Lifestyle

Grand Lagonda


The 1934 Lagonda 4-Liter M45 Tourer is one of the most desirable of all classic, British thoroughbred cars

If the best British workmanship and the finest materials appeal to you, and if character, sweet running, and a maximum speed...are qualities that attract you, there is no need to look further; you will find them in this British car."

So read Lagonda's sales brochure announcing the M45, a powerful model boasting 4 1/2 liters and regarded as one of the most desirable of all post-vintage thoroughbred cars. Launched in 1933, it was powered by the 6-cylinder, 4,467-cc, OHV engine designed by Henry Meadows, which had been progressively developed since 1928.

Like all of Meadows's engines, it was robust and, if anything, over-engineered, enabling the more sporting enthusiast in later years to tune it to good effect without serious consequences. At the time of its launch, it was the largest-engined British sports car available; even Bentley was left on the starting grid with its relatively new 3 1/2-Liter model.

Unlike Bentley, which did not produce its own coachwork at this time, the Staines factory offered a range of attractive factory-built bodies, including both open and closed cars, and arguably the most handsome and practical was the four-seat T7 (see note) tourer, although other bespoke coachbuilders such as Vanden Plas, Wylder, and Freestone & Webb were also to clothe the M45.

"AOL 564" was first registered in late 1934; at that time we understand it carried saloon coachwork. In the early '50s, it was rebodied with a T8 tourer body, reputedly new old stock from the factory, which had been acquired by the David Brown organization when it acquired Lagonda.

In 1977, the car was acquired by the present owner from past VSCC president Bruce Spollon and has since been both well-used and used well. Only the owner's advancing years bring the car to market. In 1982, the owner, an artist of some distinction, won a travel scholarship from the Royal Scottish Academy, enabling him to drive his old Lagonda on a tour of France, a mission most successfully accomplished.

In 1991, a 3.3:1 rear axle ratio was fitted to facilitate high-speed touring without stressing the motor. In the late 1980s, the car was entrusted to the late Herb Schofield for a cosmetic facelift and retrim in blue leather, while the engine was dispatched to Lagonda exponent Alan Brown for a major overhaul. Brown later rebuilt the gearbox.

In more recent years, a stainless steel exhaust system was fitted, spring leaves and bushes were refurbished, and the clutch was re-lined. The body has been sensibly modified at the rear, doing away with the opening boot--a well-known weakness of this body design.

In short, here is a car from long-term ownership that has been enthusiastically driven and correctly maintained. "AOL 564" is presented in blue livery with blue leather upholstery, has all period instruments, and is complete with good weather equipment, including hood, sidescreens, and a rear tonneau cover.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $174,124 at the Bonhams Goodwood Revival auction, in Chichester, Sussex, England, on August 31, 2007.

Today, the once-proud name Lagonda lies dormant in the portfolio of Aston Martin, although still a part of the official company name. For most people it brings to mind the William Towns-designed "origami" sedan of the late 1970s.

Few in this country remember that Lagonda rivaled Bentley for comfort and performance and that it won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1935. Although founded by William Gunn, an American from Ohio, Lagonda has a very low profile on this side of the Atlantic.

The company began with motorcycle production in 1906 and soon moved into building small cars employing their own engines. Following Gunn's death in 1920, the company began making a move up-market, and to power larger, more sporting models, they began to use proprietary engines from Crossley and Meadows.

Powered by superb 6-cylinder engine

The power for the M45 of 1934 was the superb 4,467-cc inline OHV 6-cylinder designed by Henry Meadows. The same powerplant was also used in contemporary Invicta sport tourers. Lagonda was one of the top British performance touring cars of the mid-'30s and offered ample room for four passengers to travel in style and speed. Today, these are cars equally at home on the Peking to Paris Rally as on the lawn at Pebble Beach.

Bankrupt in 1935, Lagonda was bought by Alan Good, who outbid Rolls-Royce. This endeared him to W.O. Bentley (who was not so lucky four years earlier), and Bentley left Rolls-Royce for Lagonda, where he improved the 4 1/2-liter Meadows engine and designed a spectacular 4 1/2-liter V12 in 1937.

It is primarily the engines Bentley created for Lagonda that made David Brown purchase the marque in 1947 and add it to his Aston Martin group. But the pre-Bentley Lagondas have a great deal to offer for those seeking vintage high-performance motoring.

The M45 is a terrific event car with good handling and a near-100 mph top speed. This car has had some modifications to make it more roadworthy in today's conditions and to enhance its value in use. One common alteration, which is not mentioned as having been done to this example, is the fitting of an Alvis synchromesh transmission. It makes driving the M45 a bit easier, a concession that would draw scorn from vintage Bentley boys.

However, since the Lagonda trades at a discount to a comparable Bentley, I would say you could safely endure their sneers, as you'd have as much fun as they and more money in the bank.

Cut-down doors and huge headlights

Many Lagondas of the period, like their Bentley counterparts, have been rebodied since first delivery. While the usual coachbuilders supplied bodies for the Lagonda chassis, the factory-built styles were the most prevalent. The T7 and T8 were open tourers, the T8 having both left and right front doors, while the T7 had a left front door and right rear door. These beautifully proportioned bodies, with sweeping fenders, side body cut-outs, and huge headlights, represent, along with the Invicta low-chassis and SS 100, the look of the archetypical British sporting car of the pre-war period.

This car began life as a saloon and was later re-bodied with the sexier tourer body. In fact, it's become rather difficult to find one of these cars with its original body, whether tourer or saloon. A few are on offer currently with original bodies at asking prices double what this car brought. The auction company description states the body on this car is "reputedly new old stock from the factory" mounted in the early '50s. If this is verifiable, it's nice but still makes it a rebody after period. No matter, it certainly looks correct and very handsome.

Although it appears in decent condition, it's clearly an older restoration that has been well used. Valuing these cars is challenging, as they don't come up for sale that often, and asking prices can vary wildly. Given the long-term ownership, usability, and rarity, and when comparing it to the alternatives, this sale has to be considered market correct for a car in this condition, if not something of a bargain.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

Details

Years Produced: 1934-35

Number Produced: 70

Original List Price: £1,000 (about $5,000) for chassis only

SCM Valuation: $90,000-$110,000

Tune-up Cost: $1,000-$1,500

Distributor Caps: $1,000-$1,250

Chassis # Location: Frame rail plate in engine compartment

Engine # Location: Right side of block

Club Info: Lagonda Club, Witney House, London Road, Hartley Witney Hants, RG27 8RN UK

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1928-32 Invicta 4-Liter high-chassis, 1933-37 Bentley 3-Liter, 1932-36 Alvis Speed 20

Investment Grade: A


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