Road impressions of the 3-litre Lagonda Saloon

A high-grade British car featuring a twin overhead camshaft, high-compression engine and all-round independent suspension in a luxury saloon possessing unusually complete and luxurious equipment.

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 as it does the sports-type twin ohc 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 installed in the present-day Lagonda is better known as the engine used successfully in competition in Aston Martin cars, it is nevertheless an engine entirely appropriate to the modern Lagonda having been designed by no less a personality than WO Bentley expressly for the post-war Lagonda model which superseded the V12, the new engine being then of 2.6-litres capacity.

In its 1956 form this six-cylinder engine has a bore and stroke of 83 by 90 mm (2,922 cc) and, on a compression-ratio of 8.2 to 1, develops 140 bhp at 5,000 rpm, and a bmep of 150 lb/sq in at 3,100 rpm. Two horizontal SU H6 carburetters are used and ignition is by Lucas coil with automatic advance and retard and KLG P/10/L80 plugs. The twin oh camshafts are driven by duplex-chain and cooling is by a chain-driven water pump supplemented by a belt-driven five-bladed fan. The coolant capacity is three gallons and flow through the radiator is controlled thermostatically. The lubrication system is conventional, the sump holding 12 pints of oil. The crankshaft runs in four plain bearings.

The drive goes via a single-plate clutch and four-speed and reverse gearbox to a hypoid-bevel final-drive unit mounted on the frame; universally-jointed shafts conveying the drive to the back wheels. The final-drive unit holds two pints, the gearbox 21/2 pints of lubricant. The chassis is an X-form box-section structure, with wishbone and coil spring ifs and torsion-bar The electrical system uses two Lucas 6-volt STXW 11E batteries. The brakes are Lockheed hydraulic, 2LS at the front and with inboard drums at the back, the lining area being 122 sq in per ton. A vacuum-servo is employed. Fuel is fed from a 19-gallon tank with reserve trap by an electric pump. The gear-change incorporates baulk-ring synchromesh on second, third and top gears and steering is rack-and-pinion. The front wheels pivot on two balls in sockets attached to the suspension links, grease-gun lubricated on the latest cars, the reservoir oil-supply having been deleted.

In the garage

Before taking a car of the calibre of the Lagonda out on the road we naturally examined it in detail, finding much to satisfy a person who has just spent over £3,900 on his motor car. A sense of quality is imparted by the veneered dashboard, deep carpets and beautiful leather upholstery. The arrangement of the controls and the very complete equipment are noteworthy. The front bucket seats are roomy, soft and comfortable, although a trifle more lateral support would be welcome. Small arm-rests, adjustable for height, are fitted to the front doors, which have leather “pulls” and ventilator windows with easy-to-operate catches. The main windows have conveniently high-geared handles—just over 21/2 turns, up-to-down. Well-type pockets are fitted and both front doors have locks. The back doors trail (whereas the front doors hinge at the back) and have elastic-topped pockets and main windows, the handles calling for under 23/4 turns up-to-down, supplemented by openable ventilator windows with good toggle-type catches. A feature which suggests that practical men had a hand in the design is a thick panel let into the base of the front ventilator windows to cut down whistle when these windows are partially open. Two other equally-sensible features are apparent—a radio aerial which can be extended through the driver’s window without leaving, the seat and aircraft-style adjustable cold-air ventilators. with cut-off controls, set at the base of the scuttle on each side, to provide for cold feet in hot weather. Although this is a four-door saloon, the front seat squabs fold for access to the back compartment, the squab angle being altered by turning screws at the base of each squab. Incidentally, the front door handles push downwards, to open the doors. The back compartment is, perhaps, slightly cramped, but it is luxuriously upholstered, the seat having a folding centre arm-rest and fixed side arm-rests. There is a rather shallow parcels-shelf, usefully recessed, behind it. Ash-trays are provided in the backs of the front seats.

Visibility through the wide screen is good, the side pillars being thin and both front wings being visible across the very broad expanse of bonnet. Twin anti-dazzle visors are provided, but they do not swivel to combat side glare.

There is a big, lidded, lockable cubby-hole before the front passenger, the press-button lid catch being rather difficult to use, as it is necessary to press the button in while pulling the knob outwards. A mirror and cigarette-case are fitted to the interior of the cubby-hole lid. 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, slightly hooded, dials on the driver’s side. That on the left is a combined oil gauge, ammeter, fuel gauge and radiator thermometer, oil pressure varying with engine speed up to about 65 lb/sq in, the water temperature being normally 80 deg C. The left-hand of the two remaining dials is a 120 mph Smiths speedometer incorporating clock and total and trip mileometers. The speedometer needle and mileage readings are rather blanked by a steering-wheel spoke and on the car tested the total mileage recorded seemed to imagine it was a speedometer, as its reading reverted to “30” every ten miles ! The instrument immediately before the driver is a Smiths rev-counter reading to 6,000 rpm—unfortunately, speedometer and rev-counter needles move in opposition; it is much nicer when they travel in the same direction.

A pleasing feature is the location of the control-quadrants for heating/ventilation and demisting/defrosting on the instrument board, with a separate switch for the fan, which isn’t unduly noisy. Above these quadrants is the control-panel for the HMV radio, and above that a lidded, matching ash-tray. A grab-handle is provided above the cubby-hole. On the extreme right is a circular panel incorporating an inexpensive-type Lucas lamps-switch-cum-ignition key, starter button, a button recording sump oil-level on the fuel gauge, the fuel-reserve switch, a socket for an inspection-lamp and switches for off and near-side fog-lamps.

