Aston Martin's Lagonda

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Aston Martin’s Lagonda

Simply superb

IF your only experience of the fabulous Lagonda was through city traffic you could be forgiven for tInnking of it as just another very comfortable, even sumptuous, slightly noisy, fuel-guzzling giant of a car. You would be right about the sumptuous comfort, the aim and the fact that it uses fuel in large quantities. It is certainly noisier at low speeds than many relatively mundane cars, but you would be very wrong about the “just another”, for in the Lagonda is a unique blend of the best in luxury car comfort with sports-car road manners and performance.

That drive through city traffic would have left you in no doubt about the status the Lagonda imparts to those lucky enough to ride th it, for all heads turn, realising instantly that this is no motor car for ordinary mortals. Its sleek and elegant lines attract staran like no Fereari or Rolls-Royce, and despite the fact that “Lagonda” appears in letters only a quarter of an inch high on each vvhcel trim and in the centre of the dummy radiator grille, an astonishing number of ped.trians can be seen mouthing the name: to run a Lagonda is to belong to a very exclusive and privileged group, for only some 160 have been built so far, and many of those have been exported. When the prototype, William Towns designed, Aston Martin Lagonda first appeared at the London Motor Show in 1976, it caused a sensation and was undoubtedly the star of the show. Its immense length and wedge-shaped styling drew the crowds as much as did the novel

electronically controlled instruments and the panels of touch switches — “practical futurism with sophisticattd style and splendid luxury” was how we described it at the time. In the intervening years, the design has undergone the transition from prototype to production and there have been one or two changes to detail as Aston Martin’s policy of continuous development has borne fruit. However, the major specification is just the same as that protorype, and it is a credit to At design team at Aston Martin that they should have achieved such excellent results from the word go with such limited resources for development and testing.

The quality of craftsmanship which goes int, any Aston Martin product is a throw-back to an age when only the best was good enough: a, doubts about the loving care which goes into the production of these cars is soon dispelled by a visit to At Newport Pagnell factory (see MOTOR SPORT for October 1980) and the Lagonda we had for an all too brief test was a shining example of this devotion to quality. With 11,000 miles, many of them no doubt very hard, showing on its under-bonnet odometer, the only signs that it was not a new car were slight wear on the pedal rubbers, two small chips in the silver paint where a careless petrol pump attendant had allowed the nozzle to catch the paintwork, a slight rattle from the perspex instrument display cover, a smaller, very occasional tick from the passenger door and wear on the tyres. A steel monocoque forms the basis of the load

bearing structure and this is clad with alurniniunt panels: linen tape is trapped between the two, preventing any electrolytically induced corrosion. The body is carefully inhibited at each stage alias construction, heavily undersealed and is given innumerable coats of paint, carefully rubbed down, before final assembly. Front suspension is by coil springs located unequal length wishbones and damped wt co-axial tcl.copic shock absorbers; the king p are ball-jointed. At the rear is an up-ratcd versa of the De Dion arrangement used for the spo cars which is located by trailing parallel arms a a Watts linkage; coil springs are uscd a damping is by self-levelling telescop shock-absorbers. The 15″ steel wheels are sh

with 235 / 70 Avon Turbosteel tyres. The engine is, of course, the familiar, all all 90°, V8 unit, with four camshafts, which has in production for many years now. In Lagoa guise, it has a 9.5:1 compression ratio and equipped with four Weber 42 DNCF carburctle and Lucas electronic ignition. Power outputs not quoted, and the maximum engine apt permissible (intermittently) is 6,250 r.p.m. Dr to the rear wheels is taken through a Chrys Torqueflite three-speed automatic gear bat (A is no manual option) and a limited differential. The final drive assembly is nth mounted, and the overall ratio is 3.07:1 wit. Aston Martin quote as giving 24 m.p.h. per I. r.p.m. an top. Inside, the Lagonda is staggeringly opule Thc test car had pale blue Connolly teeth upholstery, with dark blue piping along the SCA at thc seat edges. The same dark blue leather used for trithming the edges of the matchi

Wilton carpeting and for the facing of the rear parcel shelf. The top of the dash was of black

leather and the head-lining was a pale grey felt. Walnut veneer ttens for the doors and dash

complete the furnishings. The front seats are adjustable over a wide range, using as of the press buttons fitted in a control panel in each door. With their loose leather facings, these seats are a joy to sit in for hours on end, and provide excellent bcation, although one passenger complained that the squab was too short for the long-legged. High head-rests are fitted, but may be remowd to give the rear-scat passengers a chance w er where they are going. The rear seats are fixed, but are equally comfortable. Inertia reel seat belts an fitted front and rear, those at the had disappearing into slots high on the seat shoulder, The central armrest separating the tsvo rear seats can be folded assay w provide room for si occasional fourth passenger. Legroom at the bad is good, but not as much as one might expect frog the tremendous overall length of the car, since the

