Following the near total demise of AML in 1974 and the subsequent purchase of the company by a group of enthusiastic businessmen the very next year, the decision was taken to introduce a startling new product to show that the company was indeed alive and innovating furiously. Maybe it would have been easier to show a revised AM V8 saloon or perhaps more sensible to show a smaller and perhaps more affordable car, but instead, the company took a huge leap into the future and design a car the like of which had never been seen before.. It was decided to broaden the range with a futuristic, 'cutting edge' four-door saloon called 'Lagonda', based on a spectacularly and radical drawing produced by William Towns. There was some reason behind this bold move. If it became known that the company were developing another two-door coupe, the worry was that potential buyers for the AM V8 would hold off purchasing and wait for the new model and this would have had devastating effects on vital cash flow.
The first prototype saloon was engineered by a team under Mike Loasby in a quite remarkable nine months from styling drawings to Motor Show concept car. As well as the aerodynamic wedge shape, the Lagonda was yet more remarkable for its unique electronic instrumentation and switchgear. This had been greatly influenced by AML director and shareholder, Peter Sprague who was also deeply involved with National Semiconductor in the US. Mike Loasby had visited the headquarters of National Semiconductor in California and became enamoured with the touch sensitive switches in the elevators.
The car was introduced to the press at a special preview lunch the Bell Inn at Aston Clinton on the 12th October 1976, followed by its first public showing at the 1976 British Motor Show at Earls Court. In fact, the prototype, 13001, was at the time a complete non-runner: footage shot by the BBC at the time showing the car moving was actually the car coasting down a hill under gravity. The Lagonda followed the classic 1970s trend of wedge styling with low bonnet line and sharp creases. Pop up lights as already seen in such sports cars as the Ferrari 308, Lotus Esprit, Triumph TR7 and Lamborghini Countach were another feature. The Lagonda had become perhaps the ultimate expression of the school of ‘folded paper’ design but with four doors and genuine four-seater accommodation; low slung and obviously aerodynamic yet spacious and comfortable too. As if the exterior wasn’t enough, the promise of electronic digital instrumentation broke new ground and the Lagonda quickly became known as ‘THE Car of the Future’. To many owners and enthusiasts, it's simply known as 'the wedge'.
The Lagonda was, like the contemporary AM V8 saloon, still coachbuilt onto a platform chassis although to a new design which was simpler to build rather than a modified AM V8 type. There were very few carry overs from the previous 1974 model. The front suspension was largely the same as the AM V8 as was the rear with the addition of Koni self-levelling suspension. Of course the familiar 5.3-litre V8 engine was somehow squeezed in, although it needed a ‘slim line’ airbox to fit under the ludicrously low bonnet. This adversely affected the airflow to the carburettors and necessitated a new head design with larger valves in an attempt to claw lost power back. In 1980, a twin-turbocharged engine was tested which, with peak power of 380 bhp showed great promise. This was though dropped due to the difficulty of successfully and reliably turbocharging a carburettor car. Initially both manual and automatic transmissions were slated to be available in production although the reality is that all cars actually received the Chrysler TorqueFlite three-speed unit and no manual car was ever built.
The press and public were captivated by the solid-state digital instruments, virtually a first in a motor car. The car badge was the familiar Lagonda wings, but with the words 'Aston' and 'Martin', added as the marque needed maximum publicity as if to show that it had indeed survived through its very public difficulties and for many years, the car was marketed as the ‘Aston Martin Lagonda’.
The Lagonda was, for its time a very long and wide car, well over 5 meters long and 1.8 meters wide but was also extremely low slung for a four-door saloon with a height of just 1,302 mm. The rear seat passengers benefited from the fitting of a fixed ‘moon’ roof, something quite rare even on cars of today. That said, an odd quirk of the design of the rear doors meant the rear door glass was fixed on the earlier cars. The wheels were pressed steel with brushed stainless steel and painted wheel trims to the design of William Towns.
