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WHEN THE MUSEUM of Modern Art in New York City celebrated the automobile in 1951, its catalog commended the razor-edge styling of one of MOMA’s eight cars by observing “the parts … are themselves less significant than their remarkable intersections, which form the true basis of the design.” And, indeed, the 1939 Bentley had James Young coachwork decidedly of the razor-edge design genre.
Another of the genre was the latter-day Aston Martin Lagonda. Tidbits on this razor-edge car are gleaned from the Bonhams 2011 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance Auction catalog, the Lagonda’s several appearances in R&T, and my usual Internet sleuthing. There’s a personal aspect as well, in that I was involved with R&T’s 1982 Road Test of the car.
Lagonda Lore. The British marque Lagonda, founded in 1906, derived its name from a Shawnee settlement in what’s now Springfield, Ohio, the town of its founder’s birth. Aston Martin, pioneer British automaker founded in 1913, bought Lagonda in 1947.
From Door Handles to Le Mans to the Lagonda. William Towns, 1936–1993, began his automotive-design career in 1954 with seats and door handles. By 1965, he had designed the bodywork of the Rover-BRM gas-turbine Le Mans car. And, in the 1970s, Towns was given the responsibility of designing a 4-door Aston Martin to build on this company’s line of sports cars.
Towns’ Series 1 Aston Martin Lagonda, 1974–1975, was conservatively styled and only seven were built. His completely revised Series 2, 1976–1985, made its debut at the 1976 London Motor Show. Series 3 cars, 1986–1987, continued with sharp edges; Series 4, 1987–1990, lost some of the crispness.
The Lagonda’s Wedge. The car’s extreme styling was (and remains) controversial. Some derided its razor edges as “folded-paper-airplane.” Others were less complementary: According to Wikipedia, “It was named by Bloomsberg Businessweek as one of the 50 ugliest cars of the last 50 years.” This, a 2011 opinion.
In its August 1982 Road Test, R&T wrote, “From the styling point of view, the Lagonda proved to be controversial around our office. However, the general consensus was that the car is sculptural in a rather subdued space-age manner.”
Digital Delight/Dilemma. The Lagonda was the first production car to have a digital instrument panel. The earlier examples employed light-emitting-diode technology; later ones, cathode-ray-tube; later still, vacuum-fluorescent displays. All were controversial and none was particularly trouble-free.
Wikipedia cites that “Time Magazine included it in its ’50 Worst Cars of All Time,’ describing it as a mechanical ‘catastrophe’ with electronics that would be impressive if they ever worked.”
R&T was a bit more charitable in its August 1982 Road Test: “The interior carries on the space-age theme, with enough electronic wizardry to satisfy even the most hardened gadget freak.” On the other hand, R&T was far from sold on digital displays: “One can obtain information from a conventional analog instrument simply by glancing at it, but one has to actually read a digital display.”
Except for the split infinitive, this sure sounds like the opinion of R&T’s Engineering Editor at the time (me).
The Price of Innovation. R&T said, “Another thing that takes more than a bit of getting used to is the price, which, although unsettled as yet, will be about $150,000, give or take a dollar or two. As you might imagine, the demographics of Lagonda buyers is rather different from those of the madding crowd.”
R&T continued, “… according to Aston Martin, there’s a clear pattern: male, early 40s, an entrepreneur owning a relatively modest (though evidently very profitable) business. Few doctors or lawyers are represented because, in general, their incomes aren’t high enough. Nor has the Lagonda caught on with movie stars, rock singers or the like, because it’s viewed as not being flamboyant enough.”
And what of its pesky electronic gremlins? As R&T’s Tony Hogg once quipped about an expensive, yet desirable car: “It has faults that would be inexcusable in a car costing half as much.…” And the Lagonda has those razor edges. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020