mechanism required for the electrical adjustment of the front seats means that it is impossible for the rear passengers to slide their feet under the front seats. The transmission tunnel is a substantial hump, surmounted by a rather trimmed centre console which extends back to between the front seats, containing ashtrays and cigar lighters, front and rear, the excellent Pioneer stereo radio and cassette player, an oddments tray alongside the gear selector, and a lockable bin as well as a neatly covered fuse-box. Surprisingly, there is no glove box above the passenger’s knees — the space being entirely taken up with the air-conditioning plant. Map pockets are let into the backs of the front seats and the speakers for the stereo system are concealed behind perforated leather facings in the front doors and die rear parcel shelf. Visibility from the driver’s seat is generally excellent, although with the long, low nose and the high rear it is difficult to judge length when manoeuvring, and the broad base to the windscreen pillar creates something of a blind spot at certain road junctions, as well as partially

EACH front door has a switch panel — that on the driver’s side controlling seat adjustment, the central locki,, window open* and mirror adjustments.

obscuring the optional extra near side rear-view mirror. A fixed tinted glass panel in the roof over the rear seat passengers’ legs ensures that plenty of light reaches the interior of the car, although we can imagine the air-conditioning plant having to work overtime on a bright summer’s day. Surprisingly, the windovvs in the rear doors are not openable — the controls for the front windows being in the door switch panels, as well as the scat controls and joy-sticks for external mirror adjustments. Neat sun-visors are covered with the same material as used for the head lining, but it is surprising to note that Aston Martin have not fitted a vanity mirror. Settling in to the driver’s seat for die first time is something of a daunting experience, for the controls are like no other car. Flanking the small diameter, leather rimmed, single spoke steering wheel are two panels containing no less than seventeen touch switches, three rotating rheostat switches and a slide lever. Above these panels is a large blank, black fascia behind a perspex screen, and in front of that, the bonnet disappearing into the distance. In the door is another panel

containing fourteen more switches — the passenger is let off with only ten in the nearside door panel. A twist of the ignition key, and the blank space starts to come alive as the digital display instruments record the state of the various functions. Turning the key further activates the starter motor, and with the throttle just open by a hair’s breadth, the engine will fire and settle down to a 700 r.p.m. tick over, if it is warm. If not, a couple of vigorous pumps on the throttle pedal are required, followed by a half minute warm up period with the engine running at some 2,500 r.p.m. before it will settle down. Engine r.p.m. is displayed in large red figures at the top left of the instrument display, directly below the speedometer. Moving the gear selector back from park, through reverse and neutral to drive requires gentle pressure on the selector kver knob to overcome the safety detents, which prevent inadvertent selection of bottom or neutral while on the move, and causes a flurry of activity on the display as the illuminated monitor records the —

position of the selector lever.

The hand brake, acting on the rear discs through independent calipers, holds the can against the natural drag of the transmission hut once released (by raising the lever to the right tel the driver’s seat, depressing the button and lowering the lever again) the car edges forward at a fast walking pace with the engine still at tickover. With gentle pressure on the accelerator, the car glides away with a gentle wurfic from the exhausts, and is soon in top gear, the torque converter smoothing out the changes. Heavier pressure, and the Lagonda leaps forward. accompanied by a strong exhaust note as the revs rise quickly between changes.

Our first few tentative miles were through the thick of a London rush hour as we made our way across town from our City offices to the M4. Insulated from the outside world by the luxury of the interior, and with the radio for company:the stop-go traffic was rather less frustrating than usual, in fact it was almost a pleasure to be traffic-bound, but we were very conscious of the size of the Lagonda (longer by an inch than a Silver Spirit, but slightly narrower and seven inches lower) and rather disappointed at first with the level of noise coming through to the passenger compartment from the exhaust. especially during brief bursts of moderate acceleration. Significant road noise was also apparent. especially over poor surfaces. Moving the large car through traffic proved to be no problem — the rapid response to the accelerator, excellent brakes and good all round visibilnY enabling us to join in the cut and thrust of Hyde Park corner with confidence. Once through the West End and on the approach to the