With enormous publicity including the front covers pictures of many motoring magazines saw many orders and deposits accepted. Delivery had been scheduled for Spring 1977, but this proved entirely over optimistic due to the complexity of the digital instrumentation and an under-estimation of the time it would take to develop and build a credible production car. Delivery of the first customer Lagonda, 13008, was on the 24th April 1978 to the Marquis of Tavistock whose wife had bought him the car as a 25th wedding anniversary present. Sadly, with over 100 members of the press, the car was delivered to Woburn Abbey on a low loader and had to be pushed into position. The cause was instrumentation failure and the car was un-drivable perhaps; the most embarrassing episode in the history of AML. The original computer, supplied by National Semiconductors was nothing like reliable enough and it took time for US company, the Javilina Corporation in Dallas, to re-engineer the electronics. A new dashboard was designed that adopted with an array of digital LED displays to show such things as speed, engine revs, outside temperature and fuel reserve. All the buttons on the two backlit binnacles beneath the dash display and also on the driver’s door were made touch sensitive which would have appeared like a good idea at the time. The problem was that it was difficult to know whether a button has actually been pressed without the reassuring click of feel of a regular switch; even Mike Loasby acknowledges now that it wasn’t such a great idea.
For years into the production run, AML refused to quote power outputs aware that they would be belittled by inflated claims from US manufacturers. By the mid-1980s, they relented stating the familiar V8 with four Weber 42DCNF downdraught twin-choke carburettors to European specification had a maximum power output of 280 bhp @ 5,000 rpm and maximum torque output of 360 lb.ft. Initially the weight of the prototype was said to be around 1,750 kg although by the time the car entered production, it had apparently risen to a more plausible 2,064 kg.
Regular series production, initially at the rate of about one a week, started late in 1978, with deliveries to excited customers early in 1979. Each car took around 1,400 man hours to build over a 15 week period, way more than the AM V8. The important US market had to wait until 1982, when the Lagonda was cleared for sale complete with the lead free petrol LFA engine and twin catalysts, air pumps and with a reduced power output estimated at around 240 bhp.
Despite its enormous price tag right at the top of the range, production lasted 12 years ending in 1990 when the Virage reached full production and a total 643 examples had been built. This made the Lagonda one of the most successful cars AML had built until that time and had ensured the survival of the company through many challenging years. Of these cars, the first eight examples are considered as prototypes although they share the same chassis number range as the production cars. Two chassis are believed to have been unfinished, 13003 was just used for jigs and 13595 was passed to the engineering department perhaps in connection either with the Virage or the Zagato Lagonda Rapide. Thus the Registrars consider the true number of production cars to be 635.
The 'space age’ car was and still is one of the most dramatic shapes on the road and sold well in many markets although it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly which countries even when looking at factory records. A significant number of cars were UK delivered to UK specification although with left hand drive. These were initially UK registered before being personally exported to the heads of state and wealthy individuals worldwide often before the model was homologated for a particular market. Of all entire run of cars, 195 were built as right hand drive, around 146 of these for the British market and the remaining cars were sold in Japan, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Australia, Ireland and South Africa. This leaves 448 built as left hand drive. Around 150 of these cars were sold in the Middle East and 123 for the North American market with the Federal LFA engine.
In 12 years of production, the Lagonda received a myriad of updates, so many in fact, that it may appear that they occurred with great regularity. A definitive list has been put together by members of the Lagondanet internet forum and the information below merely scratches the surface.
In previous Registers, the Lagonda was classified into four distinct series, Series 1 being the 1974 V8 saloon, Series 2 was the first wedge with the carburettor engine, Series 3, similar to the Series 2 but with the V585 fuel injected engine and Series 4, the 1987 facelift car. For this Register we have consigned the 'series' nomenclature to history for various reasons. Firstly, the 1974 V8 Lagonda has little physical link to the 'wedge' save for the V8 engine. Another reason is that the ‘series’ have no connection to factory designations. The AMOC system was devised to reflect changes in styling and engine fuel system whereas the factory actually differentiate the Lagonda by instrument type, of which there were three distinct types used during production. Owners, too, are considerably more fixated by instrument type, their performance and reliability over almost any other aspect of the car.