Thursday August 4, 2016
There is a popular saying that ‘little dates faster than yesterday’s vision of the future’, and this is largely true – just think of those 1950s sci-fi films which predicted that in the year 2000 we would all be driving tail-finned saloons. But occasionally a car seems to transcend notions of time and era and one such is the Aston Martin Lagonda, which was launched 40 years ago. It remains one of the most ambitious models to hail from Newport Pagnell; a potential rival to the likes of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow with a body that made all other cars look instantly dated by comparison. A miniature radiator grille was mounted between pop-up headlamps and the bonnet line was so low that many wondered just how the 5.3 litre V8 engine could possibly fit in the bay. There appeared not be a single curve in the William Towns-designed coachwork and even when parked a Lagonda looked poised to scythe its way through lesser vehicles.
The Lagonda made its formal debut at the 1976 Earls Court Motor Show and many visitors had the impression that this was not so much a car but a road-based spacecraft that could speed a quartet of oil billionaires to their next corporate takeover bid at a top speed of 143 mph. Most incredible to the average motorist were the digital dashboard (a first for any car) and the touch sensitive controls that operated the front seats, climate control, cruise control, headlights, and front windows; the rear door glass was fixed.
To best appreciate the impact of such technology, just consider that many Britons then regarded Atari ‘TV Tennis’ and wristwatches with LED displays as ‘pretty cutting edge’ and that ‘a computer’ usually meant a large machine with reel-to-reel tape spools that occupied a corner of the office. Of course, this was a car to be admired from a distance as it initially cost £24,570, which could have bought you a three-bedroom house, although the nearside door mirror was still an optional extra!
The planning and execution of the Lagonda represented a vast gamble for Aston Martin; its development costs were immense and the firm had recently suffered from immense financial problems. Formal production, at a rate of one per week, did not commence until 1978; one absolutely charming touch was that each motor was fitted with a brass plate bearing the name of the engineer responsible for building it. Lagondas were mainly destined for export but one constant problem was unreliability; the dashboard was prone to maladies, the headlamps would rise only when they felt like it and the seat would occasionally decide to propel the driver towards the steering column.
Production of the Lagonda finally ceased in 1990 after 645 models and for too many years it was rather overlooked by classic enthusiasts. Today, it is appreciated for the sheer bravery of its design for what Aston Martin had tried to do was to redefine the notion of ‘prestige motoring’ and for all of the Lagonda’s electronic foibles, they more than succeeded in their goal. To me it remains the great lost 007 car as its combination of a ‘traditional’ badge with Avant-garde engineering would have perfectly fitted into the world of Commander James Bond. And it is very easy to imagine Roger Moore at the wheel of a Lagonda as he defeated yet another gang of over-acting heavies…
- Written by Andy Roberts.