A road test of the V12 Lagonda
An honest report on one of the greatest of present-day cars. Over 100 m.p.h. in a short-chassis saloon
WE are as unlikely ever to own a V12 Lagonda as are most of our readers. Nevertheless we are intensely interested in this car, rather in the same way as we used to be in the Grand Prix Mercédès and Auto-Unions, the chief difference being that we have now had the privilege of driving one.
It is quite unique, and if you are tempted to offer criticism on any aspect of its behaviour, you have to keep remembering that the incident probably happened at 95 m.p.h. or more. Precious few cars can go that fast, anyway. It is really two cars in one, 3,000 r.p.m. being the critical point at which the change takes place.
If you move off in second and change up early, you have a smooth town carriage which gives no hint of the power available at higher speeds. You can come down to a snail’s pace in top gear and the take-up is perfectly smooth, although the acceleration is not shatteringly brisk.
Keep her over 3,000 r.p.m., however, and the performance must be almost without equal. Thanks to the well-chosen gear ratios, this is no difficult matter. Bottom gear literally hurls the car off the mark, and if you take her up to 5,500 in every gear, the acceleration right up to 100 m.p.h. passes belief. All changes except from second down to bottom are synchro-mesh: only a brief pause is necessary, but it certainly is possible to anticipate things and move the lever too quickly. Whilst double de-clutching is never necessary, entirely clutchless changes are not to be encouraged. It is not a particularly “friendly” gear change; owing to the heavy synchronising arrangements, quite a long lever is needed to exert the necessary brute force on the mechanism, and the action is rather harsh. This is a pity, for the critical 3,000 r.p.m. means 60 m.p.h. in top (with the 4.45 to 1 axle, anyway) and you want to make very frequent use of the gearbox to get the best performance on secondary roads.
The clutch is beautifully smooth and, in spite of modifications to cope with increased power output, quite light. The Lockheed brakes are deceptively smooth, and give an erroneous first impression of flabbiness. On more mature acquaintance they inspire complete confidence and you realise that there is no point in having brakes so powerful they lock the wheels at the slightest provocation. The steering is extraordinarily “Bentley” in that you wind it up against an ever-increasing camber, as you approach full lock. It is rather low geared, to cut out any possible kick from the independent front suspension, and the wheel simply whistles back when you release it after a corner. So much so, in fact, that if you let go of it altogether, rather than control it as it slips through your fingers, it tends to bounce momentarily on to the other lock. For this reason, and because the ratio is so low, it is necessary to concentrate fairly hard, and, having planned a course round a corner, to stick to it. The cornering is really magnificent, but you cannot “dice” her round; it is extremely difficult to make her slide, and the practice is not to be encouraged. The silence of the engine is unequalled, and elaborate steps are taken to render the whole of the mechanism unobtrusive in every way. A neat aluminium shield surrounds the exhaust manifold on each bank of cylinders, taking the hot air out through a grille set low on each bonnet side. There are twin silencers in each pipeline, and the two S.U. carburetters draw air through a communal Burgess silencer. That the result is effective we can best illustrate by stating that when, after a momentary check at 80 m.p.h., the right foot goes down again, there is no increase of sound of any sort—the car just surges forward again. In this case there is nothing but the rising rev-counter needle to tell the story. We need hardly say that the gearbox is virtually dead silent on every ratio.
What more would you like to know? The car we drove was a short saloon in a pleasing pale Lavender shade with pink leather upholstery. It is quite a light-looking body, with narrow screen and central door pillars; not very big, though of course there is ample room for four passengers in superlative ease. The driving seat is adjustable in every direction, and the resulting position is perfect, with splendid visibility. There is a large but stupid luggage boot, with a sloping floor and the door hinged at the top so that you can’t stand things on it. The general finish is superb. Controls on the dash are mainly grouped into a central circular panel of the same diameter as the speedometer and rev.-counter, which are on either side of it. There is also a fourth circular panel to the right of the steering column, with ammeter, fuel gauge, and thermometer—the latter two both electrically operated and recording only when the ignition is on.