M4, the controls, switches and digital instruments were all becoming familiar, the column of five red digital figures on the right for percentage of fuel remaining, oil pressure, oil temperature. coolant temperature and ambient temperature t either internal or external, to choice, balanced the two larger figures on the left, and the time, trip-mileage and battery voltage were all displayed centrally, together with the information that the side lights were on. and the gear selector was in drive. As the flow of traffic speeded up passing Windsor and Slough, no it became apparent that the Lagonda is in fact a very quiet car; not so silky-silent as a V12 Jaguar. or so refined as a Rolls-Royce, but cruising at a steady 60 m.p.h.. three is slight rumble from the tyres, no noticeable exhaust noise and only the occasional thump from the suspension as the car runs over some of the worse repairs to the road surface. Beyond Maidenhead. and out of the sodium lights, we began to feel that the digital display was overbright for comfortable night driving: no problem. On the right panel is a rheostat switch which enables the driver to reduce the intensity of the display, while above the left knea is another rheostat to dim or extinguish the lamp which illuminates the display and switches from above; rather surprisingly, the switches were not illuminated from behind. A tOrther reduction in interference from the controls can be achieved by pressing the “one” (essential services only) switch, which .tinguishes all ligures but the speedometer, clock and fuel gauge. If any of the other functions reach danger level, the eso facility is over-ridden and the relevant display flashes. With clear road in front, at last. driver effort was further reduced by making use of the irruise

control. Easily set by pressing the -engage switch when cruising at the desired speed, the control will maintain that speed far more accurately than the most diligent driver until it is either over-ridden by use of the accelerator— for instance when overtaking — or cancelled by touching the brakes. In the first instance, the cruising speed will automatically be resumed once the accelerator is released while. in the latter, normal control is maintained until the “resume” switch is operated.

As our plans involved an early start the following day, we called at a filling station to replenish the 28-gallon tank. There are fillers in each rear-quarter, covered with flaps which are opened by pressing rho appropriate switch in the right-hand panel. Unlike so many cars equipped with twin fillers, the Lagonda tills easily and quickly without having to release the second cap. Nineteen gallons sloshed merrily in and the fuel gauge, which had been reading 5, (indicating 1.4 gallons remaining, in addition to the five gallon reserve! rose to mad 82,, despite the fact that there was no possibility of encouraging any more fuel into the tank. This reduced our faith in the accuracy of the gauge, although, of course, it was no more inaccurate than the gauge in many an expensive car which reads empty when there arc still five gallons left, and never reads completely full . . it’s just that putting a numerical value to the contents of the fuel tank implies a greater degree of accuracy! Removing the ignition key activates the automatic central locking system, and requires some care. At the end of our first journey, after parking the car, we felt it appropriate to make some notes. But what more natural than to turn the engine off and remove the key before doing

so? Thirty seconds later, there was the dull clunk moving rapidly round the carat all the doors were locked. Pressing the “unlock” switch in the driver’s door did no good until the engine was re-activated, when we were able to release ourselves. That was no problem, but it was a timely warning to treat the locks with respect and to make a point of ensuring that the ignition key had been removed from the car, not left on a seat. before shutting the doors. We telt that it should be necessary to activate the locks consciously, however nice it may be to just walk away from the car knowing it will lock itself.

Early morning driving is always a pleasure, but on a rather dismal, damp winter day, the run from Newbury down to Cheddar in the Lagonda was pure joy. The headlamps on full beam created an impressive tunnel of light, making the auxiliary spot lamps redundant, except for daytime flashing, and provided adequate light fiir very high speed driving down the deserted A4 to Beckhampton. From there, it was through Devizes and Trowbridge and across the Mendips to our breakfast rendezvous south-west of Cheddar, some 72 miles and 64 minutes after setting out.

Throughout that short, sharp journey, the Lagonda had behaved impeccably. Pounding along the A4 and 5361, we were impressed with the quiet hush of the car at sustain.’ high cruising speeds: the faster the Lagonda pies. the quieter, relatively, it becomes. Particularly noteworthy was the lack of noise and superb ride provided by the Avon Turbosteel tyres in conjunction with Aston Martin’s beautifully sprung and perfectly damped chassis. The breakfast meeting over, it was on to the MO to skirt round Bristol and across the Severn bridge, where we had a twinge of conscience at paying only 20 pence when we should have paid twice that for the Lagonda’s near two ton kerb weight; but we had proffered a [ 1 note. We spss.damotes, tachornotor = EMI WINDSCREEN ? ssso WIPER DELAY INSTRUMENT READ OUT DIMMER (raw., ts-o.oici clock ‘4,01 -L wator’s L L kolis dir • • • • –

turned off at the first junction on the west of the Bristol Channel, headed up to Chepstow and then on the the 134235 to Usk as the morning traffic

settled down after the rush hour. Along the twisty, wood-girt road climbing up from Chepstow to Usk and thence to Abergavenny, the steering and controls of the Lagonda were put to full use as we battled against the road, the damp conditions and other road users in our attempt to make Llandrindod Wells,

and W.B., for elevenses. The variable ratio power assisted rack and pinion steering took a little getting used to in these conditions, for solar we had only driven the canon open, wide main roads. At first, we found ourselves applying too much pressure to he steering wheel with the consequence that the large car would lurch somewhat as pressure was released to maintain the intended line through a corner: we expected such a large and heavy car to

understeer significantly. particularly in the danm conditions, but it didn’t, having the neutral handling of a small sporting saloon. Once properly acquainted with the car’s characteristics, it was easy to maintain our rapid speed along this windy road, keeping the car taut and providing a comfortable ride. XIS passengers would have felt reasonably happy keeping up. but anyOne foolish enough to have told the chauffeur to try in a Rolls would not have been at all well

