25 December 2018

More than an old car #89: Aston Martin Lagonda

Mention Aston Martin (AM) and you may immediately think of James Bond and the iconic DB5 that has appeared in many films. Or it may also conjure images of exclusively well-heeled people who consider a Mercedes/BMW to be too mainstream. Most of the AMs you see nowadays are the 2-door versions--this 1989 Aston Martin Lagonda would be a surprise to you!

AM was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Richard Bamford, and it was previously known as Bamford and Martin. Mr Martin also raced vehicles at Aston Hill, a racing track at Buckinghamshire and gradually the name was changed to 'Aston Martin'. Throughout its history, it ran into financial problems--it went into receivership in 1974 and was bought over by Ford briefly in 1991. As of today, it is partly owned by an Italian private equity firm and it is still not doing as well as before.

The Lagonda was conceived during the time AM went into receivership and the oil crisis in 1973. Somehow, it was unveiled in 1976 to the disbelief of many journalists. It featured an extreme "folded paper" style, designed by William Towns (ie very boxy and angular) that continues to divide people today: publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Time labelled it as one of the worst 50 cars ever made! Over its production history, 3 generations were made and this unit is the Series 4, made between 1987 to 1990. The number discrepancy is because the original "Series 1" was essentially a 4-door version of the AM V8, which is totally different from the one in this post.

The Series 4 cars underwent a marked restyling, with more rounded edges, elimination of the pop-up headlights and having 6 fixed headlamps. It is rumoured that the final product was not what Towns had intended: a draftsman might have misinterpreted the blueprints and the errors were undiscovered until it was too late...

Another area that caught many by surprise was the futuristic-looking LED dashboard. It was very sophisticated and also multilingual as well: one could choose between English, French, German or Arabic. Unfortunately, it also drew much criticism as the electronics broke down often, and fixing it costs a bomb too! Each car took about 1 week and 1200 man-hours to assemble by hand. It was powered by a 5341 cc V8, allowing it to reach a top speed of 230 km/h with an acceleration of 9.3 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 5283 mm long and weighed 2095 kg.

Production ended in 1990 with a total of 645 that were made, of which 105 was the Series 4 model. According to its chassis number, this unit is the 639th that was manufactured. Decked out in classic British Racing Green and a beige interior, it provides a pleasing contrast to the eyes. From what I know, this was originally sold in Singapore: Lagondas were introduced here in 1983 but were not sold under any dealer. It has just been sold recently and I managed to see this curio up close when it was exhibited at the Fullerton Concours in June.

Recently, I was made aware of a Series 2 that was still around (chassis number 13129) which caught me by surprise. Apparently, that unit has been off the road for 2 years and it is undergoing restoration currently!

Interestingly, there was at least 1 other car that existed here [a Series 2], which was owned by the family behind the TANGS department stores and the Marriot Tang Plaza Hotel in Orchard Road. I knew about its existence back then and being able to see it for myself after so long was a treat. I am aware that there are 5 units here; you have to see it for yourself to appreciate its weirdness!