There’s something so space-age about the Aston Martin Lagonda, even now. It was launched in 1976, a year before the first Star Wars film, and its famous wedge shape, designed by William Towns, could have played a part in that Lucas epic. Not an actual spaceship – that’s a stretch too far – but as some sort of futuristic land rover, perhaps. That goes for the interior, too, with its hi-tech digital dash and, on the earliest versions, the myriad touch-sensitive switches that were the epitome of cutting edge. It was the car from the future in 1976 and yet…
At the same time there’s also something a bit Dr Who about the Lagonda. Whereas the Star Wars films were a money-no-object exercise - which is why even now, not far off half-a-century on from the first, they still look so fantastic - the big Aston has the feeling of a shoe-string BBC-series production in some quarters. Dr Who famously made props in the Blue Peter mold – out of toilet rolls and sticky-backed plastic – and there’s just a hint of that in evidence lurking among the Lagonda’s wow factor.
Juxtaposed with its fluorescent green screens there’s the part’s bin smash and grab, including the XJS ashtrays and door handles. Then there are the switches in this Series 4. If they packed up, you’d only need find someone breaking a Maestro to find replacements or pilfer from a Disco TDi 300 if the window switches went south. But dwelling on those bits is rather missing the point. Aston Martin really did try to create something bespoke and as epic as the Star Wars films here, and in doing so, bet the house on red.
Before the Lagonda came along, Aston Martin had been through the mill. David Brown had departed, having sold the company on to new owners just at the point the world’s finances dipped and the fuel crisis hit. Times were always tough at Aston, but with those outside factors adding to its internal pressures, the ever-present pull of bankruptcy proved too strong to resist. But in 1975 it was saved by an Anglo-American consortium of business magnates, who gave it some much-needed budget.
To spend this on an outlandish car that would only ever appeal to a small number of the world’s richest people was brave. To style it the way it did was braver still, and to fit it with electronics that were bleeding edge was, quite possibly, a pointer of lunacy. Yet that’s what happened over at Newport Pagnell, and the results of their labours is still giving rise to debate but also much pleasure to this day.
Personally, I’ve always thought the Lagonda’s styling is fantastic. I won’t try and contend it’s pretty, but I’d argue ‘til the end of time that it’s jaw dropping from nose to tail. Those overhangs, the rakish windscreen and that pointy nose, capped with an almost ridiculous pocket-sized grille, shouldn’t work but it does, somehow. The mechanics of the car were developed in under a year, but the electronics proved so troublesome that the first deliveries were in 1979, two years later than planned. Think about it, though, the first digital watch had only gone on sale in 1972, so this stuff was in its infancy, and trying to make it work in a car was always going to be a challenge. So it proved to be.
After months of harried development work, Aston Martin finally revealed a working Lagonda to the press in 1978. Well, it worked for a bit. It wasn’t long before smoke began to waft gently from the dashboard, and some red-faced executives huffed and puffed and pushed the car from view. Clearly some help was required, and eventually the Javalina Corporation, which made aircraft instruments in Frisco, Texas, was deemed the saviour. Javalina’s engineers were so unimpressed with what turned up, they started from scratch. Yet within three months, cars were finally being delivered to their long-expectant owners.
As we know, even with some help from experts in the field, the Lagonda’s electronics never were reliable. It wasn’t uncommon to find your seat moving of its own accord, or the wipers wiping dust on a dry screen with the driver helpless to stop them. The digital instruments went through many iterations, facilitated by cathode ray tubes to vacuum fluorescent displays. But even up to the last versions, like this 1990 Series 4, the Lagonda never lost all ties to its futuristic past. This one really is one of the last, too, with the claim that it's one of the final three Lagondas produced, from a production run that eventually ran to 645.
The Series 4 was the most handsome. It was restyled by Towns in 1987, with smoother edges and integrated body-coloured bumpers. The pop-up headlights were ditched as well, replaced by that imposing set of six lights along the front. This one looks superb in Royal Blue, which is a Crewe colour common to Bentleys of the period, along with its contrasting light Parchment hide. It’s only covered 36,000 miles, and when you think about it, that makes the £113,000 asking price seem almost cheap. This, after all, is a very rare, hand-built Aston Martin born of possibly the most interesting story of any model line in the company’s history.
Specification | Aston Martin Lagonda (Series 4)
Engine: 5,340cc, V8, naturally aspirated
Transmission: three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 285 @ 5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 320 @ 3,000rpm
Recorded mileage: 36,000
Year registered: 1990
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £112,995
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