Other turn-switches, appropriately lettered, are provided for the map light under the scuttle and interior lamp (which otherwise functions as the doors are opened), turn-knobs looking after the two-speed, self-parking wipers and the rheostat-graded instrument lighting. A tiny button brings in the screen-washers, there is a cigar-lighter and a choke-knob. The instrumentation is completed by a small switch for the self-cancelling direction-flashers, set for operation by the right hand but a trifle too far to the left, its indicator-light flashing in sympathy with the exterior indicators, and indicator windows for dynamo-charge and fuel-reserve-in-use, a non-dazzling lamps-full-beam window being incorporated in the rev-counter. Under the scuttle on the right is a small button for releasing the main catch of the alligator-bonnet and an electrical master-switch which was inoperative on the car tested.

The bonnet has a heavy lid which needs propping open. It reveals the polished engine with the dip-stick rather buried, the reservoir for the Jackall inbuilt-jacks fluid, accessible plugs, and oil and water fillers, and the two batteries, one on each side of the scuttle bulkhead. There is an under-bonnet lamp and the oil-filler has a small breather-pipe. The luggage boot provides an enormous area of flat floor and the lid, which locks, has spring-loaded hinges which obviate the need for a prop, while the interior is lit automatically while the lid is raised. Twin petrol fillers, one in each back wing, are provided, these taking the form of locked flaps which lift to reveal the filler pipes, the caps for which are incorporated in the flaps. This is an excellent arrangement, especially as filling from a can is possible, and it would be better still if the locks were easier to use.

A neat three-spring black steering wheel is used, with matching horn-push in the centre, the column adjustable to individual requirements. The pedals are of sensible size, with a treadle accelerator. Very generous leg-room is a feature of the front compartment.

The Tickford body has handsome yet unobtrusive lines. There is notable overhang to provide for the very large-capacity luggage boot. The rear bumper carries a David Brown Lagonda “badge and the lamp which illuminates the back number-plate is rather ugly. The car tested was finished in a particularly pleasing two-tone colour scheme.

At the wheel 

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 2,500 rpm onwards in a hard, smooth flow and the engine will run far beyond its peak speed of 5,000 rpm. At 70 mph. it is turning lazily at under 4.000 rpm and speeds of over 90 mph are easily attained on normal British roads, with a maximum of over 100 mph in reserve—the speedometer several times showed 110 mph during the test. Rapid acceleration is achieved so easily as to be taken almost for granted, yet it plays a large part in the very high average speed of which this Lagonda is capable in spite of the inadequacy of our main roads. There is some considerable noise from the valve gear, 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 remarkable high-compression power unit is so docile that his wife is able to drive at 1,000 rpm in top gear without distress. Naturally. as the throttles are opened it is desirable to drop into a low gear but the only penalty of letting the revs fall too low is slight “pinking” until crankshaft speed is regained and there seems no call for fuels of higher than 80-octane. On these no vices are apparent, and in a test-mileage of 760 no oil or water was added. Starting is easy, with a minimum of choke.

In the indirect ratios the engine runs smoothly to beyond 5,000 rpm, reaching an indicated 30 mph at 5,300 in bottom gear and 5,500 in second and third, equivalent to indicated speeds, respectively, of 50 and 80 mph. However, the maker’s instruction book (which, if you lose it, costs 21/2 guineas to replace !) recommends maxima of 25, 42 and 70 mph in the indirect ratios. On the car tested a short, rigid central gear-lever was used, although the 2.6-litre Lagonda which we road-tested in September 1951, had the steering column lever which is offered as an alternative. The floor-type lever 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. There is only one snag—the lever is spring-loaded towards the first and second gear positions and sometimes springs across the gate as changes between third and top are being made, leaving the driver momentarily in possession of neutral ! Occaissionally a vibratory rattle emanated from the lever. Reverse is safely located beyond the top-gear position. The clutch action is rather heavy.

Because it is almost unique amoungst British cars in having independent suspension front and back, the roadholding and suspension characteristics of the 3-litre Lagonda are of particular interest. The suspension is soft, allowing some roll when cornering, slight nose-dipping under the brakes and some up-and-down movement, the wheels being heard having a busy time over bad surfaces. Yet there is a very commendable balance between comfort and good roadholding, for the car can be taken round corners with confidence, the roll never suddenly increasing, 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 21/2 turns lock-to-lock (the lock isn’t unduly generous, providing a 38 ft turning circle) 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, and mildly, under conditions of acceleration applied out of tight corners.

For normal motoring the brakes are amply powerful and do not call for heavy pedal pressures. On wet surfaces they tended to deflect the car from a straight line in emergency stops and the front drums became hot, leading to some fade in very fast driving. There was some squeak under heavy applications. The hand brake is an umbrella-handle affair set under the scuttle convenient to the driver’s right hand; it worked well and held the car securely. The body is immune from fumes or rattles but under conditions of tropical rain a little water entered the front compartment at the centre of the scuttle. The screen wipers are excellent in action but it was irritating that on several occasions, after self-parking, they would not function again until freed by the driver.

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. These shortcomings, were only of a temporary nature, but more distressing was a reserve petrol supply, alleged to be 31/2 gallons, which took us a distance of six miles on the first occasion when it was brought into use and eight miles on the second occasion. This does not imply a fuel consumption of 2 mpg ! The true figure was 16.1 mpg of National Benzole, at average speeds in the region of 45 mph. This represents the not-unreasonable range of 328 miles, although in view of the unreliability of the fuel-reserve arrangements, a larger fuel tank might well be provided.

The headlamps, being reasonably high set, provide an 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, even if at an age when the purchase price can be found, 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 (the basic price of £2,600 is increased by pt to £3,901 7s, the convertible costing £4,051 7s), the high performance, excellent finish and sensibly. planned controls aud equipment render the David Brown-built Lagonda a desirable motor car.—WB.