Ex-the Hon. Brian Lewis/John Hindmarsh/Charles Brackenbury/C.E.C.Martin/Marcel Lehoux - 1936 Grand Prix de LACF, 1936 and 1937 RAC Tourist Trophy,1936 BRDC Brooklands 500-Mile Race, 1937 Le Mans, 1952 Goodwood Nine Hours entry and Alan Hess Sports Car record breaking, Fox & Nicholl Team Car
1936 Lagonda LG45R Rapide Sports-Racing Two-Seater
Coachwork by Fox & Nicholl
Registration no. EPE 97
Chassis no. 12111
Engine no. 12111
The Lithe Lagondas
American-born Wilbur Gunn founded the Lagonda Motor Company of Staines, Middlesex, England, in 1906. He adopted the attractive-sounding name from Lagonda Creek, Louisiana. In 1925 chief engineer Arthur Davidson had designed a 2-liter overhead-valve engined model which established Lagonda as a sporting marque. At the 1933 London Motor Show two important new models were unveiled; the 1104cc Rapier with twin-overhead camshaft engine and the 4½-liter M45 which employed an overhead-valve six-cylinder proprietary engine, manufactured by Meadows. Here at last was a Lagonda sports car which was capable of genuinely high performance, not only by the standards of the time, but enduringly so even today.
For 1935, two additional Lagonda models were then introduced. They both shared the same shorter, lighter chassis frame and were entitled the 4½-liter Rapide, and the 3 ½-liter. Unfortunately, this multiplicity of models added to the companys post-Depression financial problems, and even notable victory in the 1935 Le Mans 24-Hour race came too late to save them from collapse. It looked as if Lagonda was about to absorbed by Rolls-Royce as had Bentley Motors but that summer saw it rescued by entrepreneur Alan Good, and he appointed the revered W. O. Bentley himself as new chief designer.
W.O. then took Lagonda straight into the luxury car market in 1936 with the new LG45 model. It featured longer springs and Luvax dampers, while retaining the successful and well-proven M45-model Meadows six-cylinder engine and chassis. Bentley meanwhile directed his attention to improving the proprietary engine, and his modifications emerged in the Sanction III power units introduced at the 1936 London Motor Show.
Fox and Nicholl
It was against this background that special competition variants of the LG45 had been tailor-made at Staines Bridge for the Lagonda companys experienced and battle-hardened quasi-works racing team, Fox & Nicholl Limited, of Tolworth, Surrey.
Arthur Fox and Bob Nicholl were Lagonda specialists, whose sizable business in Tolworth, Surrey, had been preparing and racing Lagonda cars since as early as 1927.
Arthur Fox had persuaded the Lagonda company to support his teams competition activities and in 1929 he and Nicholl ran a flotilla of four 2-liter cars in both the Irish Grand Prix and RAC Tourist Trophy races. Fox rapidly established himself as a meticulous preparer of competition Lagondas, and he was never slow in improving upon the factory specification if he perceived any possible advantage. Just as Enzo Ferrari's private Scuderia ran the quasi-works Alfa Romeo team cars from 1932-37, so Fox & Nicholl's highly-effective organization became selected by the Lagonda company to represent their vital interests in International motor racing. One might in effect, for 'Fox & Nicholl' read 'Britain's Scuderia Ferrari'.
For 1936 the manufacturers production department at Staines Bridge built four competition cars specifically for Fox and Nicholl. This quartet comprised two four-seaters, bodied to comply with Le Mans 24-Hour regulation requirements, and two two-seaters, this superb surviving example offered here being one of the latter. It was completed in May 1936 and was first UK registered EPE 97 that August. Its sister two-seater was HLL 534 which also survives (incidently sold by the Bonhams team - when known as Brooks on behalf of the then owner Lord Dunleath in 1995) while the fate of the sister four-seaters remains obscure.
Fox & Nicholls as yet officially un-registered new car, chassis 12111, made its racing debut apparently painted French blue instead of Fox & Nicholls normal racing red livery in the experienced hands of Algerian-born French driver Marcel Lehoux in the sports car Grand Prix de lACF at Montlhéry, outside Paris, France on June 28, 1936. While sister car HLL 534 won its class (in what appears to have been its only race), Lehoux was forced to retire.
This car next appeared as EPE 97 and finished in Fox & Nicholls dark shade of red - in the RAC Tourist Trophy race over the fabulous Ards public road circuit outside Belfast, Ulster, in August 1936. It was driven there by the very capable aristocrat, the Honorable Brian Lewis later Lord Essendon. The car carried race number 1 and was running in a strong second place after two hours before sliding off the road and striking a bank. Brian Lewis rejoined and recovered to run a close third behind Eddie Halls famous Derby Bentley in what proved to be an epic duel.
Lewiss fastest lap of the Ards circuit during his fight back through the field was achieved at a shattering 83.20mph, compared to Halls fastest of 81.07mph. If you imagine maintaining such an average speed around a narrow, undulating, winding loop of Ulster roads, through villages, a town center and out around rolling farmland, and you will form an accurate impression of the remarkable performance of these imposing-looking mid-1930s British sports-racing cars.
Sadly, EPE 97 here began losing oil through a hole left by a broken engine timing cover stud, and after four hours of front-running and recovery after his incident Brian Lewis was reduced to touring round to nurse his car to the finish, finally coming home in 14th place at an average speed of 76.12mph.
Fox & Nicholl then entered the car for its third major race in this case the British Racing Drivers Club 500-Miles classic on the high-speed Outer Circuit of the legendary Brooklands Motor Course near Weybridge, Surrey.
