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Britain By Car - A Motoring History

Created Date:

08 January 2024

Last Modified:

25 January 2024

Wilbur Gunn, founder of Lagonda

The home of the founder, and site of the company’s first factory.

6, Thorpe Road, Staines, TW18 3AP.  This address later became: The Lagonda Motor Co., Causeway Works, The Causeway, Staines.

1906 – 1947.

  • © Tony Thorpe
  • Lagonda's founder, Wilbur Gunn.
  • Lagonda Village 1891
    A View from Mitchell Hill looking towards Lagonda Village, Gustavus Frankenstein. Painted in 1891, the year in which Wilbur Gunn moved to England. The painting is from the Springfield Museum of Art, permission applied for.
  • Lagonda m/cycle c1903
    The Lagonda Motorcycle c1903, source: Grace's Guide to British Industrial History.
  • Lagonda Tricar, 1905, Beaulieu
    Lagonda Tricar, 1905; the replacement of handlebars with a steering wheel was a recent improvement, © National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.
  • Brooklands 1909
    Brooklands, summer 1909, possibly with Wilbur Gunn at the wheel, © National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.
  • Lagonda 20 hp Autocar hood up
    Lagonda 20 h.p, 1911: source: Autocar, 30th December 1911
  • Lagonda 11.1
    A Lagonda 11.1 taking part in a Oxford-York-Oxford 24-hour reliability test, 1914, source The Light Car & Cyclecar, 2nd March 1914.
  • One of just three Lagonda 11.1s of the 745 sold that are known to remain, © standhisround, via Flickr
  • A Lagonda 2-litre Speed Model, built between 1927 and 1929,© Steve Edwards.
  • Hindmarsh and Fontés after their victory in the 24 hour race at Le Mans, June 1935, source: / Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  • 1938 Lagonda V12 4.5 litre drophead coupe with D.H. Albatross aeroplane
    A 1938 Lagonda V12 4.5 litre drophead coupe. The aeroplane is a de Havilland Albatross, © National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.
  • Lagonda Bentley advertisement
    A potential name of the new small Lagonda was being suggested well before its formal announcement. This advertisement appeared in The Sphere in August 1944.
  • Lagonda 2.5-litre saloon, catalogue
    The Lagonda 2 ½ litre saloon, 1949, following the David Brown takeover: © Tony Thorpe collection.
  • Lagonda 2.5-litre Coupe, catalogue
    The Lagonda 2 ½ litre coupé, 1949, following the David Brown takeover: © Tony Thorpe collection.

Although probably seen today as a quintessentially British company, Lagonda was founded by an American who retained his original citizenship, despite spending most of his adult life in Britain.

Wilbur Gunn was born in the town of Troy, Ohio on the 23rd May 1860, although the year of his birth year on official documents ranges from 1858 to 1864. He was the second son of a Methodist minister, and spent the early part of his life in the nearby town of Springfield. On leaving school, he took up an apprenticeship with Singer, manufacturer of domestic sewing machines. In 1885, he married a local woman, Bertha Myers. Within two years, the couple had moved to New York, where their daughter, Marjorie, was born in 1888.

Although, by this stage, listed in local directories as a sewing machine inspector, Wilbur Gunn had also, for some time, been pursuing a parallel career as an opera singer. There is a report of him playing the piano and singing, as early as the age of seven, having been taught music by his nurse at home. At 20 years of age, he went to New York as tenor soloist at the Old Trinity Church, and in late December 1887, was principal soloist in a performance of the Messiah in Toronto, having already received very positive reviews from the New York Herald.

In April 1891 Wilbur Gunn travelled alone to England, where he secured a three-year contract with Carl Rosa Opera - an eminent touring light-opera company, based in London, and still in existence today. For almost ten years, he led the life of a professional opera singer, touring the country in venues large and small, and with some of the most famous and popular singers of the time. He took part in a considerable number of charity concerts and in 1897, with the pianist and musical director Augustus Bingham, established a music academy, known as the The Studio of Music, based at 20 Newman Street, in London’s West End.

