1939 Lagonda V12
Year of manufacture1939
L.A. Thomas, Helperby, North Yorkshire, England (acquired new in June 1939, via University Motors)
L. Conrad, Chelsea, London, England (acquired on September 9, 1939)
Mr. Merrifield, United Kingdom (acquired April 15, 1946)
MCL Preparations Co., Langley, Birmingham, England (acquired by 1951)
Air Commodore R.J.P. Prichard, Berkshire, England (acquired in 1951)
J. Newton Chance, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom (acquired from the above in April 1959)
D. Hadwick, Devon, England (acquired circa 1961)
Tom Luxton, Tunbridge Wells, England (acquired in 1969)
Graeme Miller, Victoria, Australia (acquired from the above mid-1975)
Ron Rezek, Ashland, Oregon (acquired from the above in May 2006)
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, Pebble Beach, California, August 2014 (Second in Class)
Immediately after Alan P. Good successfully outbid Rolls-Royce for Lagonda in 1935, he scored another coup by recruiting W.O. Bentley as chief engineer. W.O. was soon joined by the majority of his former engineering staff from Rolls-Royce, the firm that had previously taken over Bentley Motors Ltd. The task faced by W.O. and his team was huge: to update and improve the existing six-cylinder M45 chassis while simultaneously designing an entirely new model in reply to Mr. Good’s challenge to create the world’s best motorcar in just two years. To say W.O. and his engineers succeeded is a major understatement; the Lagonda V-12s of 1937–1940 must be considered some of the finest automobiles of not just the immediate prewar era, but in the larger context of motoring history. A design and technical tour de force rivaling the contemporary multi-cylinder products from Cadillac, Hispano-Suiza, and Rolls-Royce, Lagonda’s V-12 remains one of the most interesting and sophisticated cars ever built, wonderfully represented by the top-specification V-12 Rapide drophead coupe offered here.
A forward-thinking design, the Lagonda V-12 marks a truly rare instance where an engineer had virtually free rein to express his talents and vision. The V-12 engine took on a 60º v’d angle, and modern overhead-valve cylinder heads were topped with a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank. Leading-edge metallurgy and materials increased strength while reducing weight, with every component rigorously tested for reliability. Based upon a robust box-section frame – with cross members and cruciform bracing suitable for the most luxurious coachwork – the Lagonda V-12 chassis featured an advanced independent torsion-bar front suspension with stopping delivered by modern hydraulic drum brakes.
In standard form, the Lagonda V-12 engine utilized a pair of new-design SU downdraft carburetors and developed approximately 180 hp at 5,500 engine revolutions. Its massive torque was reported sufficient for the V-12 to be driven in top gear from a crawl to 105 mph. Britain’s greatest drivers naturally gravitated to the Lagonda, including Earl Howe, who drove one a distance of 101.5 miles at Brooklands in one hour, a figure all the more impressive because he was forced to stop to change a blown tire. Just 190 Lagonda V-12s were built, including a few in 1940 following the outbreak of war in Europe. Bodywork ranged from open tourers to formal limousines.
The sporting V-12 Rapide was built upon a shorter 124” wheelbase and delivered even more formidable performance, with its available four-carburetor engine producing 200–210 bhp at 5,500 engine revolutions. The V-12 Rapide was offered with sleek drophead-coupe bodywork penned by gifted Lagonda designer Frank Feeley and built in-house. According to the Lagonda Club, just 17 V-12 Rapides were produced, including three or four with external coachwork and the two 1939 Le Mans racing cars. With the V-12 Rapide, Lagonda achieved a stunning success on its first race outing at Le Mans in 1939 – the event’s final running until 1949 – scoring 3rd and 4th Overall and 1st and 2nd in Class. Confirming their great potential, the Rapides were speed-limited by W.O., with the 1939 race only intended as a test outing in preparation for a planned all-out effort for 1940 – had the war not erupted.
Bearing chassis no. 14091, this 1939 Lagonda V-12 Rapide drophead coupe is one of the last manufactured; in fact, it is the chassis numbered consecutively after the two works Le Mans racing cars. As with the racing cars, this V-12 Rapide is equipped with four carburetors and lightened brake drums. According to history compiled by The Lagonda Club, consignor Ron Rezek, and this car’s previous owner, this V-12 Rapide was delivered to first owner, L.A. Thomas, in June 1939, and it was UK-registered “DWU 125.” The Lagonda’s next known owner was L. Conrad of Chelsea. The factory-installed gearbox was later changed for another unit by Lagonda and presumably under guarantee. The V-12 Rapide made stops with two subsequent owners, and it was serviced for the last time by a Lagonda agent in November 1951 at 62,198 miles prior to its purchase by R.J.P. Prichard, a career Royal Air Force officer who received the Distinguished Flying Cross and rose to the rank of Air Commodore by 1959. He left the Rapide with an agent upon his reassignment to Singapore, and it was owned by two more keepers in the UK during the 1960s before Tom Luxton acquired it in 1969. Mr. Luxton shipped the Lagonda to Australia and had it restored – exchanging the factory-fitted engine for the current and desirable four carburetor-equipped unit – then sold the vehicle in 1975 to Graeme Miller of Victoria, Australia. Mr. Miller retained the V-12 Rapide until 2006, when the Mr. Rezek acquired it and brought it to the US.
A concours-level, photo-documented restoration was performed over a four-year period from 2010 to 2014 by the Lagonda experts at RX Autoworks in Vancouver, British Columbia, and on its first outing the Rapide was awarded Second in Class (J-2: European Classic Late Open) against extremely stiff competition at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance® in 2014. As offered for sale, this V-12 Rapide is simply resplendent in its originally specified Dark Cherry paint with the addition of Ivory lower body surfaces. Less than 500 miles have been traveled since the restoration was completed, and the Rapide’s chassis is conveniently plumbed for onboard jacks. Accompanied by a car cover plus wonderfully restored period ancillary items, including an engine crank, foot-operated air pump, and inspection light, the Rapide is complete with copies of its factory build and service cards, logbook, correspondence between the car’s keepers and the Lagonda Club, two period sales brochures covering the Lagonda V-12 offerings, and numerous letters and photographs documenting its rich history.
This V-12 Rapide marks the crowning prewar engineering achievement of W.O. Bentley, who went on to oversee the design of the 2.6-litre Lagonda engine later used to great effect by Aston Martin through 1958. It also displays the design prowess of Mr. Feeley, who would also leave an indelible mark on Aston Martin during the 1950s. Given its impressive specification, historical significance, mighty performance, and purposeful beauty, this exceedingly rare 1939 Lagonda V-12 Rapide will certainly provide an exceptional addition – from any era – to the world’s finest motorcar collections.