Aston Martin Lagonda
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
showing of the Lagonda saloon showed the world a car that appeared to have originated from another planet. The William Towns Lagonda V8 shocked the world with its bold design and electronic instrumentation. A truly stunning design, it was not released until some three years later due to problems with its high-tech electronics. It had an ambitious digital dash with touch-sensitive controls, but in reliability terms, these concepts had to be eased somewhat for production purposes.
The Lagonda was viewed essentially as a stretch version of the Aston Martin V8 and housed a strong four-camshaft 5.3 litre V8 motor. It used the same suspension
system as well as self-levelling for the De Dion rear. Weighing almost 2 tons it was seen as the heaviest and openly luxurious Lagonda since the war with air-conditioning and electric seats being part of the price.
The critics praised its handling
and ride, but criticised its lack of rear legroom and the fact that it could have been quicker off the mark. Aston countered these critics with a twin-turbo
version with Tickford releasing a stretch version offering twin colour TV's. The first Lagonda V8 was delivered on April 24, 1978
. It was not until 1984
however that the Lagonda V8 arrived for sale in the United States. Each car required about 2,200 man-hours and only about 25 were built per year for the U.S. market.
The Lagonda is a perfect fusion of state-of-the-art high technology and the traditional coachbuilding skills which have made Aston Martin famous. The fuel injected 5.3 litre engine takes the Lagonda up to speeds of almost 150 mph. Speed, engine revs, fuel level and water temperature register on the now famous vaccum fluorescent instrumentation.
Inside, the subtle aroma of Connolly hide
is complemented by the polished walnut cappings and soft Wilton carpeting. The Lagonda - a true supercar reflecting a distinguished heritage. The car stopped being produced in 1990 with just 645 being sold. There was rumoured to be a replacement, but new owners Ford decided that Aston should stick to what they know best - building Aston Martin's.
Styled by Bill Towns
The men of Newport Pagneli have never stooped to producing cheap or high volume cars in their pursuit of profits. They preferred to build big cars, fast cars and luxury cars - and at the time the Lagonda wedge was the grandest in the line. The Lagonda was aimed fair-and-square at the Rolls-Royce and Mercedes limousine market with the striking Bill Towns' styled Aston Martin Lagonda model, which carried both these classic marque titles largely because Lagonda was not well-known outside the UK.
The Lagonda was in fact very similar mechanically to the then existing V8s, sharing the 5.3-litre light alloy V8 with a steel platform chassis, aluminium bodyshell, coil-and-wishbone front suspension and a De Dion rear end. But the wheelbase was stretched 300 mm and Burman two-stage power steering was specified for production to give finger-light parking yet allow some sensitivity at higher speeds. The whole car was designed and built from a clean sheet to the London Show success in a little more than seven months. Loasby and Towns wanted a controversially-styled high performer which was lighter, simpler to build, quieter, more aerodynamic and better-riding than its predecessors.
The intention was to build a car to what people had habitually described as "Rolls-Royce standards" though Loasby pointed out that Aston Martin coachwork won the London Show Gold Medal in four straight years from 1972
and so Aston-Martin quite rightly felt that it was actually Rolls-Royce that were trying to build their cars to Aston-Martin
standards. Towns was responsible for the DBS and the earlier four-door DBS-based Lagonda four-door when employed by the company during the 1960s and he then worked as a freelance consultant. Loasby was head of Aston's experimental department from 1967
before going to Triumph
for six years. He returned as Aston-Martin
Chief Engineer in 1975
, at the time of the company's reformation.
The Lagonda Design
The Lagonda was based on a massive sheet steel structure built up around a beefy centre backbone which encased the transmission
line. Massive front bulkhead and rear axle tunnels were formed on to this structure, while a robust tubular framework was erected on this completed pan to accept the aluminium body and provide roll-over protection. A front subframe was bolted rigidly to the main structure. While this chassis was being built in the experimental shop on one side of the road at Newport Pagnell, the bodyshell was being hand-crafted on the other. Production Lagonda bodies were produced by a new process using "superplastic" aluminium alloys which could be extended more than 10 times their original length when moulded at the correct temperature.