In January 1898, Wilbur married Constance Grey, a widow, whose husband, Charles, had died two years earlier. Constance was certainly a woman of some means, and evidence suggests that she and William may well have met through their shared interest in music. There is, however, one question surrounding this relationship, in that Lagonda archivist, Arnold Davey, suggests that William and Bertha’s divorce was not finalised until the 24th July 1898, six months after he married Constance Grey.

It seems that, at least over the next three years, the newly-married couple maintained two homes. One was in London at 39 Baker Street W1 - Constance’s former home with her first husband – and the other at 6 Thorpe Road in Staines; a property also registered in the name of Charles Grey, and later in Constance’s name, following her first husband’s death.

Now, largely living on Thorpe Road in Staines, Wilbur Gunn’s attention seems to have been increasingly focussed on engineering, although reports of his public singing performances continued to appear until 1902.

In 1899 he set up the Lagonda Engineering Company, named after the Lagonda district of Springfield, where he had grown up. Originally known as Ough Ohanda by the indigenous Shawnee tribes, the name became corrupted to La Ohanda by French fur traders, finally becoming known as Lagonda, as the settlement developed.

Based in the greenhouses in the garden of Constance and Wilbur’s house on Thorpe Road, the new company appears to have first concentrated on the production of small marine steam engines, for river launches. The hulls were made by Tom Taylor, owner of an old-established boat-building company, based nearby.

The only one of these vessels that the author has been able to link with Lagonda was named ‘Giralda’, which was reportedly specially constructed for (or, perhaps more accurately, hired by) the newspaper, ‘The Sporting Life’ to follow the Oxford and Cambridge crews practising for the University Boat Race. On Friday 16th March 1900, the paper reported that the new craft “claimed to be the fastest of her size in the world, and capable of travelling at the rate of twenty-eight miles-per-hour”. On this occasion, Wilbur Gunn was listed on board as the engineer.

It is thought to have been around this time that Wilbur produced his first internal combustion engine, which he fitted to a bicycle frame made by Knight, a local cycle-maker. Although the business undoubtedly developed, there seem to be no records or trade advertisements indicating exactly what was produced. However, we do know that Wilbur Gunn was a founder of the Auto Cycle Club, in April 1903, and four months later took part, on a Lagonda motorcycle, in the 1903 Thousand Mile Trial.

The Auto Cycle Club was founded as the motorcycle wing of the Automobile Club and, following the success of its first One Thousand Mile Reliability Trial in 1900, the Club organised an event of a similar length three years later, with cars and motor cycles competing separately. Although beginning well, the nine days of the Trial took its toll on Wilbur Gunn’s 2¾ h.p machine. Nevertheless, he did succeed in gaining a second-class award, together with considerable amount of publicity in the motorcycle press.

1903 marks the point at which Wilbur Gunn turned Lagonda into a business, taking on his first employee, Bert Hammond, who had previously worked for Knight’s, and was to stay with Lagonda until 1939. Up until this point, Wilbur had been working out of a workshop set up in the spacious grounds of his Thorpe Road home. However, new orders meant that more space was required, resulting, it is said, in the roofing over of quite a large part of the garden, and the creation of a separate entrance to the works.

In October 1903, an order was received for a tricar, from someone who, it is believed, was a local motor club secretary, asking for a cycle that could be driven by a man or a woman. Two months later, the vehicle was delivered, initially with a 3½ h.p engine and a belt drive, although later upgraded to a chain drive with a 5 h.p power motor.

In an article in The Motor Cycle in 1905 the, now very satisfied, owner explained that over the past year he had covered 14,000 miles without a puncture, and with only two involuntary stops. All this, he said, with a top speed of 20-25 mph, and fuel consumption of between 50 and 60 mpg.

In 1905, a twin-cylinder, 12 h.p model was launched and, as before, Wilbur Gunn continued to enter his machines, with considerable success, in speed trials and hillclimbs, winning a gold medal in June, in the London-Edinburgh Trial, and another, two months later, in the Six Days’ Trial in the south and west of England.

