Unveiled in 1976, William Towns’s extraordinary Aston Martin Lagonda still polarizes opinion. Its angular bodywork is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, as is its commanding presence.
Aston Martin had flirted with the Lagonda nomenclature ever since David Brown acquired the company in 1947. Brown followed up his £20,000 Aston Martin purchase with a £50,000 gamble on Lagonda shortly afterwards, which included the services of WO Bentley and his new 2½-litre, DOHC 6-cylinder engine. A total of 550 Lagonda drophead coupes and saloons were built between 1946 and 1953, a further 430 between 1953 and 1956, 55 between 1961 and 1964 and half a dozen in the early 1970s. All were fairly frumpy versions of the current Aston Martins of the time.
William Towns had designed the Aston Martin DBS of 1969, but for his next project he was told to create something edgy. Harris Mann’s wedge shapes were all the rage, and Towns one-upped Mann with the razor-sharp Lagonda that became the hit of the 1976 Earls Court Motor Show. It was powered by Tadek Marek’s DOHC, 5.3-litre V-8 engine, which developed 240 bhp and drove through a Chrysler 3-speed automatic transmission. Early cars had carburettors, but later ones had fuel injection; all had poor fuel economy. There was little brightwork, the headlights popped up above a thin line of sidelights and the grille was only about 6 inches tall.
The Aston Martin Lagonda’s body was refined in 1988 with the corners rounded off and the pop-up headlights abandoned. Inside, the interior was wool carpet, burled wood and hand-stitched leather, but it was not spacious considering the overall size of the car. Electronic gremlins were a persistent problem. Early cars used LED readouts in the digital dash. They were hard to read in daylight, and didn’t work most of the time, anyway. Later cars had CRT readouts, which cost a great deal to replace, when they too failed. Push-button stalks on the steering column were equally problematic.
In their day, Aston Martin Lagondas were the darlings of the nouveau riche, pop stars and Arab sheiks, all of whom ordered their cars in outlandish colour combinations. After the beauty of the Aston Martin DB5 and DB6, the Lagonda was seen by many to be an ugly beast, and that perspective is still retained by some. However, many now see the car as a ground-breaking design that tested concepts, technology, and ideas in a real-life supercar. The Lagonda was not a safe choice, either by Aston Martin, or by the people who bought one.
A total of 645 Aston Martin Lagondas were sold in about 11 years, but few remain due to years of low prices combined with difficult and expensive maintenance regimes. The very best cars with full provenance and complete records are absolutely the ones to buy, as deferred maintenance and general neglect will likely make for more headache than enjoyment.
As a highly stylized sporting 4-door, the Aston Martin Lagonda has few direct competitors, though the Ferrari 308 GT4 evokes a similar reaction while also delivering 2+2 seating.