The car was fitted with a 3:1 back axle ratio, 7.00 x 21 rear tires and a fairing over the passenger seat. For this high-speed track race, without any tight corners whatsoever, its superfluous front brakes were removed to save weight and tire wear. It finished third in the 500-Miles at the average speed of 113.02mph, winning a green marble-block trophy which is today awarded annually by the British Vintage Sports Car Club for the Fox & Nicholl road-equipped sports car race at Silverstone.
Fox & Nicholl retained EPE 97 for another seasons racing in 1937. June that year saw it competing in nothing less than the Le Mans 24-Hour race, co-driven by Charles Brackenbury and by Fox & Nicholls 1935 Le Mans-winning star Hawker Aircraft test pilot-cum-racing driver John Hindmarsh. They were forced to retire at 10pm on the Saturday evening, due to unspecified mechanical trouble. Sadly, this proved to be Johnny Hindmarshs last race, as he was killed soon afterwards when his early-model Hawker Hurricane single-seat fighter aircraft crashed on St Georges Hill golf course, alongside the Brooklands Motor Course and its infield aerodrome.
That years RAC Tourist Trophy race was run at Donington Park in Derbyshire, and EPE 97 reappeared, now with tiny regulation doors fitted. It was co-driven by Charlie Brackenbury/C.E.C. Charlie Martin and the latter crashed it at Melbourne Hairpin due to breakage of its near-side front stub axle. While this was the cars last major race it was then loaned to Alan Hess Editor of the contemporary magazine, Speed who set a new sports car record of 104.4 miles covered within one hour from a standing start (with passenger!).
The car survived the Second World War and in 1952 was acquired by enthusiastic racer and subsequent VSCC stalwart Joe Goodhew. He lowered the entire body 10 inches and fitted the car with an ENV pre-selector gearbox. He and Bob Freeman-Wright the Managing Director of Kodak then co-drove the old car in that years major international British endurance race the inaugural Goodwood Nine Hours. Despite being 16 years old, the Lagonda finished 14th amongst the 18 finishers and averaged 72mph around the charismatic 2.4-mile Sussex circuit, in comparison to the victorious works C-Type Jaguars 81mph.
Colonel L.S. Michael then acquired EPE 97. He was the contemporary leading authority on tuning Meadows engines, and he constantly developed the car through a busy club racing program until as late as 1960. He achieved an astonishing record over 120 placings with the car, including victory in the VSCC Pomeroy Trophy event in 1959, and then setting a long and possibly still unbroken record for the marque in the Firle hill-climb. In his hands EPE 97 offered here covered the standing-start quarter-mile in 16.83 seconds, and the flying-start quarter-mile in 10.2 88.24mph after a very brief run-up.
This fabulously versatile and drivable post-Vintage Thoroughbred car then lay fallow until 1974, when it was acquired by David Dunn, who rebuilt it to its original Fox & Nicholl specification, restoring the bodyshell to its original height by fitting bonnet (hood) side panels but otherwise simply welding 10-inches of aluminum sheet back along the bottom where Goodhew had cut away the original. Both engine and gearbox were rebuilt during this extensive restoration, and had been little used by the contemporary owner before the car was offered for sale by auction in 1987. The buyer then was entrepreneur and car dealer Terry Cohn.
Mindful of the wealth of events for which the car was eligible, Mr. Cohn commissioned Coldwell Engineering thoroughly overhaul EPE again to prepare it for hard road and race driving. At this point a contemporary engine was acquired and built to its correct race specification and sensibly what may well have been the original was crated and is retained with the car to this day.
Over the course of the next decade 'EPE' perpetuated its active racing career, it was regularly seen at many events either with Terry himself at the wheel or on occasions ace driver Martin Stretton. It was certainly one of his most prized cars, and was retained until his untimely death at which point it was acquired from his estate by its current custodian.
Throughout this ownership, 'EPE' has continued to be cherished, and actively campaigned completing no less than each Mille Miglia retrospective since 2002.
All the while it has been meticulously maintained, work being carried out with only two criteria in mind the first that no expense should be spared or corners cut and the second that whatever was undertaken it should not detract from its now nicely aged appearance. An example of this can be found with the leather seats, the originals for the car still being with it, but when they appeared to be deteriorating too badly, they were removed sent to a leather conservation expert and then stored while exact copies where made and are in the car today. Virtually all of this work has been completed by the universally acknowledged experts for Meadows engined cars and the marque, Cedar Classic Cars of Hartley Wintney, under the auspices of Derek Green and later Sue Wilkinson. Extensive bills for this work together with various spares removed from previous rebuilds accompany the car.
This is an enormously charismatic classical British sports-racing car which is extremely easy and rewarding to drive. It is capable of terrific open road performance by the standards of the time, and still surprises many drivers of modern motor cars today as it is absolutely capable not only of sailing past them, but of maintaining extraordinarily satisfying average speeds on all kinds of road. It drips with history, having been handled in period by so many prominent personalities of British and European motor racing lore. It has tremendous presence. It is good looking with its distinctively streamlined tail, and it has been much-loved and well maintained in its recent ownerships. And it began life as a carefully tailored Fox & Nicholl team car.
Today, its role call of major events places EPE in that much lusted after category of not only being eligible by model for many of the worlds most prestigious events, but having competed there in period, putting it at the top of the pile. Attesting to this history and assisting future competitive use, the car was one of the earliest cars (36th) to recently be granted an FIA Heritage certificate, which it holds in addition to FIVA and FIA certificates.
If you seek impeccable history, genuine pedigree and a car to live with and love this Lagonda LG45R has it all.