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Aston Martin Lagonda

Laudable Lagonda Published: 25th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Aston Martin Lagonda

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Series 3
  • Worst model: Series 4
  • Budget buy: Don’t go there
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L5283mm x W1816mm
  • Spares situation: Good
  • DIY ease?: Tricky
  • Club support: Good
  • Appreciating asset?: Good ones, gradually
  • Good buy or good-bye?: We’re not quite sure…
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Aston’s brave attempt to make a four-door supercar fell fl at on its face - like the prices. So is it now time to buy one before they inevitably soar?

Pros & Cons

Sheer style, comfort, Aston performance, Lagonda name, value for money
High running and repair costs, build quality, electronic fears - gaudy and fl ashy image?
£10,000-50,000

There have been many cars over the years which have been unveiled to sharp intakes of breath, but has any ever been more audacious than the Aston Martin Lagonda? One of the craziest car designs ever concocted, the William Towns-penned Lagonda is outrageous, breathtaking, sensational – choose whatever adjective you like and it’s unlikely to quite capture the essence of just how mad this creation really was. Unveiled 34 years ago and now out of production for two decades, the Lagonda’s ability to shock hasn’t diminished at all, especially the. prices but this is because potential buyers are scared away by tales of horrifi c unreliability. This reputation is far from undeserved, but liabilities can be reduced with the right know-how. Running costs needn’t be totally horrifi c either – depending on your defi nition of the term. You can never buy and run a Lagonda on a shoestring, but you might do so without spending a fortune either and own a genuine Aston – if you read on.

History

When Aston Martin almost went belly up in 1975, nobody could have guessed that the company would unveil an all-new model just a year later – and certainly not one as ambitious as the Lagonda. Until now, Lagonda had been a separate marque, but it had pretty much died by the mid- 1970s. It was briefl y revived as a model name for the lovely DBS-based Lagonda of 1974-1976, but just seven were made – a much more mainstream model was required. Whether or not you could brand what came next as mainstream is open to debate, but in 1976 the wraps were taken off a new Lagonda, which looked like nothing ever built before – or since. Revealed at the 1976 Earls Court Motor Show, the Lagonda Series 2, as it’s become known, was a non-runner that shocked everyone who clapped eyes on it. Essentially the new Lagonda was a bigged up DBS V8 with striking Origami-inspired styling but it was more than just a simple re-body. With a wheelbase stretched by a foot the familiar chassis was virtually re-engineered to save vital weight. The rest of the mechanicals were broadly AM V8, save for Koni not Boge self-levelling dampers and what Aston described as a ’two-stage’ power steering system. The orders came in to keep Aston Martin buoyant. It would take nearly two years to turn the Lagonda into a runner – and even then it couldn’t always be relied on to start and run. The unveiling of the supposedly fi rst working Lagonda in 1978 is well documented – largely because the event was such an embarrassing farce for everyone concerned. The fi rst customer car was built for Lord and Lady Tavistock and in front of the world’s press it had to be pushed into view - because it wouldn’t start. Not a good start for the £32,620 price tag which back in ‘78 would have purchased a Silver Shadow II and left enough for a Mercedes- Benz 200D with change for the daily chores. It took until summer 1979 before production actually got underway, with digital instrumentation superseding the previous gas-plasma technology, a foot operated handbrake and ditching the proposed two-stage power steering for a much simpler Rover SD1 system!. By now the price was pegged at almost £50,000 – which is going some since it was billed as a £20,000 machine when unveiled three years earlier… Buyers still queued up though, mainly from the USA and Middle East, where most of the 645 cars built found homes. The fi rst revisions came in 1983, with the adoption of BBS alloy wheels, larger bumpers and opening rear windows; earlier cars had featured fixed glass! Within a year there were further changes, with a move to cathode-ray instrumentation and a multi-lingual voice warning system, just like the contemporary Austin Maestro’s. The Series 3 arrived in January 1985, with 300bhp thanks to the adoption of fuel injection, as on the V8 saloon. Just over two years later there were further changes, largely because the tooling for the car had worn out after 540 examples had been built. The result was the Series 4, with its softer lines and trio of integrated headlamps in each side of the nose, while the pop-up units previously fi tted were ditched. The boot lid and rear lights were altered too, while there was no longer a swage line running the length of the car’s fl anks. The car had had its day by this stage though, and just 105 examples of the Series 4 were sold by the time the plug was pulled in January 1990. Aston Martin wouldn’t offer another four-door saloon until the arrival of the Rapide earlier this year.