Although sporting success for Lagonda continued throughout 1906, with Wilbur Gunn winning his class in the Land’s End to John o’Groats Trial, the company was seriously short of funds, not helped by sales being largely limited to the summer months.

In April 1907, Lagonda went into administration. The company’s tricar production immediately ceased, but somehow Wilbur Gunn was able to retain his small workforce and begin development, in 1908, of a new four-wheeled model, initially using parts carried over from the tricars.

Although Lagonda remained in administration until January 1910, when it was re-purchased by Wilbur Gunn, the company somehow continued to function – and to develop new models.

The first 10 h.p four-wheel car was soon replaced by a more powerful model. With a four-cylinder, 14-16 h.p Coventry-Simplex engine, it was the first Lagonda with an engine that had not been designed by Wilbur Gunn. Within months, however, this model too had been uprated, this time with a more powerful 2,144cc, 16-18 h.p unit.

Given the restrictions on trade that the company undoubtedly faced, it is interesting to note that in June 1909, Lagonda entered a lightweight 18.2 h.p two-seater in the Summer Handicap at Brooklands. On its first outing, with Lagonda employee, Bert Hammond, at the wheel, the car achieved a sensational victory, winning the eight-mile race by more than half-a-mile.

Just over a month later, the team returned to Brooklands for the August Senior Handicap. Although it was the least powerful car in the field, the Lagonda nevertheless reached the final, coming fourth overall behind the 36 h.p Austin “Pobble”, an Invicta, and a Lancia.

The level of production at Lagonda over the next couple of years is not clear, although it is known that Wilbur Gunn was experimenting with unitary construction in the hope of eliminating the chassis altogether.

Despite the financial difficulties and uncertainties facing the company, Wilbur seems to have remained optimistic about selling cars overseas. Perhaps prompted by the reliability trial organised by the Russian Imperial Automobile Club in April 1909, between St Petersburg and Riga, he appointed an agent in St Petersburg, for the sale of cars to Russia.

In June 1910, Lagonda entered a 16/18 h.p four-cylinder Tourer for what was often described at the time as the Czar’s Cup. Longer than the previous year’s event, this was a 14-day, 2,000 mile trial that followed an easterly loop from St Petersburg to Moscow, through parts of Belarus and Ukraine. With over 40 starters, drawn from manufacturers that included Mercedes, Valveless, Austin, Pipe, Siddeley, and of course Lagonda, each day’s run was over about 200 miles, with minimum and maximum average speeds set at between 23 and 28 mph.

The Mercedes’ entries seem to have taken the first three places, with the Austin also singled out for a special award. However, the complex scoring system did not seem to produce an overall winner.

Although there appears to have been no mention in either the national or motoring press, several contemporary writers state that at the end of the Trial, a further award was offered to any car that could return to St Petersburg in one day - a distance of some 400 miles. Wilbur Gunn was apparently the only entrant reported to have accepted this challenge; and he, along with Bert Hammond, his Russian agent, and an official observer, managed to complete the return journey in just 12 hours; maintaining a speed of 40-50 mph, between stops for fuel. The observer is said to have been so impressed by the performance of the car, that he immediately ordered a new Lagonda for himself.

In spite of the company’s poor financial situation, Lagonda continued to make variants of the 16/18 h.p car over the next twelve months; albeit in relatively low numbers. Most of the cars are thought to have been sold to customers in Russia. (Further evidence that production was continuing during this period can be found in a newspaper report in March 1911 of a Lagonda employee, who worked in the body trim department, being charged with theft from the company premises.)

In November 1911, Autocar published an article headed: “A New Car with an Old Name”, above the strapline “The British-built 20 h.p Lagonda”. It suggested that the company’s success with tricars was something of a distant memory, and that for several years, Wilbur Gunn had been giving his attention instead to the manufacture of large cars for sale in Russia.

The article also stated that the British rights to Lagonda had been acquired by the Burlington Motor Company Ltd, of Piccadilly, who were about to announce a new 20.1 h.p Lagonda. However, little is known today of the Burlington Motor Company and their links with Lagonda, which at this point was trading under the new name of Lagonda Cars. Although it is clear that a number of sales were achieved, as with much of early Lagonda history, relatively few references still exist today, and none of the four-wheel cars built before 1913 are thought to survive.

