1939 Lagonda V12 Drophead CoupeSOLD

RM Auction - Vintage Motor Cars at Amelia Island - March 10, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $300,000 - $350,000

$451,000 Sold

180hp, 4,480cc overhead valve V12 engine, twin SU carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension, rear semi-elliptic leaf springs, Lockheed drum brakes. Wheelbase: 124"

One of the truly great prewar marques, Lagonda was founded by Wilbur Gunn, who was born in 1859 and grew up in Springfield, Ohio. The Lagonda name was derived from the Shawnee Native American name for a place near Gunn’s home now called Buck Creek.

Arriving in England in 1891, Gunn had two chief passions: engineering and the opera. Through a local operatic group he met Mrs. Constance Grey, his future wife. Constance was widowed in 1896, and in 1897 Wilbur and Constance married, prompting Wilbur to move into the Grey’s large house and grounds just outside London on the river Thames at Staines. In 1898, on the lawn of the house, Wilbur fitted a small, single cylinder petrol engine to his bicycle. The property would later become the Lagonda factory.

The motorcycles were successful, with a Lagonda representing Great Britain in international competition, and before long the company began building three wheelers, later introducing larger capacity twin cylinder engines. More than 70 of these were produced, and in 1908 Gunn won the London to Edinburgh reliability trial, earning himself the Gold Medal for that year.

As public taste moved towards four wheeled cars, Lagonda’s continued high standard of engineering was maintained in this new market, illustrated by winning the 1910 Moscow-St Petersburg reliability trial. This model featured unitary construction, a design feature very characteristic of modern cars not commonly adopted until after WWII.

During WWI, the Lagonda factory retooled for the war effort, manufacturing mainly shells. Gunn himself worked very hard in these years, and although after the war Lagonda returned to car production, his health never recovered and he died in 1920. However, continuity with the early years would remain in the form of Alf Cranmer, Gunn’s partner, who was with the firm from 1904 until 1935.

The Lagonda M45 was launched at the 1933 London Motor Show. Modified M45s were entered in the 1934 Tourist Trophy, with each of the three cars entered finishing conspicuously well. A few weeks later, similar cars were available to the public as the Lagonda M45 Rapide.

To many people, the Le Mans 24 Hours represents the ultimate test of sporting pedigree, and for a British manufacturer in the 1930s this was especially true. The Bentley domination of the twenties was a fading memory by the mid-thirties, in light of Alfa Romeo’s four consecutive victories. Lagondas had been at the Sarthe as early as 1928 without success; however, in 1935, John Hindmarsh and Luis Fontes achieved a memorable win aboard an M45 Rapide. They covered 868.42 miles at an average speed of 77.85 mph, and the result might have been even better because, with four hours to go, Lagondas were in first and second place.

Despite this remarkable achievement and the acclaimed Rapier light car, sales declined due to the new 30 mph speed limit imposed across Britain. More than this, six different Lagonda models were available at this time. The company was overstretched and was forced to declare bankruptcy.

A savior was found in the form of Alan Good. The company was reformed as LG Motors, and W.O. Bentley employed. His first task was to update the M45, creating the LG45. Important changes included softer springing and Girling brakes. Two chassis lengths and four engine choices were offered, with 278 examples manufactured. Without question, the most spectacular of the LG45 models was the Rapide, of which only 25 examples were made. With this car Lagonda won the 500 mile race at Brooklands, beating Bentley in the process. These were genuine 100 mph cars, proven by “The Motor” magazine achieving 108mph on one in 1937. Experiencing this type of performance on the badly surfaced, narrow roads of pre-motorway Europe must have been hair-raising indeed!

Succeeding the mighty LG45 was a formidable challenge; W. O. Bentley answered the call by creating Lagonda’s first V12 engine. Considered by many to be Bentley’s greatest engineering achievement, the V12 was an exercise in formidable complexity.

Using the latest metallurgical alchemy, the engine materials used included, among others, Chromidium, Duralumin, steel, aluminum and phosphor-bronze, while an even longer list of metal treating techniques was required to properly prepare each material for its unique function within the engine. No detail was overlooked, as every single component of the engine served a series of functions, and these had to perform flawlessly under all conceivable operating conditions.

Given total liberty with his design, W. O. Bentley’s obsessive need for perfection was only limited by the deadlines imposed by Alan Good’s Lagonda production schedule. This still did little to dissuade Bentley from tinkering with his designs, and continual changes were made throughout the V12’s production.

The chassis of Lagonda’s V12 featured an independent front suspension, eliminating the solid front axle, thus enabling the engine to be placed much lower in the chassis. The dynamic advantages of this were quite evident, as the car’s center of gravity had been significantly lowered. Although the new grille design was proportionately larger than its predecessor, because it sat over two inches lower on the body and the front wings had been slightly raised, the grille appeared smaller than that of the LG45. This lower, longer and wider look of the V12 Lagonda was fitting given the levels of performance it offered its customers.

It is recorded that a Lagonda V12 fitted with Saloon bodywork covered a distance of 101.5 miles in one hour. This, the first time a V12 production closed vehicle had traveled more than 100 miles in one hour, was a record made all the more impressive because the driver had had to stop to change a flat tire midway.

The following year, two special-bodied V12 Lagondas finished 3rd and 4th overall (1st and 2nd in Class) at Le Mans, astounding the world and fulfilling the expectations of its engineers and designers. The drivers and all those concerned with the project felt the cars capable of winning the race outright, were it not for the conservative RPM restrictions placed on the team by W.O. Bentley himself.

Production of the V12 engine would continue through the war, with 100 commissioned by the British Navy. However, they were never used and sold as scrap once the war was over. Although Lagonda had planned to continue production of the V12 after the war, those plans were put to rest in 1944 when a German V-1 flying bomb leveled much of Lagonda’s production facilities, including all the jigs, tools and dies for the V12.

The 1939 Lagonda V12 Drophead Coupe offered here features a sporty, open, four seat convertible body made by Lagonda’s in-house coachbuilding division. The drophead is finished in British Racing Green, accented with a darker green belt molding. The lavish leather interior is also finished in green, while the top is clothed in black. The Lagonda was the recipient of a thorough and exacting restoration some years back and remains today in extremely presentable condition throughout.

Lagondas were fitted with only one spare tire; however, this vehicle is handsomely appointed with dual hard cover sidemount spares. Cleverly concealed, in actuality, one of the cases contains the tool kit and jack instead of a second spare tire. The Lagonda features many of the desirable British motoring accessories of the period including Lucas King of the Road headlamps, matching driving lamps and polished aluminum wheel discs which conceal the standard wire wheels.

Formerly the property of the well known J.B. Nethercutt Collection, and a First in Class winner at the 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, this handsome motor car is an excellent example of one of the most desirable prewar British sports cars. There were only 190 Lagonda V12s built; this example, built in 1939, is one of the last. It is a very refined vehicle, possessing one of W. O. Bentley’s final iterations of the mighty V12 under the bonnet. Finding a Lagonda V12 in North America is a rare occasion, while the example offered here is all the more rare, being one of the finest extant anywhere.

Reference Number 7359

as of 2/20/2007

Car 1939 Lagonda V12 Drophead Coupe
VIN 14069 
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