Lagonda was founded as a company in 1906 in Staines, Middlesex, by an American, Wilbur Gunn (1859–1920), a former opera singer of Scottish ancestry. He named the company after Lagonda Creek near Springfield, Ohio, the town of his birth. He had originally built motorcycles on a small scale in the garden of his house in Staines with reasonable success including a win on the 1905 London—Edinburgh trial. In 1907 he launched his first car, the 20 hp, 6-cylinder Torpedo, which he used to win the Moscow–St. Petersburg trial of 1910. This success produced a healthy order for exports to Russia which continued until 1914.
In the pre-war period Lagonda also made an advanced small car, the 11.1 with a four-cylinder 1000 cc engine, which featured an anti-roll bar and a rivetted monocoque body and the first ever fly-off handbrake. The ratchet control button on the end of a fly-off handbrake is designed to work in the opposite way to what is normally accepted. If the lever is lifted or pulled back to the "on" position, on letting go it immediately releases unless the end button was pressed and held in place before letting go of the lever. Once set, the brake was released by lifting the handbrake lever (not pushing the button) in the setting direction (up or back). This mechanism was traditionally fitted to sports cars to facilitate a racing get-away, such as at traffic lights. It could also be used to help the back wheels to slide, without the worry of the ratchet leaving the brake on.
During World War 1 Lagonda made artillery shells, afterwards resuming production of the 11.1 but with a larger 1400cc engine and standard electric lighting as the 11.9 until 1923 and the updated 12 until 1926. Following Wilbur Gunn's death in 1920, three existing directors headed by Colin Parbury took charge. The first of the company's sports models was launched in 1925 as the 14/60 with a twin-cam 1954cc 4-cylinder engine and hemispherical combustion chambers. The car was designed by Arthur Davidson who had come from Lea-Francis. A higher output engine came in 1927 with the 2-litre Speed Model which could be had supercharged in 1930. A lengthened chassis version, the 16/65, with 6-cylinder 2.4-litre engine, was available from 1926 to 1930. The final car of the 1920s was the 3-litre using a 2931-cc 6-cylinder engine. This continued until 1933 when the engine grew to 3181 cc and was also available with a complex 8-speed Maybach transmission as the Selector Special.
A new model for 1933 was the 16-80 using a 2-litre Crossley engine with pre-selector gearbox from 1934. A new small car, the Rapier came along in 1934 with 1104cc engine and pre-selector gearbox. This lasted until 1935 but more were made until 1938 by a separate company, David Napier and Son of Hammersmith, London. At the other extreme was the near 100 mph, 4.5-litre M45 with Meadows-supplied 6-cylinder 4467-cc engine. An out and out sporting version the M45R Rapide, with tuned M45 engine and a shorter chassis achieved a controversial Le Mans victory in 1935. Also in 1935 the 3-litre grew to a 3.5-litre.
All was not well financially and the receiver was called in 1935, but the company was bought by Alan P. Good, who just outbid Rolls-Royce. He also persuaded W. O. Bentley to leave Rolls-Royce and join Lagonda as designer along with many of his racing department staff. The 4.5-litre range now became the LG45 with lower but heavier bodies and also available in LG45R Rapide form. The LG45 came in 3 versions known as Sanction 1, 2 and 3 each with more Bentley touches to the engine. In 1938 the LG6 with independent front suspension by torsion bar and hydraulic brakes came in. Bentley's masterpiece the V12 was launched in 1937. The 4480cc engine delivered 180 bhp and was said to be capable of going from 7 to 105 mph in top gear and to rev to 5000 rpm. The car was exhibited at the 1939 New York Motor Show: "The highest price car in the show this year is tagged $8,900. It is a Lagonda, known as the "Rapide" model, imported from England. The power plant is a twelve-cylinder V engine developing 200 horsepower."
Richard Watney was managing director of Lagonda at the start of the Second World War: "He was Rootes' retail sales manager for the London area until 1935, when he became managing director of Lagonda, Ltd. He is a production expert, who during the war organised and controlled for Lagonda one of the largest British gun production plants, and also plants which produced 50,000 25 lb shells a day. Watney also developed and produced the "Crocodile" and "Wasp" flame-throwing equipment for armoured vehicles." Watney finished second at Le Mans in 1930 driving a Bentley. He returned to Rootes in 1946, and posted to Australia, was killed in a car accident in Melbourne in 1949.
In 1947 the company was taken over by David Brown and moved in with Aston Martin, which he had also bought, in Feltham, Middlesex. The old Staines works at Egham Hythe passed to Petters Limited, in which A.P. Good had acquired the controlling interest. Production restarted with the last model from W. O. Bentley, the 1948 2.6-Litre with new chassis featuring fully independent supension. Its new 2580cc twin overhead cam straight 6 became the basis for the Aston Martin engines of the 1950s. The engine grew to 3 litres in 1953 and continued to be available until 1958. Many thought that the marque had disappeared but in 1961 the Rapide name was resurrected with aluminium body by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan and 3995 cc engine capable of taking the car to 125 mph. By this time, Aston Martin-Lagonda as it now was, had moved to Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. The Rapide lasted until 1965.
Between 1974 and 1976, seven Lagonda saloons were produced on the basis of the Aston Martin V8. One more car was to appear with the large and futuristic Aston Martin Lagonda of 1976 designed by William Towns. This low, rather square, wedge shaped car was built on Aston Martin V8 components and was available, at least in theory, until 1989. Aston Martin produced a concept car called the Lagonda Vignale at the 1993 Geneva motor show. During 1993-1994, a handful of Lagonda 4-door saloons and shooting brakes were built on the basis of the Aston Martin Virage. They could be ordered with the 5.3 liter V8 (310 HP) or the 6.3 liter V8 (500 HP). Production numbers Lagonda Saloon (8 or 9 cars), Lagonda Shooting Brake 5-doors (1 or 2 cars).
Also see: Aston Martin Heritage | The History of Aston Martin (USA Edition)