Despite relatively low sales, Wilbur Gunn continued to plan for the future by expanding the factory to cover the whole corner site between Thorpe Road and the Causeway, the main road to Egham. He also continued to work on his ideas of a chassis-less vehicle in the form of a small mass-market car; very different from those that he had previously produced.

The 11.1 h.p model, as it became known, was announced to the press in August 1913. It was a small car, just 10ft 3in long, and 4ft 3in wide. The design was basically the work of Wilbur Gunn, with the development and construction of the car undertaken by long-standing employee, Alf Cranmer.

Once again, the financial arrangements surrounding the development of this car remain uncertain. However, it appears that, in March 1913, a new company, under the name of Lagonda Ltd, had been created, following an agreement between with Wilbur and Constance Gunn and Tollemache and Griffin Ltd, London motor agents.

Under this new arrangement, Wilbur Gunn was paid for his existing Lagonda assets, and he and Constance agreed to makeover the lease and sell the freehold of their house to the new company, together with the lease of the land on which the factory stood. For their part, Tollemache and Griffin also invested in the new company, obtaining the selling rights to Lagonda, in the process.

The little Lagonda is said to be the first car to be made of unitary construction. Instead of a traditional chassis, the 11.1 used a frame composed of four lengths of 1½ x 1½ x ⅛ inch angled steel, each joined in pairs by strips of sheet metal.

At the front, the two pairs of longerons narrowed either side of the radiator, and widened at the bulkhead, braced by a hoop of angled steel. Two cross-members were used midway, and another, also curved, was used at the rear. Like the stressed-skinned principle of aircraft design, flush-riveted tinned-steel body panels were then attached to this frame.

The sump, gearbox and clutch housing were all bolted together as one unit, stiffening the whole framework on installation. Unusually, for the time, the only pieces of wood used in construction were for the windscreen frame and hood.

With a four-cylinder, 1100cc engine, reports of the new car were extremely positive. One very satisfied owner, in a letter to Autocar in 1915, stated:

“Of all the (twelve) cars I have owned, I find my 1914 Lagonda Coupé the most satisfactory, and the least expensive of all.

“It has a splendid silent four-cylinder engine of more than ample power (I carried six special constables to duty), and runs 55 m.p.g. on benzole at Is. 2d. per gallon. I rarely find a plug sooted, and the gears have never given me the slightest trouble. I can take any hill in top with three up at 20 m.p.h. without overheating, and the tyres show scarcely any wear after ten months’ continuous use.

“It is undoubtedly the best British car at the price, and as regards the engine and gears the best at any price.”

A key characteristic of Wilbur Gunn’s engineering work in Staines was the degree to which so many of the components and so much of the equipment was designed and made in the factory. Wilbur Gunn had always liked to make his own engines; but he even made the nuts and bolts fitting everything together.

Like its predecessors, the new model was entered for various trials and tests, generally doing well against the competition; but this, together with the many glowing test reports, failed to translate into particularly strong sales.

However, to some degree, it all became rather academic with the outbreak of war in July 1914. One immediate consequence of the fighting in Europe was the requisition of horses from the nation’s civilian and business ownership. It is estimated that about 17 per cent of the working horse population were mobilised for military purposes. As a result, a number of motor manufacturers added a light van to their range – which is exactly what Lagonda did with the 11.1. Shortly after this, a four-seater model also appeared.

Car production continued at Staines, in a reduced fashion, until 1916, as Lagonda steadily built up its military war work, investing in a great deal of new, automatic, machinery in the process. The factory machine shops and tool room became amongst the most advanced in the country, and for much of the War, the production of shells and fuses continued right around the clock.

Although the 1914-18 War proved to be quite a profitable period for Lagonda, it also took its toll Wilbur Gunn’s health; largely, it is believed, due to the long hours that he put in at the factory.

With arms’ production immediately ceasing following the Armistice, there was a new pressure to return the factory to car production.

