Take a moment to step in to the shoes of a 1980s company director/general big cheese businessman with an army of yuppies at his disposal, cash to burn and a penchant for luxury motors. He is faced with a choice between three suitably status-affirming super saloons to transport him to and fro across his national corporate empire. “Save the bother, I’ll take them all!” he cries. However, the yacht is due for a service and little Jenny wants some more ponies, so, until those profit margins begin to spike again, one car will have to suffice.
Exhibit A: the Mark I Rolls Royce Silver Spirit, the perfect fit for the new age city-bred business aristocrat and a car that epitomised British class and status in the most traditional sense. Throw in to this mix exhibit B; the Rolls’ marginally less grandeur and slightly more performance-based cousin, the Bentley Mulsanne, complete with spiced up Turbo variant. Both shared not only the same chassis and 6.75 litre Rolls Royce V8 engine but crucially the same design principle, that is, luxury through tradition. In fact, the fundamental styling of both cars had changed little from that of their predecessors, the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and the Bentley T-Series. Essentially, the 1980s notion of high luxury and automotive opulence remained wrapped up in a flurry of polished brass knobs and walnut veneered fascia that had ostensibly changed little since the mid-60s.
Enter exhibit C on our city tycoon’s shortlist. Of the many words used over the years to describe this third alternative, some less complementary than others, traditional certainly isn’t one of them. It is no less than the four wheeled equivalent to an intergalactic doorstop; the unmistakably unmistakable Aston Martin Lagonda. This deluxe oddity, first produced as early as 1976, was as polarising then as it is now and could not have been further removed from the deep-rooted Bentley and Rolls Royce ideal of stately luxury. It channelled opulence not through tradition but through cutting edge technology and space age styling. The classic wedge design had been seen before on various sports cars such as the Lotus Esprit and Lamborghini Countach as well as several family saloons like the Austin Princess. However, nobody had ever before attempted to take this concept and transplant it on to a luxury super saloon.
The result was eye-catching in the extreme and offered our 80s company director a very modern and totally unique way to express his status. The Lagonda, aside from its Back to the Future-inspired exterior, was also ground-breaking on a technological level. It was the first production car in the world to feature an on-board computer management system and also boasted a state-of-the-art LED digital instrument panel. Naturally, such a leap of faith from Aston led to a particularly bumpy landing. The Lagonda was derided by its critics who dismissed its outlandish styling as cumbersome and repulsive comparted to the old-school elegance of its contemporaries at Rolls and Bentley. The name ‘Lagonda’ can be found in many a compilation of the 50 ugliest cars ever. Not only that, the Lagonda’s highly complex computer system and futuristic LED instrument display pushed the realistic capabilities of 1980s electronic engineering well past its limit, resulting in some of the most disastrously fault-prone and unreliable equipment ever encountered on a super saloon.
Despite all this, the Aston Martin Lagonda doesn’t deserve its reputation as a best-forgotten 80s eyesore. Rather, it should be remembered as the car that changed the very essence of the super saloon. Let’s face it, the Silver Spirit’s modern day counterpart, the Rolls Royce Phantom, can hardly be accused of clinging to the traditional, cosy aristocratic vision of luxury that characterised its 80s ancestor. Perhaps the radical but much maligned Lagonda has influenced the luxury saloons of today a little more than some would like to admit.
A quarter of a century on and the Aston Martin Lagonda is no longer just a memory. The car that was not-so acceptable in the 80s is back for 2015! Well, kind of. Breaking cover in, of all places, Oman, Aston have unveiled a raft of official images of the brand new 2015 Lagonda as it undergoes hot weather testing in the Middle East. Significantly, and many would say mercifully, the British marque have not revived the classic architecture along with the original name. The fest of 80s geometry has been replaced with Aston’s decidedly more curvaceous VH architecture which underpins the rest of the present-day line-up. In truth, the head-on view could hardly be more different. The tiny sliver of front facia that teetered on the razor-sharp tip of the old model has been replaced by an enormous, almost gawping interpretation of Aston Martin’s current family face. The press images released in Oman did not come accompanied with any form of official technical details or specification, however it’s a pretty safe bet that the new Lagonda will run on the same mighty 550bhp 6.0 litre V12 that powers the company’s existing super saloon, the Rapide S. On that basis, we can expect to see performance figures approaching the Rapide’s sub 5.0 second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 190mph.
However, the vast majority of us shouldn’t actually expect to see anything of the new Lagonda. There is of course a reason why the prototype is being put through its paces in this particular far-flung corner of the world. Sales will be exclusive to the Middle East market and 2015 Lagonda numbers are not only set to be strictly limited but also available to customers on an invitation-only basis.
So the story has come full circle. What was originally meant for highfalutin city-slickers with space-age ambitions has ended up being reincarnated especially for the modern day Sheikh who craves more than just plain luxury. He wants something exclusive, something unique; something that stands out from the crowd. In that regard, the Lagonda name has never failed to deliver.