Has there ever been another car launch quite like it? It’s almost 40 years since the extraordinary Lagonda wedge was unveiled, but you can still almost sense the shockwaves today. It was all the more extraordinary for the fact that Aston Martin had just emerged from some of its darkest hours: the factory at Newport Pagnell had actually closed in 1974 before reopening in 1975 under ambitious new owners. And in a move that still seems audacious today, the new management team quickly gave the go-ahead to a radical-looking four-door from the pen of chief stylist William Towns.
Towns’s astonishingly low, futuristic Lagonda was shown to the motoring press at the Bell Inn at Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire on October 12, 1976, and later that month it made its public debut at the London Motor Show at Earls Court. Around 200 orders were taken on the stand.
It wasn’t an easy birth – and the main culprits for the delays that ensued were the fantastically ambitious electronics, particularly the dashboard with its digital instruments and touch-sensitive switchgear.
Electrical issues would continue to dog the early cars, yet slowly but surely the systems were sorted, and by the early 1980s the Lagonda had become a strong seller for Aston Martin – particularly in the Middle East and North America. By the time it went out of production in 1990, Aston Martin managed to sold 638 cars – which doesn’t sound like a lot today, but was a significant contribution.
No-one knows more about the headaches posed by the Lagonda’s pioneering electrical systems than Dave Dillow – or ‘Mr Lagonda’ as he’s known at Works. One of the longest-serving employees at Newport Pagnell, Dave joined AML as an auto electrician in October 1976 – just as the Lagonda was making its public debut.
Today, Dave still works as an auto electrician at Works, but in the Heritage workshop rather than on the production line. He talks us through the evolution of the Lagonda’s digital dash.
The original version, with its red LED displays, was created by the Javalina Corporation, a Texas aircraft instrument specialist. ‘It was advanced for its day,’ says Dave, ‘but by today’s technology, they’re very basic. Then there was a mk2 version of the LEDs, and then the CRT screens…’
The trio of cathode ray tubes – basically miniature versions of the old-fashioned TV sets that used to be in everyone’s sitting rooms – represented the speedo, rev-counter, and a central display for the warning lights. ‘Think about taking that TV from your home and bouncing three of them down the road, and you can sort of see how problems might occur,’ Dave laughs. ‘Actually it was a beautiful dash and easy to read – when it was working.’
There was even one further variation, with the Series 4 cars introduced in 1987, when the CRTs were replaced by VF (vacuum fluourescent) gauges, which were thankfully less problematic.
‘Over the years we’ve developed ways of making each of the systems work,’ Dave continues. ‘We found the CRTs can be replaced by three LCD screens, which are much more reliable. Other cars have had LEDs replaced by conventional-looking dials.’
So an important car in the Newport Pagnell story, but a wise buy today? As an investment, they’re starting to look a decent bet. At the recent Bonhams Works sale, an excellent low-mileage car made a strong £87,000, though a very tidy, average-miler reached only half that.
According to specialist Nick Mee, prices for the best are rising steadily – the Series 4 is the rarest and best-sorted, and an example in first-class all-round condition might now command as much as £120,000 – but you can still find driveable, presentable cars for around £50k.
Still good value, then – but only if you buy a sound car, and essentially one with a solid structure that doesn’t require major restoration.
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Although the Lagonda was design...
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