1938 Lagonda V12
Year of manufacture1938
Chassis numberSS 19221
Number of seats2
The factory press car; ex-Earl Howe
1938 Lagonda V12 'LE MANS REPLICA' Two-Seater
Registration no. NPJ 680
Chassis no. SS 19221
'In making an evaluation of the better British cars, the Lagonda V12 certainly must be considered an excellent design and one that contributed to raising the state of the art - not forgetting, of course, that it probably should be considered W O Bentley's masterpiece.' - Road & Track, October 1978.
A quite remarkable piece of automotive engineering, the W O Bentley-designed Lagonda V12 was one of the outstanding British models of its day and one of the exclusive handful of 1930s road cars that could exceed 100mph in standard tune. Not only that, but the magnificent, 4½-litre, V12 engine produced sufficient torque to endow the car with a walking-pace-to-maximum capability in top gear. Approximately 185 V12s of all types were built before the coming of WW2 prematurely ended production.
For Lagonda, the year 1935 had brought with it bankruptcy and rescue, its benefactor being a young solicitor named Alan Good. Good reorganised the company and recruited W O Bentley, by then disillusioned with life at Rolls-Royce, which had acquired Bentley in 1931. Bentley succeeded in refining the muscular, Meadows-engined Lagondas while working on a vastly more-advanced design that many consider the great man's finest.
First seen in 1936, the Lagonda V12 did not commence deliveries until 1938 and only 189 had been built before the coming of WW2 ended production. The advanced chassis employed double-wishbone independent front suspension and was available with a varied choice of coachwork, including limousine. Frank Feeley, stylist of Aston Martin's post-war 'DB' cars, was responsible for the elegant factory bodywork. As usual, the short-chassis Rapide roadster provided even more performance.
The V12's announcement demonstrated that the revitalised company was very much back in business, an impression Lagonda's decision to enter the 1939 Le Mans 24-Hour Race can only have enhanced. The marque already possessed a creditable Le Mans record, a short-chassis 4½-Litre driven by John Hindmarsh and Luis Fontes having won the endurance classic outright in 1935. In October 1938, Earl Howe had set a new national record by covering 101.5 miles at Brooklands in a single hour, despite having to stop to change a burst tyre, driving the car offered here, which at that time carried saloon coachwork.
This magnificent achievement, together with other high-speed tests during which the Lagonda V12 had shown complete reliability, indicated that it would be a highly suitable candidate for reviving British prestige at Le Mans. Accordingly, it was decided to enter a two-car team in 1939 with the aim of securing valuable data, and then to mount a full-strength challenge the following year. In the race the two streamlined two-seater Lagondas fared better than expected, Messrs Brackenbury and Dobson finishing in third place with Lords Selsdon and Waleran fourth. Had a less conservative race strategy been employed, then either might have won.
In a letter on file, Lagonda Club Honorary Registrar Arnold Davey states that the car offered here, originally registered on 16th November 1937 as 'FPK 550', may have been the prototype displayed at the 1936 Motor Show and is definitely the press car that appeared in all the early road tests. Superseded by a true production car, it was retained by the factory and used in modified form for Earl Howe's aforementioned '100-miles-in-the-hour' national record of 1938.
Davey: "The Lagonda factory kept 'FPK 550' throughout the war as a hack and afterwards it was rebuilt (but not altered) and re-registered as 'NPJ 680', presumably to take advantage of the post-war flat rate tax. It was also given the one-off chassis number of '19221', which is totally unique in Lagonda numbers."
An old-style continuation logbook on file takes up the story in 1949 when the Lagonda was registered to Guildford-based Jaguar dealer and motor racing team owner John Coombs, who was followed by one George Wilkins (1950), Patrick Kelly (1951), and lastly Arthur Guy Warne (1952).
In 1980 the Lagonda was acquired by Stanley Mann and it was photographed to appear in 'Lagonda: An Illustrated History, 1900-50' by Geoffrey Seaton (page 249). Davey: "It was then just as it was in 1949 and the mods done for the 1938 record run were quite evident... We found all the EX part numbers stamped on every bit and there were all manner of parts made from fabrications that on production cars are forgings. All in all, it obviously was 'FPK 550'." Eventually, Stanley Mann split the chassis and body and recreated '19221' as the Team Car Replica it is today. The body went onto an LG6 in Denmark.
The ex-Earl Howe Lagonda was acquired by the late Barry Burnett in 1989, and since Barry's death in 2007 has belonged to his daughter. The car has been serviced for the sale by Edwards Motorsports (near Bristol).
Contained within a substantial history file, accompanying documentation includes the aforementioned registration records and Lagonda Club correspondence; various other registration and MoT certificates; DVLA correspondence; SORN paperwork; current V5C; and various instruction manuals.
W O Bentley's Lagonda V12 is one of the most sophisticated, attractive, and exclusive cars of the pre-war era and this example, with its tremendous and well-chronicled provenance, is an opportunity not to be missed.