(Jacob Rumans) #1

68


[Lagonda V12]

There’s a significant amount of play at the rim of whatisa
suitably enormous four-spoke steering wheel. It’s something
Motor Sport remarked on in its period road test, though thewriter
didn’t seem unduly concerned. After a few miles to get usedto it,
neither am I. Though it provides a bit of a shoulder workout,the
feel and weight of the steering is actually very good, so thequickly
adopted technique is to start turning before a corner to takeupthe
slack. It isn’t much heavier at parking speeds either, butdoesn’t
have a great turning circle. Think five-point turn wherethree
would normally do. The weighting is no doubt helped byit still
running on correct period Dunlop crossply tyres. I’d hate totry it
on stickier radials, which always add to the effort required.
Anticipation is also required for any braking activity. Withvast
16-inch drums that fill all available space behind the 18-inchwire
wheels, the Lagonda actually
stops very well for a car of its
period. However, good in pre-war
terms is a world away from even a
Seventies classic, and there’s two
tonnes of metal to bring to a halt
here. But think ahead and push
the pedal hard enough and they
are reasonably effective in relative
terms and couldn’t be made to
fade on a cold March day.
With clouds threatening to
deluge, the hood proves easy enough to raise and latch –fortwo
of us anyway. It isn’t light, but it is as well designed as therestof
the car, and doesn’t spoil the flow of the exterior lines at all.From
the inside, the chrome and polished wood frame of the hoodisa
glorious collision of art and engineering.
If any area of this car’s design reveals its hurried executionit’s
the dashboard layout. The ignition switch and starter arehoused
with several other controls in a cluster above the passenger’sright
knee. Other unmarked buttons and warning lights are dotted
randomly across the richly-grained wooden dash, past the rev
counter and speedo to a four-in-one dial on the right tracking
amps, fuel, oil pressure and water temp. It looks like somekind
of Edwardian lab instrument, which only enhances the car’s
quality feel. A further reminder of the different times this Lagonda
inhabited is found in the clever little round ashtrays that pullout
forward from the rear seat armrests; chromed of course.

‘The technique is to

st art turningbefore a

corner to take up the

slack in the st eering’

The rest of the cabin is filled with lovely details, from a rather
Wallace and Gromit crank to wind the windscreen open, to the
lovely little Phinney-Walker eight-day clock set into the glovebox
lid that looks like a gent’s pocket watch. Other delights include the
long, leather-covered rope door pulls, and chrome thumb levers on
the steering boss that allow you to vary the shock absorber settings


  • it’s labelled that and not the more technically correct ‘dampers’ –
    from Soft to Hard. I choose not to play with that because whatever
    it’s currently set to feels fine to the seat of my pants.
    If I sound impressed then I’m getting the message across.
    Yet this largely unsung British great could so easily have never
    existed. Along with many motor manufacturers in the Thirties,
    in 1935 the receivers were called into Lagonda, a situation that
    was largely blamed on a short-term collapse in the sports car
    market after the introduction of
    the 30mph speed limit in towns.
    Then came the miracle of a
    Lagonda M45 Rapide winning the
    1935 Le Mans 24-Hours, which
    persuaded solicitor Alan Good
    to put up £250,000 to buy the
    company, and most importantly
    WO Bentley to join it as Technical
    Director. The company’s factory
    in Staines was brought back to life
    and WO delivered his grand plan
    mentioned in the opening paragraph.
    Bentley created the V12 engine that was to be the heart of the
    project from scratch, with the aid of most of Rolls-Royce’s racing
    department (yes, they had one back then), who had followed
    him to Lagonda. It was no lightweight, with cylinder heads and
    upper crankcase cast in iron. Alloy was only used for the lower
    crankcase. But it was a very advanced design, with a short stroke
    for its day that allowed the free revving mentioned earlier, and a
    chain-driven overhead camshaft for each bank of cylinders.
    The engine even gained some serious Le Mans pedigree when
    two special-bodied Lagonda V12s were entered for the 24 Hour
    race in 1939 and finished third and fourth overall.
    In October 1937 the Lagonda V12 range was advertised in The
    Motor in a choice of three chassis lengths and five body styles,
    though as was the way back then quite a number were also
    given bespoke coachwork. Prices started at £1500, pitting them


The hood mechanism
is effective but best
operated by two

Rear seat passengers
have their own armrests
and ashtrays