Jonathan Radgick - Lagonda Rapide Shooting Brake

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It is well known that the 1960's Lagonda Rapide was very much David Brown's personal project. (He did not become Sir David until 1968.) The sales brochure for the car, which unusually was signed by him personally, stated "It has long been my ambition to build a car which would be equally suitable to drive or be driven in ..."


The Rapide was styled by Touring of Milan who had already designed the DB4, and was essentially a stretched version of that car, with suspension redesigned by Harold Beach to incorporate a De Dion tube rear axle with a bored out 4 litre version of the Tadek Marek designed DB4 engine. The result was a stylish, fast, luxurious but hugely expensive saloon of which only 55 were built between 1961 and 1964. It is less well known that David Brown also harboured a desire to produce an estate version. He had very much liked the 'woody' estate versions of the 2.6 litre Lagonda which AML had used as tender vehicles for the racing team in the 1950s (incidentally does anyone know what happened to these?) and he envisaged a more stylish version of the same concept which might appeal to the Aston Martin enthusiast with children, dogs and luggage to transport. He commissioned Touring to produce some preliminary sketches but it was apparent from the poor sales figures of the saloon that there would be insufficient demand to make an acceptable market. It should also be borne in mind that John Wyer, who was at that time General Manager at AML, was against the whole Lagonda project which he regarded, with some justification, as diverting scarce resources from the main business in hand, which was developing and selling the very much more marketable DB4.


The Touring sketches were assumed lost until about 18 months ago when they turned up in a quantity of drawings and memorabilia sold as a lot on E-Bay and came into my ownership. At the time I was looking for a suitable dog wagon and decided to create the car that David Brown had envisaged. I bought Lagonda Rapide chassis number 107R and entrusted the work of conversion to the well-known specialists at Carrosserie Ltd of Barnard Castle in County Durham. The framework of the modified bodywork was made in exactly the same superleggera construction as the rest of the car and clothed in aluminium of the same gauge. The boot lid was cut down and the rear section formed the lower part of the tailgate, thus retaining the family resemblance to the saloon. It had been intended to have a bespoke rear screen made but the quote from Pilkingtons was 14,000 for the first one.subsequent screens would be 150 each. It was decided to compromise and use a commercially available screen.


Some modern components were used, namely gas struts, a modern wash-wipe system and a load cover adapted from a C Series Mercedes, because the overriding desire was to produce a car which was practical and pleasant to use on a daily basis and this was achieved. The rear seat folds down (the rear heater unit which is normally located beneath the rear parcel shelf is relocated beneath the squab) providing a huge load area. The car has also been fitted with a modern Jaguar gearbox which is a great improvement on the original David Brown box, having a 70% final drive ratio rather than the one-to-one of the original producing much smoother and more rapid changes. It is intended to add air conditioning next winter


 

Jonathan Radgick