We fo.d the automatic down change rather too sensitive for a can with such massive torque available at quite modest engine r.p.m.; when applying gentle pressure to the accelerator to increase speed when coming tan of. say, a fifty mile an hour corner. the gearbox would, as likely as not, change down only to change up a tew yards later. With experience, it was easy to prevent this happening and so maintain the smoothest possible ride, but it did mean that there was not much between a gentle gaining of momentum and a burst of rapid acceleration in second. However. we had many miles to go. and were quite content with the latter.

From rest, like most automatics. the Lagonda seems to take time to gather its skirts before running, even on full throttle. Our best time to 60 m.p.h. on the digital speedometer (which was accurate at that speed, was a shade over nine seconds, which is wit particularly impre,,sive, even taking into account Ilie IWit tons kerb weight. Most of that nine seconds is taken getting toll m.p.h., by which tune the engine is revving freely, and the power being produced. In drive. on full throttle. up changes take place at just over 50 m.p.h. and 80 m.p.h., hut using the manual over-ride these speeds can be extended to nearly 70 m.p.h, and well over 100 m.p.h. at the 6.250 r.p.m. limit. Using the over-ride. the magic “toncomes up in just on 20 seconds. and 120 m.p.h. in half a minute — impressive by any standards.

Equally impressive is the fade free stopping power of the huge ventilated-disc brakes which inspired confidence and were able to stop the massive car very quickly.

With this kind of performance on tap. our progress through the Welsh countryside was hardly hindered by slow moving vehicles. The Lagonda, now feeling much smaller and more compact as we were fully accustomed to it, being able it take advantage of the smallest section of clear road for safe overtaking. when, of course, the sensitive automatic down-change is useful, although we would still rather use the manual over-ride and choose when the change in ratio is to be made.

By now, deep in rural Wales. the roads were absolutely filthy, and we had to stop tit clear the door windows of splashed mud to restore safe side vision. The Lagonda was plastered. Despite the deep spoiler across the back (if the car, the swirl of air behind us must have created a real whirl of mud-laden moisture in our wake for the AMI. I number plate was quite unreadable, and the car had been clean only 150 miles previously. In these conditions extra caution was necessary. for the Avon tyres. designed primarily for carrying a heavy car in smooth comfort and hush. were giving hints of not coping quite as well as we had expected from itur experience on damp roads earlier in the day. and we did not feel inelined to try sliding the I..agenda around! Heading back, after our journey through Powys, to Hereford and Gloucester during the early afternoon the occasional drizzle. with which the adjustable delay wipe mechanism had coped admirably, gave way to gentle rain and then to heavy rain as we approached Cirencester. Surprisingly, lye found we had to reduce speed to maintain visibility. since even on fast speed the wipers would not cope with the heavy down-pour. By the time we finished the day’s motoring, having been tip to London for the Anon Martin Owners Club annual prize-giving (appropriately enough), the Lagonda had covered 550 miles of very varied motoring and this driver, having driven for over 500 of them was feeling no more tired than if he had sat in an armchair all day. The remainder of our 800 mile time with the car was spent on short journeys, for which it proved net as comfortable and useful as it had for the longer trip. Parking such a large car in a busy high street is obviously difficult, since large enough gaps do not appear very often, but with reflections on shop windows to assist in judging length, it is easy enough to manoeuvre. The boot, which may he opened either with the key or by pressing a button in the central cubby hoe, is not as large as anyone brought up on a diet of RollsRoyces might expect, and care has to be taken when loading tree ensure that room is left for the duplicate rear-lamp cluster fitted tO the underside of the hoot-lid — neat., because the main tail lights are arranged along the edge of the bora. Fuel consumption over the 800 miles worked

out at average of 13.5 m.p.g.. hut in view of the poor conditions and press-on style of driving, an owner could expect better than 15 m.p.g. The oil level on the dispstick (no electrnnically controlled gauge fiir this) had hardly decreased. If the test car was our own. we would request attention to the erratically reading fuel gauge, a faster fast wipe, and a less sensitive down-change when taking it for its next service. Other than these quibbles. which are very minor, it is very difficult to fault this glorious car.

How much? Rather like having your shoes made by Lobb, your jewellery cleaned at Aspreys or your saddle, prepared by Swaine. Adeney, Brigg & Sons, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Priced to give only pennies change from 03,5101, it is one of the most expensive cars on the market — it feels like it to drive it and to ride in it. Quality is hardly ever cheap.