Six months’ later, the 11.1 was once again being advertised for sale. In November 1919, Lagonda made their first appearance at the Olympia Motor Show since 1906, with two models on display: a two-seater coupé, and four-seater tourer.  Reporting on the event, the Hull Daily Mail noted that cars on the A.B.C and Lagonda stands “attracted extraordinary attention at the Show, on account of their remarkable cheapness and quality…. With no stand having more visitors than either of these two.”

Once again, Lagondas began to appear at various competitive events, with a gold medal award in the 1920 London to Manchester and Land’s End Trials. In May, Wilbur Gunn was once again at the wheel of one of the team’s cars, but this sadly proved to be his last competitive outing, for at the end of September 1920 he died, aged 61 years.

Following the founder’s death, the company’s output gradually moved upmarket, with a distinctly more sporting character. The cars continued to be largely made by hand, but were perhaps a little less innovative than they had been under the guidance of Wilbur Gunn, with engines for some models being bought in from Crossley and Meadows, and a return to chassis-based construction.

However, there was considerable sporting success, particularly using the four-cylinder, two-litre engine introduced in 1926. In 1928, Lagonda made its first appearance at Le Mans and, in June 1935, Lagonda won the classic race with their M45 Rapide, powered by a six-cylinder 4.5-litre Meadows engine.

With further expansion of the factory, Lagonda was, by this stage, offering an extensive range sporting and luxury cars. With about 500 employees at the factory, sales remained relatively strong until the early 1930s, when it became clear that further financing was required if the firm was to remain viable, particularly in the face of the economic depression.

Sales of sports cars are invariably slower during the winter months, but they took a further knock in early 1935 when the Government introduced a new national 30 mph speed limit. This proved to be the final straw for Lagonda who, having failed to raise the necessary capital, once again went into administration in April 1935.

With a number of interested buyers, including Alvis and Rolls-Royce, the highest tender was submitted by a consortium headed by Alan Good, a 29-year-old solicitor, turned businessman. It is ironic that the date on which the successful bid was made, coincided with Lagonda’s win at Le Mans. Unfortunately, being in state of administration, the company was unable to gain any kind of immediate commercial benefit from this, although it is reported that the Receiver slightly raised the final sale price in the light of this great sporting success.

On its formation, the new company, now known as L.G Motors (Staines) Ltd., secured the services of W.O Bentley as technical director and head of design. Up until this point, he had been working as a consultant for Rolls-Royce, who had taken a controlling interest in Bentley in 1931.

In his autobiography, ‘My Life and My Cars’, W.O explains that the factory and office on Thorpe Road were in a dreadful state, with the drawing office blighted with a leaking roof - although this was relatively quickly addressed, with the replacement of some of the oldest buildings.

One of the earliest decisions of new management was to re-vamp the 4½-litre model – the largest and most profitable car the Lagonda range, whilst the 3-litre and Rapier models were quietly dropped. (Although the latter was soon established as a marque in its own right, based at the former Lagonda sales depot on Hammersmith Road in London.)

The new, revised, 4½-litre car was launched, just in time, for the September Motor Show at London’s Olympia. Now known as the LG45, it was slightly more powerful and faster than its predecessor and, with a modified chassis, gearbox and softer, more sophisticated, suspension, it was, in the words of W.O Bentley, “a good buy, at around the four-figure mark”.

The following year proved to be even more hectic. The new owners of the company decided to retain Lagonda’s sporting involvement and also to continue to upgrade the Staines’ factory – for, as Davey and May explain, “Wilbur Gunn’s corrugated palace was beginning to come apart”.

However, perhaps the greatest achievement in the 15 months following the takeover, was the creation of the new V12 Lagonda, by W.O Bentley and his technical staff. The 4½-litre, short-stroke engine, with its twelve cylinders set in two rows was characterised by great smoothness and flexibility. In one road test, the journalist described passengers dozing in the back of the car at 100 mph.

Another explained: “It is the fastest car I have ever driven, the most comfortable at all speeds over 40, and it has the finest roadholding and steering I have experienced.”

