Cars To Dream About

No. 6: The Lagonda V12 (1938)

Lagonda V12 image

How Lagonda came into being reads like a novel. It's founder was a former opera singer called Wilbur Gunn; and he named his company after a Native American settlement near his birthplace in Springfield Ohio (no that's not the same as the Simpsons' Springfield!). Production of motorcycles started in his back garden in Staines in Middlesex and he built its first car in 1907, using it to win a trial between, of all places, Moscow and St Petersburg in 1910. For the next three years until the start of World War I he had a healthy export trade to Russia, on the back of this success.

During the First World War the company manufactured artillery shells but once this war was over they returned to manufacturing luxury motor cars. However post-war business was not so good and in 1935 the receivers were called in and it was taken over by a gentleman called Alan Goode. Goode persuaded W O Bentley, the founder of Bentley Motors, to leave Rolls-Royce and join him. Bentley and his team created their masterpiece, a V12 4.5 litre engine with such enormous torque at low revs that it was claimed it could go from seven mph to 105 mph in top gear. It was this engine which was to power the Lagonda V12.

This was put into production as a direct competitor to the Rolls-Royce Phantom 111. It was brought out in 1938 and customers had the choice of several different wheel bases and coachwork provided either by the manufacturer or independent coachbuilders. The maximum speed and acceleration depended to a high degree on the choice of bodywork, but even in saloon mode they were capable of reaching around 100 mph with sporting bodies achieving up to 105 mph. Rolls-Royce were severely worried.

There were problems however. Technical issues meant that many cars had to be returned for repairs and alterations throughout 1938, but by 1939 a state of near perfection existed. Lagonda had produced a car which many independent experts considered to be superior to the Rolls-Royce offering.

The next stage was to get some success on the track. Two cars were entered for the 1939 Le Mans 24 hours race and, creditably, they finished third and fourth. The stage was set for increased production; and then World War II intervened. Lagonda went back to gun and shell manufacture and the big V12 engine was shelved, permanently.

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