents, not the least of which
was as an accomplished opera singer and manufacturer
of steam powered boats.
But it was when he turned his talents to automobile
manufacture that the name Lagonda was on everyone’s
lips. Originally manufacturing cheaper 3-wheeeler cars,
it was during the immediate pre WW1 era that Gunn developed
a high-quality small car, which performed extremely
well in reliability trials up to 1914.
Needless to say the war period
put pay to any rapid expansion plans of Lagonda, and
so the company was forced to wait until the 1920’s
to again embark on a manufacturing plan.
war Gunn had taken time out to study the emergence of
other marques both in Britain and in Europe, and he
became convinced that the company should concentrate
their efforts on the production of high-quality sports
The first of these was the 1927 Speed Model - also known
as the 2 liter. The “Speed” featured a four-cylinder
1954cc engine with twin overhead camshaft valve gear,
and could be optioned with a supercharger.
such 'vintage' sports cars, it had a rather flexible
separate chassis frame with beam axle’s front
and rear and half-elliptic leaf springs.
In standard form, the “Speed” was a solid
performer, capable of up to 80mph; the supercharged
version could match the 80mph top speed in 3rd gear,
and was good for 90mph in top.
In 1928 Lagonda released
the fabulous 3 liter model; using a lengthened version
of the 2 liters chassis the car featured a six-cylinder
In 1931 the Weymann bodied “Selector Special”
was released – and it featured the wonderful “Maybach”
pre-selector transmission. This unique design endowed
the car with two different sets of four ratios, and
since it was also possible to use no fewer than four
reverse ratios, it was advertised as the “12 speed
Lagonda” – perhaps wishful thinking by Lagonda’s
The 4.5 liter M45 model was announced in 1933, and
was to become the best known and most successful of
the first generation sports Lagonda’s. This model
was fitted with a six-cylinder overhead valve engine
from Meadows – in fact it was the same basic unit
as that used by Invicta, except that the Lagonda unit
produced more power.
A more highly developed model named
the M45R was produced, which developed 130bhp at 3800rpm,
and was good for a top speed of 90mph. In 1934 and 1935 the 4.5 liter became the first Lagonda
to taste serious race success when the “works”
cars came fourth in the 1934 Tourist Trophy, while Hindmarsh
and Fontes won the 1935 Le Mans race at an average of
For those that love British marques, it is interesting
to note that the Le Mans victory by Lagonda was a shining
light in an otherwise dark period – falling between
the end of the Bentley era in 1930 and the start of
the Jaguar era in 1951.
Celebrations were to be short lived. The receivers
had been called in just before the Le Mans race, and
in their wisdom decreed that no public benefit could
be taken from the win.
Just why you would want to “hide”
such an emphatic victory when selling a going concern
remains to us a mystery, and so the company seemed to
fall into the lap of one Alan Good, who paid £67,000
for the company plus £4000 for stock (conspiracy
theorists unite!). Production re-commenced, but only
of the larger 4.5 liter models and, in September, an
improved LG45 version was released.
Good’s strategy was to secure talent from other
manufacturers. First to join the Lagonda team was Walter
Owen (W.O.) Bentley, who was now free from his contractual
obligations with Rolls Royce. His contribution to Lagonda
became immediately apparent when he influenced the latest
engine design, complete with a cross-flow cylinder head.
Body engineer Frank Feeley was given the task of creating
an eye-catching sports car body for a new derivative,
the LG45 “Rapide”, the result being reminiscent
of the Mercedes 540K Models.
The “Rapide” featured huge outside exhaust
pipes and an enormously long bonnet. It is claimed by
some that W.O. Bentley did not favor Feeley’s
design, particularly as the styling seemed inspired
by his race track arch rival Mercedes, but at the time
he was so busy developing his new engine that he choose
not to protest.
The new engine, as developed by Bentley, was shown in
prototype form in 1936, but was not ready for sale until
1938. It was an ambitious plan, putting a powerful engine
in a large body to ensure the vehicle reached the holy
grail of 100mph – and capture some of the kudos
attributed to the 1930 8-liter Bentley.
The ensuing years since 1930 had seen rapid development
of engine design, most notably by Rolls-Royce and their
Phantom III V-12 engine; the innovation of the RR engine
should not go unmentioned, for this is one of the few
times in automotive development that designers did away
with the tried-and-true formula of simply increasing
Good would not only have Bentley on
his team, but would also entice other Rolls-Royce engineers
to join him at Lagonda. Together, the team developed a beautiful 4480cc V-12
engine with a single overhead camshaft valve gear to
each bank, being good for 157bhp at 5000rpm.
version developed 207bhp, at 5500rpm. The chassis featured
independent front suspension, by wishbones and longitudinal
torsion bars, for the very first time on any Lagonda,
while the rigid rear axle rode on half-elliptic leaf
Most V-12 chassis were fitted with big and graceful
saloon car bodies, but there were a few sports cars,
and the factory also built competition models for the
1939 Le Mans. They were indeed a wonderful and expensive
car, which is probably a good thing as it would take
some time to get the V-12 model into series production.
Reliability was one of the only obstacles, but as luck
would have it just as these teething problems were at
last being sorted WWII would intervene, and the car
would unfortunately be shelved.
As the war was nearing its conclusion, Lagonda engineers
set about developing a new model. Rather rashly, someone
chose to announce the new car before the war had even
ended – not good form! To make matters worse,
Good choose to name the new model the “Lagonda
But Rolls-Royce owned the rights to
the 'Bentley' marque (even if W.O. Bentley was working
for Lagonda), and naturally they did not appreciate
this blatant copyright infringement – nor the
fact that while RR had been working so hard toward the
war effort, it seemed Lagonda had started preparing
for an all out assault on its rivals in the post war
period before the war was even won.
Given the reaction by RR, the new car reverted to its
basic 'Lagonda' title; but the management of Rolls need
not have worried, the lack of sales during the war years
had taken a heavy financial toll on Lagonda and the
company was simply unable to raise the required capital
to put the new model into production. It would be saved
from total collapse in 1947 when David Brown purchased
it, and merged it with Aston Martin, another marque
he had purchased the same year.
Lagonda’s continued to be manufactured using
a cruciform-style chassis frame and all-independent
suspension. The 2580cc straight six engines featured
twin overhead cams, and would receive much acclaim.
Lagonda saloons and coupes would continue to be manufactured
up to 1953, but the lovely “6” would soon
find a home in the Aston Martin DB2, DB2/4 and DB Mk
Ill models which would enjoy healthy sales well up to
1959. For the circuit, a completely new racing sports
Lagonda was announced in 1954, specifically aimed at
the Le Mans.
Typical of previous Lagonda’s, the race special
featured a 4.5 liter V12 engine; the engine proved far
too complicated to enable reliable racing given its
design of four overhead camshafts, 24 spark plugs and
three four-choke downdraught carburetors. The body style
was similar to that of the six-cylinder engined Aston
Martin DB3S, but the V12 made the cars much heavier,
and at 2350lb it needed every bit of the 300bhp to make
the car competitive. Unfortunately the new Lagonda was
not up to the task!