In describing his journey from central London to Wendover and Thame in Buckinghamshire, he wrote: “From the end of the High Wycombe speed limit, we climbed the hill steadily accelerating, until at 75 a lorry blocking the view made me lift my foot. At 80 in third, the engine was just audible but not to be felt.

” Towards the end of the test, he added: “There was never a milder-mannered car, or an easier car to guide, or so to speak, a car with a softer mouth.”

During the mid-late thirties, Lagonda was a brand par excellence, and frequently the choice of the great and the good. The company’s products were now held in such high esteem as to rival Rolls-Royce and Bentley and, with the launch of the Rapide in 1938, were arguably one of the most attractive cars of the time.

The ability of the new car to cover long distances at high speeds led Alan Good in early 1939 to once again enter a team for that year’s 24-hour race at Le Mans. Bentley was adamant that at least 15 months’ preparation was required, but Good persisted with the idea, and it was decided that the two cars should be run at a set speed, regardless of anything else that was happening in the field.

Lapping, for the first part of the race, in tenth and twelfth places, the Lagondas gradually made their way up the running order, as those in front began to fail. When the chequered flag fell at four o’clock on Sunday, only a Bugatti and Delage were ahead of the two cars.

With the onset of war, car production in Staines ceased at the end of September 1939. In its place, the workforce, with additional unskilled labour, manufactured high-explosive shells (as it had done 25 years earlier), flame-throwers, auxiliary engines and pumps, a wide range of aircraft and military components, and even automatic printing machines.

Given its military importance, it is perhaps surprising that Lagonda works did not suffer enemy bombing, but such were the demands of military production that the dies and jigs for the V12 were all pushed out of the factory and were eventually scrapped, as were many of the car’s engineering drawings.

Although Lagonda’s production, at this stage, was entirely devoted to the war effort, serious consideration was being given to the kind of car that the company should produce once the war was over. It was clear that luxury models like the V12 would no longer be appropriate, and that what Lagonda required instead was a smaller and lighter car, but one that was nevertheless well-appointed, and upheld the company’s traditional standards of roadholding and comfort.

Initial plans were drawn up for three engines: of four, six and eight cylinders in size; although, only the six-cylinder engine progressed beyond the drawing board. Again designed by a team led by W.O Bentley, the six-cylinder, 2.6-litre unit, code-named LB6 was announced to the press in September 1945. However, the idea behind this car was trailed by Lagonda in its advertisements well before the formal announcement – a decision that was ultimately to cost the company a considerable amount of money.

The four-door saloon was styled and designed by Lagonda designer, Frank Feeley. It had a conventional chassis, with tubular side members for added rigidity, and all-round independent suspension. Three prototypes were built in Staines at Thorpe Road, and three more, of a slightly different design, at the Vanden Plas coachworks in Belgium – a country, which unlike Britain, had at the time no controls or limitations on the supply of steel.

The LB6 was originally to be known as the 2½-litre Lagonda-Bentley. However, after placing a series of magazine advertisements, during the second half of 1946, for the forthcoming model, Lagonda found itself faced with the threat of legal action. Rolls-Royce had trademarked the Bentley name upon their acquisition of the company in 1931, and were not prepared for it be used by a rival marque.

Lagonda’s chairman, Alan Good, chose to fight the action in court. After a nine-day trial in November 1946, Mr Justice Roxburgh found in favour of Rolls-Royce, leaving Lagonda with a bill of around £10,000 in costs – a sum that they could ill-afford.

Now choosing their words very carefully, Lagonda re-named the car, the ‘six-cylinder 2½-litre Lagonda’; invariably adding to the text ‘designed by W.O Bentley’.

Although this change of wording fixed one problem, it did not solve a more fundamental difficulty now facing Lagonda and other small British motor manufacturers. At the end of the Second World War, there was a great shortage of steel and many of the other raw materials used in car production. With supplies tightly controlled by the government’s Ministry of Supply, priority was given to high-volume manufacturers, able to export their products overseas, in return for much-needed foreign currency.

