When they were new: 3-litre Lagonda saloon

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An original road test taken from the Motor Sport archives, November 1956 | by Bill Boddy

Mr David Brown deserves the appreciation of enthusiasts for having catered for the continuity of two famous British makes, Aston Martin and Lagonda. The present-day Lagonda is an interesting proposition, combining the twin-overhead cam Aston Martin engine in a car of luxurious styling and appointments, and one moreover endowed with that rarity amongst British chassis – independent suspension of the driving wheels.

Although the 3-litre power unit is better known as the engine used successfully in competition in Aston Martin cars, it is nevertheless entirely appropriate to the modern Lagonda having been designed, in 2.6-litre form, by no less a personality than W O Bentley for the post-war Lagonda model that superseded the V12.

In its 1956 form with two horizontal SU carburettors this six-cylinder engine develops 140bhp. The drive goes via a four-speed gearbox, and there is wishbone and coil spring IFS and torsion-bar IRS; steering is by rack-and-pinion.

Before taking a car of the calibre of the Lagonda out on the road we naturally examined it in detail. A sense of quality is imparted by the veneered dashboard, deep carpets and beautiful leather upholstery. The front bucket seats are roomy and comfortable. Although this is a four-door saloon, the front seat squabs fold for access to the back compartment. This is, perhaps, slightly cramped, but is luxuriously upholstered, the seat having a folding centre arm-rest and fixed side arm-rests. Visibility through the wide screen is good, both front wings being visible across the very broad bonnet. The central rear-view mirror is mounted on the dash sill, but the view therein is somewhat cut off by the roof line.

The handsome dashboard has three large dials on the driver’s side, though the speedometer needle and mileage readings are rather blanked by a steering-wheel spoke. A pleasing feature is the location of the control quadrants for heating/ventilation on the instrument board. Above these is the control-panel for the HMV radio. On the extreme right is a circular panel incorporating a Lucas lamps-switch-cum-ignition key and starter button.

The heavy bonnet, which needs propping open, reveals the polished engine with the dipstick rather buried, and the two batteries, one on each side of the scuttle bulkhead. There is an under-bonnet lamp. The boot provides an enormous area of flat floor and the interior is lit automatically while the lid is raised. Twin petrol fillers, one in each back wing, are provided. A neat three-spring black steering wheel is used, with matching horn-push in the centre, the column adjustable to individual requirements. Very generous legroom is a feature of the front compartment. The Tickford body has handsome yet unobtrusive lines, while the car tested was finished in a particularly pleasing two-tone colour scheme.

To drive the 3-litre Lagonda is a worthwhile experience, for here is a luxury saloon powered by an engine of outstanding life and power. The power comes in from about 2500rpm onwards in a hard, smooth flow and the engine will run far beyond its peak speed of 5000rpm. Speeds of more than 90mph are easily attained on normal roads, with a maximum of over 100mph in reserve. Rapid acceleration is achieved so easily as to be taken almost for granted, yet it plays a large part in the very high average speeds of which this Lagonda is capable in spite of the inadequacy of our main roads. Valve noise is a pleasant reminder to the still-youthful businessman that he is sitting behind the Bentley-designed engine employed in the sports/racing Aston Martin cars, yet this power unit is so docile that his wife is able to drive at 1000rpm in top gear without distress. Starting is easy, with a minimum of choke. The short, rigid central gearlever is delightful to operate; it could not be more conveniently placed for the left hand and the changes go through with a precise, rather heavy action, with extreme rapidity.

Because it is almost unique amongst British cars in having independent suspension front and back, the roadholding and suspension characteristics are of particular interest. The suspension is soft, allowing some roll when cornering and slight nose-dipping under braking. Yet there is a commendable balance between comfort and good roadholding, for the car can
be taken round corners with confidence, the oversteer not over pronounced and rear-end breakaway occurring only under extreme provocation on exceedingly slippery surfaces. The IRS provides the back-seat occupants with a comfortable ride, and a passenger occupying the centre of the seat finds no unpleasant ridge where the seat has been reduced in thickness to accommodate a dancing back axle!

The steering is complementary to the excellent and safe roadholding. Geared 2½ turns lock-to-lock, this is heavy but very accurate, non-spongy steering. The wheel vibrates a good deal in sympathy with scuttle-float over rough road surfaces and some front-wheel motion is returned. There is excellent castor action and the Firestone tyres protested only occasionally. For normal motoring the brakes are amply powerful and do not call for heavy pedal pressures.

The Lagonda met very bad weather in the course of our test and was obliged to negotiate one very deep section of flooded road. This it accomplished without falter where most cars would have floundered. It seems probable, however, that this immersion affected the electrical circuits, because for a time it proved impossible to extinguish the roof lamp with the dashboard switch and switching in one fog-lamp brought in the map lamp, though these shortcomings were only of a temporary nature.

Fuel consumption was 16.1mpg of National Benzole, at average speeds in the region of 45mph.

The headlamps, being reasonably high-set, provide excellent light for fast driving at night and the Lucas paired fog-lamps throw a widespread beam from kerb to kerb. The 3-litre Lagonda is an excellent car for those who require a dignified saloon yet who still wish to enjoy responsive performance from a pedigree engine with racing ancestry. This famous British vehicle, with its twin-overhead-camshaft engine and independent rear suspension, is the choice of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, and although one of our more costly productions (at £3901 7s, the convertible costing £4051 7s) the high performance, excellent finish and sensibly planned controls and equipment render the David Brown-built Lagonda a desirable car.

Lagonda 3-litre factfile

Production: 1953-58
Power: 140bhp
0-60mph: 12.9sec
Max speed: 104mph
Unusual luxury saloon with pedigree, comfort and good performance for the time. Sold in handfuls. Initially two-door; four from ’54; floor change from ’55.
Perfect spec: drophead with floor change

Lagonda specialists

Trinity Engineering
www.trinityaston.co.uk

David Ayre Restoration
www.davidayre.com

LMB racing
www.lmbracing.be

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