The SuperPlastic process allowed panels to be vacuum-formed in a single die. Tooling costs were roughly equal to Aston's normal cold-forming requirements but this system allowed harder-grade aluminium to be moulded into more complex but more easily-assembled shapes. The target weight for the Aston Martin Lagonda was under 1720 kg, or around 40 kg less than the much smaller two-door V8 and approaching 320 kg less than the preceding four-door Lagonda. Front suspension geometry was altered to keep the heavily-laden outside wheel vertical in corners. Each front suspension assembly was 10 kg lighter than before as part of Mike Loasby's war on weight in general and on unsprung weight in particular. In production, aluminium brake calipers were adopted to reduce weight still further.
The De Dion tube was located by parallel radius rods and a transverse Watts linkage at the rear, while the coil-springs are co-axial with Koni self-levelling shock absorbers. Rear disc brakes were mounted inboard with independent front/rear hydraulics, servo-boosted. The quad-cam V8 was standard, running 42 mm Webers and mated to a Chrysler Torqueflite three-speed automatic-transmission
. A ZF five-speed manual was also offered in production. Gear selection for the Torqueflite was made by touch switches - in keeping with the car's space-age instrumentation and switch gear which attracted so much publicity.
A Space-Age Interior
The gas plasma instrument displays were first shown by Aston co-chairman Peter Sprague at his Californian electronics factory in 1975. The touch switches were actuated by brushing a finger tip against the appropriate section of a fixed illuminated panel - almost the same as using a modern-day iPhone. The difference in resistance as moist skin touched the panel was sufficient to trip its associated switch gear. Glowing graphic and digital instrument displays provided alternative mph or km/h speedo
readouts, plus instant average speed and fuel consumption calculations if you wanted them.
Add all the usual instruments, all displayed on what was essentially just a black translucent panel with the ignition switched off, and 16 warning lights and you had one of the best-instrumented cars in history - even to this day. Touch-switch panels set into the doors provided window-lift, door-locking and seat adjustment, while both steering column and foot pedals positions were also adjustable. A monster 136-litre fuel tank wrapped over the rear suspension bay and there were gas control struts on every door to prevent slamming.
On the Road
Of course we have not actually driven the Aston-Martin Lagonda, but there were a lucky few motoring journalists who have - and they spoke of unbelievable ride quality, combined with arguably the best power steering then going. Even without the intended two-stage assistance the front-end geometry allowed light steering but retained ample feel - as one motoring writer explained, "... the Lagonda felt more like a light car than a large and relatively hefty limousine. It felt more like a well-developed rack and pinion, and I was deeply impressed. Accelerating away smoothed the ride into a very well-controlled vertical motion, devoid of pitch or shock.
"Unfortunately the roads were just too slick and slippery to instil any confidence and in tight turns I found the Lagonda nosing into a gentle understeer with that superb steering giving fingertip warning the instant those front tyres threatened to break adhesion. Gentle treatment of the throttle balanced it out and the car settled into an effortless 5.3-litre squirt to the next turn. As I gained confidence so the whole $250,000-worth began to drift controllably across the cambered road surface. Slowly I became aware of Mike's staring eyes and white knuckles in the passenger seat and when he pointed out that we had just negotiated a very tight and slippery roundabout at a steady 70-80 km/h I backed off."
Today the Lagonda is probably remembered more for the controversial styling rather than the brilliantly sorted motor car that it was. The couch based experts remained divided, they loved it or hated it. And most had not seen it in the flesh. In writing a conclusion, we decided to look back through our own photo albums to see how our "body styles" shaped up in the mid 1970s. As you would expect - it was not a good look. All things considered then, for something so "modern" from the 1970s, the Lagonda was utterly brilliant. Two-dimensional photographs do not do the Lagonda justice. in the three-dimensional flesh the sheet metal looked surprisingly compact, very low, and quite beautiful.