The Lagonda was never going to win the hearts and minds like a DB5 but few Astons even went from hero to zero so soon – according to Car, at least. Trying one out in 1978 it hailed the “dashing new fl agship” as a welcome addition to the stuffy Rolls-Royce market. “Here at last may be a car that displaces the Jaguar XJ12 as the world’s best saloon; it is certainly the car that Rolls-Royce have to watch,” it proclaimed.
Yet two years later, when comparing the Lagonda against the all-new Rolls Silver Spirit it had rather toned down its enthusiasm. The testers still raved about the car calling it ‘almost impossibly good’ but lamented over the poor build quality, the ‘heinous’ instrumentation and those Ford Cortina MK3 door handles. In the end the testers reckoned neither car was the best around – that accolade went to Mercedes. Fast forward to 1987 and in its annual COTY awards it gave the Lagonda an award – as one of the worst cars around! The once striking styling was heavily criticised as was the temerity to ask £85,000, for what the magazine now considered “is such pure frippery that we consider it to be an insult to the rest of the Aston range.” Ouch.

Driving

With that familiar 5.3-litre V8, the Lagonda has a decent clip of speed, but despite the Aston badge, outright performance isn’t really what this car is all about. Power outputs and kerb weights varied throughout production; 280bhp and two tons are par for the course, with an automatic transmission standard on all cars. As a result, while acceleration is impressive for such a ludicrously large car – the Lagonda is over 17 feet long – it’s not exactly neck-snapping at around nine seconds for the 0-60mph sprint. Such a huge kerb weight and that ultralong wheelbase (it runs to nearly three metres) means the ride is superb; bumps are smothered by the Lagonda’s bulk. Much more intimidating is the Rover derived steering; with just two turns between locks, it’s ridiculously direct, with things not helped by a steering wheel that’s little larger than a dinner plate. Because of the car’s generous dimensions, this isn’t a car for hustling along back roads, but despite its size the Lagonda is surprisingly agile. Body control is better than you’d expect while the brakes are excellent and the 235/70 tyres provide more than enough grip. The Lagonda was always considered a driver’s car, as you‘d expect of an Aston, less so to travel in especially at the back where rear seat room and the door openings were too limited and the car overall too noisy.

Prices

Lagondas occasionally crop up for under £10,000, but as you’d expect, such examples will need huge amounts of time and cash to make them good – invariably more money than the car will be worth. Anything priced at under £20,000 will need some work, even if superfi cially it looks okay. Cars in this territory will be harbouring corrosion and will invariably need some retrimming or repainting. That’s why you really need to spend at least £30,000 to secure a car that’s good inside and out – not mint, but an all-round good example. The problem is, most of the cars that come onto the market will need some work – once an owner has got their car really nice, they’ll hang onto it. It’s the S2 and S3 which are the most sought after; many reckon the S4’s design lost some of the purity of the earlier cars, although the very last car built – a 3000-mile S4 – changed hands for £84,000 recently. Which just goes to show that condition and provenance are essential.

Improvements

The Lagonda’s engine, transmission and running gear are all good in standard form. That doesn’t stop some owners from converting to a four speed ZF gearbox however, or replacing the self-levelling rear suspension with conventional dampers or upgrading the brakes, but none of this is really necessary for an ordinary road car used once in a while. Rather a good service and geometry check will work wonders. What is worth upgrading is the air conditioning system, as the whole set-up is poorly designed and engineered. The fans, fl aps and compressor all benefi t from wholesale changes, but it’s a costly business and nobody offers an offthe- shelf solution, which only adds to the cost. Finally, don’t be tempted to replace the original digital instrumentation with an analogue set up, as such a move is bound to impact on the car’s indifferent resale values – and the original set-up can be made to work reliably, as long as you know where to go.

Big thanks to Roger Ivett and David Marks, the latter of Aston Mar tin and Jaguar specialist David Marks Garages (http://www.davidmarkgarages. co.uk). If you’re tempted to buy a Lagonda – or even if you just want to fi nd out more about Aston’s fl ying wedge, Roger Ivett’s website, http://lagondanet.com, will prove an invaluable resource.

