February 6, 2009

Great Automotive Failures: The Aston Martin Lagonda

Like many small-scale auto manufacturers during the 1970s, Aston Martin’s finances were looking drearier than a late winter afternoon in London. On the verge of bankruptcy, A-M embarked on a radical plan to make some fast cash and thus, the Lagonda was born. The Lagonda was the company’s attempt at an ultra-exclusive, ultra-expensive, and ultimately ultra hideous, luxury sedan.

The car was designed by William Towns. His primary design experience prior to penning the Lagonda’s laser-straight lines, had been such prestigious components as door handles and seats for various British firms. He later went on to dream up some of the UK’s more horrid looking econo-box concepts after he fell in love with the 180° angle while working with Aston Martin.

The aside from its controversial looks, the Lagonda had some very appealing characteristics on paper. A hand-built 5.4 liter V8 producing 280hp was respectable for the day, and highly innovative electronic LED instrumentation gave it a proper dose of 1970s futuristic flair. The first of these cars were sold before they were even built as orders for the door-stop sedan came in after its conceptual unveiling in 1976. Aston Martin was happy to have the funding of course.

One thing to keep in mind however is that the Lagonda was a hand-built car made in England in the 1970s with electronics that were more complex than even the finest Soviet space craft. Need I say more? Furthermore, while Aston Martin spent unfathomable sums of money developing the electronics for the interior, they neglected to figure out how to fuel inject that carefully constructed V8 engine (which was fitted to a Chrysler 3-speed automatic). Weber supplied the four carburetors needed per engine. Also interestingly, it wasn’t until after its release that the car received opening rear windows.

The finally rolling off the assembly line in 1978, first batch of these sedans were known as the Series 2 and the Series 1 was actually a later designed coupe. Aston Martin realized themselves that the complex LED instrumentation was more or less a flop. But not giving up on complexity, in 1984 (with the Series 3) they introduced instrumentation via Cathode Ray Tubes that would make anyone familiar with early black and green Apple computer screens feel right at home. Later, on the Series 4, some styling changes were made also, such as doing away with pop-up headlights, rounding off of some hard edges, and yet another set of instruments - this time in the form of vacuum fluorescent gauges. Power was increased later on as well to 289hp for this car, which now weighed about two and a half tons.

By 1989, Aston Martin ended production of the Lagonda. While quite out-of-this-world, less than 650 were produced in its lifetime. Many of them have suffered from extensive electrical issues as one might expect, significant rust problems, and even heavily worn engines. The opulently appointed interiors have also been known to wear considerably as well, and all of these things are, of course, very expensive. Perhaps the only logical reason to purchase one of these cars today, would be if the vehicle’s once fabulously rich owner from the early ‘80s had neglected to remove all the cocaine hidden in the rocker panels before getting rid of the damned thing. At least that stash might be enough to pay for some new wiring. 

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