We hope our remarks about the steering, brakes and gear lever have not given an impression that this Lagonda takes a lot of getting used to. On the contrary, you feel at home remarkably quickly, for the personality of the car impresses itself upon you almost immediately. Within a very short time we found ourselves bowling along in the 70’s and 80’s on quite a secondary road. For one thing, you can see where you are going, with a fine view of both front wings and the whole of the “fore deck.” The bonnet is quite low, and from the back seat there is a curious impression of looking downhill along the bonnet. From this position, by taking a sight on the centre of the windscreen, one can also perceive that at 80 m.p.h. and over there is some sideways movement of the radiator, but the driver does not notice it. Otherwise, everything is very firm, although in point of fact we do not think the chassis is intended to be absolutely rigid, for some movement is apparent when it is subjected to “slow torsion,” e.g., coming of a ramp or kerb at an oblique angle so that one rear wheel is left considerably last. One point which we do think calls for criticism is that, in so superbly silent a car, nothing whatever seems to have been done to prevent wind noise. There are projecting door handles, glass rain-deflecting louvres over the windows, a guttering around the roof and other little items which all add their quota of whistles and squeals. At 90 m.p.h. it really is difficult to carry on a conversation between back and front seats, but apart from that, wind noise is intensely tiring to the passengers: it also conveys to nervous passengers an impression that they are going a great deal faster than they really like. We recall a very fast run in a Studebaker in which there was a truly remarkable absence of wind noise, and the owner, a commercial traveller who used to cover 35,000 or 40,000 miles a year, said that he had bought the car after comparative tests for that very reason.
The Armstrong ride-control shock-absorbers at the rear work admirably, but we personally should like the range of possible hardness extended somewhat. Similar shockers are used in front but are not controlled from the driving seat; the adjustment is, however, quite accessible—we remember admiring its exposed position on the Le Mans cars. The front suspension, by parallel arms linked to a single ultra-long torsion bar on each side, we have already praised, and we do not think it has any practical snags such as cruelty to tyres. Rear suspension is orthodox semi-elliptic. We made no attempt to record acceleration or braking figures, because we had to “get somewhere,” but a few technical details are appended in separate panel. We swept along a familiar by-pass at about 104 m.p.h. (greatly to the delight of an approaching column of pedestrian soldiery) and exceed 100 mph. on a great. many other occasions. In fact, we topped the hundred in places where we had never previously thought it possible to exceed 80. Incidentally, the engine is not so inaccessible as some people make out. We had one of the valve covers off to adjust a slightly noisy tappet, and it was not a shattering task. The tappet layout is remarkably neat, and entirely obviates side-thrust on the valve stems, being virtually a side-valve layout upside down.
In spite of their inevitable pre-occupation with war work, Lagonda Ltd. are carrying on with research work and improvements, so that we may hope with some confidence that their V-12 will still be amongst the world’s greatest motorcars for a long time to come and after the war is over, if not forgotten.
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ONLY A MEMORY
It happened when we were trying out a special, notably potent Rover. Feeling that the lady on our left might be finding things a trifle dull, for Kentish scenery is flat and not especially interesting; we craved a duel with something equally rapid. In the mirror a T-type M.G. hove in sight . . . . As it drew alongside we thrust out a thumb, changed down, and gave our motor more gun. The M.G. opened out also. Then we realised it contained two smiling policemen; they use M.G.s round Canterbury way, you know. For some reason we ceased to wish to do battle, though the road was definitely de-restricted! A pity, really, for our car could do 85 m.p.h. and standard M.G.s of this kind do about 80, so, unless they hot up the police versions. . . . ! Oh, well . . . .
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“The Autocar” recently published some interesting notes on C. G. H. Dunham’s Brooklands “12/70” Alvis. Originally run on a fuel composed of 60 per cent. racing ethyl, 30 per cent. benzole and 10 per cent. ethyl, it became nearly 6 m.p.h. faster when 66⅔ ethyl, 33⅓ benzole was used. However, this engine developed about 40 b.h.p. per litre, whereas the Miller which America says does so well on commercial ethyl petrol is credited with nearly loo 100b.h.p. per litre. The Alvis lapped al 110.43 m.p.h. on a 4.25 to 1 top gear.