1939 Lagonda V12
Year of manufacture1939
Property of a deceased's estate
1939 Lagonda V12 Sports Saloon
Coachwork by Lagonda
Registration no. FYE 999
Chassis no. 16061
"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.
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. By the time the outbreak of war halted production, only 189 of the fabulous cars had been produced; sadly, the V12 was not revived when peace returned.
Offering owner-driver enjoyment enhanced by the effortless torque of its magnificent twelve-cylinder power plant, this Lagonda sports saloon was delivered a month before WW2 broke out. By 1953 the car was in the renowned Ellard Collection where it remained unused until the 1980s, after which it went to Jersey for a short time. When the Lagonda was offered for sale at Brooks' auction at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu in September 1999 (Lot 433) its paint, chrome, leather and woodwork were said to be original and in very good order. The catalogue also noted that in 1990 £14,000 had been spent on an engine rebuild by Brunts of Silverdale as well as a chassis and brake overhaul, while in 1999 £12,000 had been spent on re-commissioning. Only some 500-or-so miles had been covered during the then vendor's ten years of ownership. The current vendor purchased the Lagonda at the aforementioned Brooks sale.
Today this car remains an imposing sight: the black coachwork (lined in red) still looking deep and reflective, and the chrome lustrous. Trimmed in red leather with matching carpets, the interior is patinated (but not untidy) and the woodwork still presents well. Engine starting is said to be average, running and presentation good, and the running gear is reported to be good condition also.
W O Bentley's Lagonda V12 is one of the most sophisticated, attractive, and exclusive cars of the pre-war era and this fine example, coming from an important UK private collection and offered with a good history file, is an opportunity not to be missed.