Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What British Marque is Named After a River in Ohio?

Yeah, that's a tough one but if you hate a mystery, I'll spell it out for you: Lagonda. Most British car enthusiasts know of the Lagonda marque as part of the Aston Martin concern. Lagonda, however predates Aston Martin by a few years. 

Founded in 1906 by an Ohio-born son of a preacher named Wilbur Gunn as a motorcycle builder in Staines, Middlesex, UK, Lagonda was successful almost right out of the starting gate. Gunn's Lagonda motorcycle won the 1905 London-Edinburgh trial. By 1907, Gunn took the path that many other motorcycle builders were following and launched an automobile in an effort to capitalize on the public's demand. As with his motorcycle, his Lagonda automobile was a racing success, winning the 1910 Moscow-St Petersburg trial. 

At Gunn's death in 1920, the firm was taken over by its senior management team and the offerings were taken upmarket. Technical advances such as twin overhead cams, hemispherical combustion chambers and superchargers were part and parcel to the Lagonda name. Other models utilized bought-in engines (a common practice at the time) from Crossley and Meadows along with license-built pre-selector gearboxes from Maybach.

1938 Lagonda Rapide
Upmarket was not where the company needed to be when the Great Depression hit the world. By 1935, the firm was in the hands of a receiver and bids were solicited for its assets. Competing bids from Rolls-Royce and an investor named Alan Good were considered with Good becoming the owner of Lagonda. 

Once Good took over the firm, he persuaded none other than W O Bentley to leave Rolls-Royce and join the company as a designer and competitions manager. Bentley worked his magic by adding higher-power engine options, torsion bar suspension and hydraulic brakes. The lower slung cars looked the part of high performance motoring. Bentley's crowning achievement was the 4.5 liter, 180 bhp, V12 engine in the 1937 Rapide model.

Once again, financial clouds gathered after World War Two and the firm became the property of David Brown - owner of Aston Martin and the two companies were merged under single management. Lagonda produced gentlemen's sporting transportation after the David Brown acquisition, but the marque later became known as a builder of sporting saloon cars (that's a sedan, cowboy) not unlike the offerings of Jaguar. 

Eventually, Lagonda became a model name for Aston Martin saloon cars with the last one being a very wedge-shaped design from the pen of William Towns. Now, a rather hideous SUV-crossover-station wagon thingy is planned to wear the Lagonda badge in the near future. I've ranted about that in earlier posts here.

By the way, don't look for Lagonda Creek in Ohio - it has been renamed Buck Creek and it runs through Springfield. There are a number of areas there named Lagonda after the original name of the creek which was a native word meaning buck horn or crooked horn.     

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