What To Look For

  • While a professional inspection is always advised before buying a specialist classic car, nowhere does this apply more than with a Lagonda; buy badly and you could end up massively out of pocket.
  • Predictably, it’s corrosion that has killed off most of the Lagondas that have been scrapped. There’s a steel structure over whichare draped aluminium panels. The structure can corrode spectacularly while the outer panels still look reasonably serviceable, but by now the really ropey cars have generally been either broken or restored.
  • The A, B and C-posts all need close inspection; on the rear door shut there’s a removeable panel beneath which a multitude of horrors can lurk. Make sure you remove it to see what’s going on.
  • Take a closer look at the rear wheelarches and sills. The latter are three-piece items, and if they’ve rotted, the C-post is likely to have corroded too. Making all this good, including stripping the interior and sorting out the paintwork, can easily cost £10,000.
  • The Lagonda’s multitude of electrical and electronics systems can be a major weak point, but there are people who can achieve reliability. Not only are parts available at reasonable prices, but many of the electronics components can be upgraded to modern standards so the displays are original, but they’re driven by parts far more reliable than when these cars were new.
  • Whatever work has been done to the car, check the switchgear and ensure the instrumentation all works properly. Even if these bits aren’t broken, the various senders, pipes and wires can play up, so tracing faults can be a nightmare.
  • Also depressingly temperamental are the pop-up headlamps along with the electrically operated releases for the boot, fuel fi ller and bonnet. Once again, effecting permament cures for such maladies can take lots of time – and therefore lots of money.
  • Throughout production, a 5340cc V8 engine was fi tted, in various states of tune and with a range of fuel delivery systems. Cars that have been neglected or driven really hard may be suffering from a sickly engine – which is costly to fi x. Powerplants will happily take 200,000 miles in their stride as long as they’ve had proper regular maintenance and been allowed to warm up properly. A full rebuild typically costs £12,000, with the top and bottom ends getting a thorough overhaul. If it’s only the bottom end that needs TLC, a partial renovation is usually £5000-£7000.
  • There are two essential ingredients to a long engine life. The fi rst is to maintain a 50:50 mix of anti-freeze in the cooling system, as the block and heads are all alloy. The other trait is to allow the engine to warm up properly; 2500rpm shouldn’t be exceeded until the oil is up to 50 degrees (there is an oil temperature gauge). As the sump’s capacity is 12 litres, it takes a while for the oil to get up to temperature. Oil changes every 3000 miles won’t have done any harm either, using a 15/50 oil such as Catrol GTX.
  • If the engine runs badly, suffers lowcompression and uses oil, it’s because of sticking piston rings, worn valve guides or cylinder liner wear; the result of the engine having been revved hard when still cold.
  • The top end won’t be affected, but a bottom end rebuild will be necessary – which is where that £5000+ bill comes in.
  • While expert assessment is always desirable with the engine (especially with things such as cylinder compression readings), there are some simple checks you can make. Ensure the oil pressure is at least 60psi at 3000rpm when hot (and at least 10psi at tickover), and see that the coolant temperature doesn’t exceed 90 degrees at all. If you can check cylinder compressions, good – you’re looking for 150psi across the board.
  • Listen for rattling from the front of the engine, belying a worn pair of timing chains. It’s advised that these are replaced every 75,000 miles, although if properly maintained they’ll last double this easily.
  • The problem is that they have to be tensioned properly, and they’re frequently overtightened, wearing prematurely in the process. If the chains break or stretch, the pistons will hit the valves, wrecking the engine. New chains are only £62 apiece, with replacement taking fi ve hours for the two.
  • Next make sure there’s no coolant leaking from the water pump and that the engine isn’t running hot. If these are both the case, a rebuilt water pump is needed – at a cost of £350 plus a couple of hours’ labour to fi t it.
  • A limited-slip diff was fi tted to all cars, and while the diffs are strong, the limited slip clutches can wear out. To make sure everything is intact, reverse the car and turn the wheel from one side to the other. If it feels as though the handbrake has been left on, you’ll need to rebuild the diff at a cost of £650 plus fi ve hours or so for removal and refi tting.
  • The rugged three-speed Chrysler Torque-Flite gearbox is strong and gives few problems; it’s the same for the rest of the running gear really, although you need to make sure that the brakes haven’t seized up through a lack of use and that the suspension isn’t tired; there’s a selflevelling system at the rear which you need to make sure is working.
  • With 11 hides used to completely trim a Lagonda, the potential retrim costs can be eye-watering – more even than a car is worth. That’s why you need to look out for splits, tears, splitting seams and water damage.
  • The same goes for the carpets, wood trim and the brightwork; anything that’s missing or damaged can cost a veritable arm and a leg to replace or repair.
  • We know they are rare, but don’t buy the fi rst one that comes up. Try a few to gain a datum and check out the owner as much as the car.

Three Of A Kind

Maserati Quattroporte III
Maserati Quattroporte III
You’ll have to look hard to fi nd one of these, not helped by the fact that the car never came here offi cially. But the Quattroporte is worth seeking out as, like the Lagonda, it offers something different. Fast, refi ned and discreet, the Maserati also offers a genuinely sporty drive thanks to its chassis set up and V8 power.
Mercedes W126 S-Class
Mercedes W126 S-Class
From an era when Mercedes stood for peerless build quality and longevity, the S-Class has long been the company’s technological tour de force and it’s no different here. Superb engines, excellent safety credentials and spacious (if rather bland) cabins add up to a great package that’s pretty affordable too.
Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit
Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit
From an era when Mercedes stood for peerless build quality and longevity, the S-Class has long been the company’s technological tour de force and it’s no different here. Superb engines, excellent safety credentials and spacious (if rather bland) cabins add up to a great package that’s pretty affordable too.

Verdict

The Lagonda makes a fantastic classic buy, but you should be tempted only if you’re a true enthusiast who can live with the cost of keeping such a potentially temperamental car going. There are few shortcuts to running a Lagonda, but there are specialists out there who can keep them working properly – and that includes the dreaded instrumentation. “A luxurious saloon with real fl air and ability -truly magnificent” is how one road test summed up the Lagonda 30 years ago. Find a good car and you‘ll probably agree with those sentiments, and you’ll never want to sell it because nothing offers the style, presence or driving experience that this Lagonda does.



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