Were he alive today, designer William Towns might be surprised to discover that some of the broad ideas behind his 1976 Lagonda form part of the inspiration for the planned relaunch of the marque. And he almost certainly didn’t expect that the car he drew in 1975 would live for 15 years and sell 645 examples. Towns probably had the idea before he sat down to create it, because the Lagonda travelled from drawing board to production reality within 10 months of the project’s start – and without a single sensational line being changed.
It absolutely was a sensation too. This was the car that the crowds wanted to see at the 1976 Earls Court motor show more than any other. Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s design chief today, says: “I remember seeing William Towns’ Lagonda and thinking it was from outer space.” He was not alone.
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The needle-thin nose, the sharply defined glazing, the flush-fit, rectangular tail-lights, the rectangular exhaust pipes, the space-age rake of the enormous, near-flat windscreen and the Lagonda’s sheer low-slung length scored it unwavering stares, sometimes of bafflement, sometimes of admiration. In the simplest descriptive terms, this was a three-box saloon – a phrase that spectacularly undersold this car’s capacity to snare your attention.
The Lagonda’s exploration of the new extended to the interior too, where the instrumentation consisted of cathode ray tube digital displays, while many of the car’s controls, automatic transmission included, were operated from touchpads. “They were plagued with electronic problems,” says Dudding, who drove a Lagonda in period. “Never get out with the keys left in the ignition. If you take the dashboard out, you’ll see festoons of wiring and circuit boards,” he adds, his technicians managing to solve the problems.
On the four cars they’ve so far pulled apart, they’ve also discovered that “at either end of the dashboard there’s a little rocket ship symbol soldered on. They’re rather cute.” Cute but hidden, rather like Lagonda itself at times, the marque enduring an on/off life during Aston Martin’s custodianship, which began in 1947 when it was 41 years old. It most recently adorned the limited-edition 2015-16 Taraf saloon, of which 120 rather than the planned 200 were built. Still, not bad considering they cost a £696,000 a go, briefly making it the world’s most expensive saloon. The price was probably the boldest feature of the Taraf, followed by its carbonfibre body.
But it certainly isn’t as bold as the Lagonda concept Aston Martin revealed at this year’s Geneva show. That car’s electric drivetrain allows a substantial rearranging of the car’s masses – the combustion engine and transmission replaced by twin electric motors, an inverter and an underfloor battery pack. Despite the change of propulsion and an emphasis on spacious high luxury, the ghost of the William Towns Lagonda can still be seen, as it can in the Taraf, through the shape of the rear pillars, the wedge of the nose and an opulent wheelbase.