The 2½-litre Lagonda was a low-volume, luxury item, designed largely for the home market. So, when Lagonda applied for its allocation of steel, it received enough to make just a hundred bodies – clearly insufficient for the car (and the company) to be a going concern. The final blow for Lagonda came in April 1947 when purchase tax on luxury items in Britain was doubled – adding a further £800 to the cost of the car.

As technical director, W.O Bentley was given the task of trying to interest other companies, including Morris and Jaguar, in the design for which he had largely been responsible. However, for Morris, the 2½-litre was felt to be too far outside their main market and, for Jaguar, too close to their existing models.

In the summer of 1947, W.O met David Brown at London Airport, and drove him to the in a prototype 2½-ltre to the works in Staines. David Brown, was managing director David Brown Ltd, an engineering company based in Huddersfield and founded in 1860 by his grandfather. Originally a pattern-maker, the company went on to specialise in manufacturing gear systems and, later, tractors. (They also built the Valveless car between 1908 and 1914.)

By September 1947, agreement had been reached for David Brown to buy the Lagonda name and the three 2½-litre prototypes, together with the company’s designs, tooling stock, work in progress, and service department.

The agreement did not include the Staines factory, as the new company was to be based in Feltham, with Aston Martin, also acquired by David Brown a few months earlier.

Commenting on the takeover, Mr Brown explained that he was unwilling to see such a potentially valuable export as the Lagonda pass out of existence, adding that he already had £400,000 worth of orders for the car from the United States.

Following the transfer of production to Feltham, the 2½-litre underwent further testing and development before being launched for a second time, and to considerable praise, at the 1948 Earl’s Court Motor Show. Its 2.6-litre engine was used in the Aston Martin DB2 and subsequent models.

For 1953, the 2.6-litre engine was enlarged to 3-litres and, with a re-designed Tickford-built body, it became known as the Lagonda 3-litre. Early in 1954, a 3-litre Drophead Coupé was ordered by the Duke of Edinburgh, before leaving with the Queen for the Royal Tour of Australia.

Available as a two- and four-door sports saloon, and as a drophead coupé, production of the 3-litre continued until 1958. By this stage it was being built in very small numbers in Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, to where Aston Martin Lagonda, as the company was now known, had moved in 1956.

No new Lagondas were produced for more than three years, until a new Rapide was introduced in 1961. Today this is often, perhaps uncharitably, described as a re-bodied four-door Aston Martin DB4. It was discontinued in 1964, after 55 cars had been made. Ten years later, the Lagonda name was again revived with a 5.3-litre V8 saloon. Designed by William Towns, this too closely resembled a four-door version of an existing Aston Martin – in this case the DBS V8.

Only seven of these cars were made but, two years later, in 1976, a new Lagonda V8 was launched that bore no outward relation to any Aston Martin. With its futuristic body, again designed by William Towns, it incorporated some relatively advanced electronic technology, for which the car is probably best-remembered. Its press-button switches and graphic and digital displays are still strongly featured in almost every report of the car.

The complexity of the new Lagonda meant that sales did not begin until 1978, but production continued until 1990, with the V8, at one stage, forming a major part of Aston Martin Lagonda’s production. Since then, the Lagonda name has been largely restricted to four-door Aston Martins.

Following the sale of Lagonda to David Brown, the Staines factory was sold to Petter’s, a manufacturer of small diesel engines, whose chairman was Alan Good! Coincidentally, Percy and Ernest Petter, who worked for their father’s ironmongery and foundry business in Yeovil, Somerset, are amongst those, of whom it is claimed, were the first in Britain to develop a horseless carriage. A Petter is recorded as one of the 60 or so cars that took part in the 1896 ‘Emancipation Run’.

The Petter’s factory in Staines closed in 1989, and the site of this and the former Lagonda works is now a Sainsbury’s Superstore (2024).

With thanks to Arnold Davey on whose research this article has drawn.

Further details

  • Lagonda: A History of the Marque, Arnold Davey & Anthony May, David & Charles, 1978.
  • Lagonda: An Illustrated History 1900-1950, Geoffrey Seaton, The Crowood Press, 1988.
  • The Lagonda Club,
  • My Life and My Cars, W.O. Bentley, Hutchinson & Co, 1967.