Monday, July 23, 2012

First, Aston Martin 
gave us the 
James Bond car...
But in 1976, they went 
completely insane...
Restoration World Review #14

Aston Martin Lagonda

It was bold, a risky move by the 
perennial British auto maker. 

And at the time of the Lagonda's 
saloon introduction, it was the most 
shocking car in the world.

If you thought this was an article about the awesome DB5, well, it isn't. Still, got you covered - just click here. For more on James Bond cars, click here.

First things first. Aston Martin unveiled the Series 1 Lagonda in 1974. A rather good looking car, but not really a huge departure from earlier models.

This '74 1-Series belongs to John Targett

So Aston Martin engineers said fuck it....and decided to go absolutely bonkers with a redesign to end all redesigns.

1976 Series-2 Lagonda 

Did the gamble pay off? Err...not so much. 

A quick word about those crazy Brits. A lot of people forget how innovative the English people actually are. 

Their aircraft design, such as the English Electric Lightning, or the BAe Harrier proves that - along with dozens of British auto companies that came out with the most beautiful sports and saloon cars you can imagine.

Yes, Aston Martin was under huge pressure to come up with something that brought the money should know that up front.

However, the risks the company faced weren't all connected to the daring, sleek looks of the Lagonda. There were other factors involved.

Remember, Aston Martin had just gone through bankruptcy and had been bailed out by the government. 

Their next design should have played it safe, attracting the buying public in droves. Probably a nice saloon that got decent gas mileage.

This was a time in history, after all, that rising gas prices and an uncertain economy had cut other luxury car sales in half. 


Think about that for a moment. The Yom Kippur War between Isreal and Arab Coalition forces had caused the price of oil to skyrocket in 1973. Ferrari sales were down 50%, and Lamborghini had sold its assets a year later.

So honestly, the only sensible thing for Aston Martin to do was offer a reasonably priced four-door sedan that had a bit of luxury tacked on.

It didn't quite work out that way.

The Lagonda is insane any way you look at it. The engine and driveline are fairly standard, but the body designer - William Towns - was obsessed with aerodynamics. Seriously obsessed.

He penned a nose that is so low, when you hunker down in front of the car, you are still looking down on the hood. That's extraordinary when you consider that this is a four-door, front-engined luxury sedan with a monster 5.3 V-8 under that hood. 

It needed that engine, as the Lagonda tips the scales at a hefty 4,400 lbs.

The motor, a four-cam carbureted gas-guzzler coupled to a Chrysler auto tranny, manages a paltry 7 to 8 miles to the gallon.

At the time, it was unheard of. Oh, American cars guzzled fuel...but British cars weren't actually that bad. And their cars were usually light, with 4 or 6 bangers. Aston Martin wasn't having any of that nonsense.

And here's where it gets weird.... 

The interior is brimming with touch buttons and LED displays, very much like the set of a mid-70s TV show sci-fi space ship. 

But they didn't work. 

Nothing actually worked until well after the car was introduced to the public...and a lot of deposits had been taken. Now that's balls.

All of these electronics were ground-breaking, but Aston simply didn't have money to turn the design into a working system. 

It was indeed the very first car in the world to have an electronic engine management system and electronic displays. And except for the little itty bitty problem with the system not working, everything was going swimmingly.

Oh, I forgot to mention something. 

Most car manufactures set a budget and a time-line for a brand new car to be designed...usually two to three years. 

The budget for the Lagonda's electronics ballooned to four times the development costs of the entire car.

Damn. No wonder Aston Martin was up the proverbial creek.

Working cars did start to trickle out of the factory two years later, but at 200,000 dollars, nobody was buying them. Not only was the Lagonda overly ambitious, it was horribly overpriced.

Aston only sold 600 or so over the twelve year production run, and even today they aren't really thought of as desirable. People are divided on the Lagonda's styling, which keeps it from being considered a classic.

A decent Lagonda can be picked up now for around 15,000 dollars.

I kinda like it. I wouldn't buy one, I guess that's why they are so cheap now. Interesting to look at, but you wouldn't want to have to actually drive it. 

That, unfortunately probably sums up the Lagonda in a nutshell. The Pontiac Aztec of the 70s. Sad, really.

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