Two families from new, and the ex-'Taso' Mathieson 1938 Lagonda V12 Drophead Coupé Registration no. EXT 640 Chassis no. 14034 Engine no. 14034
'In making an evaluation of the better British cars, the Lagonda V12 certainly must be considered an excellent design and one that contributed to raising the state of the art - not forgetting, of course, that it probably should be considered W O Bentley's masterpiece.' - Road & Track, October 1978.
A quite remarkable piece of automotive engineering, the W O Bentley-designed Lagonda V12 was one of the outstanding British models of its day and one of the exclusive handful of 1930s road cars that could exceed 100mph in standard tune. Not only that, but the magnificent, 4.5-litre, V12 engine produced sufficient torque to endow the car with a walking-pace-to-maximum capability in top gear.
For Lagonda, the year 1935 had brought with it bankruptcy and rescue, its benefactor being a young solicitor named Alan Good. Good reorganised the company and recruited W O Bentley, by then disillusioned with life at Rolls-Royce, which had acquired Bentley in 1931. Bentley succeeded in refining the muscular, Meadows-engined Lagondas while working on a vastly more-advanced design that many consider the great man's finest.
First seen in 1936, the Lagonda V12 did not commence deliveries until 1938 and only 189 had been built before the coming of WW2 ended production. The advanced chassis employed double-wishbone independent front suspension and was available with a varied choice of coachwork, including limousine. Frank Feeley, stylist of Aston Martin's post-war 'DB' cars, was responsible for the elegant factory bodywork.
The V12's announcement demonstrated that the revitalised company was very much back in business, an impression Lagonda's decision to enter the 1939 Le Mans 24-Hour Race can only have enhanced. The marque already possessed a creditable Le Mans record, a short-chassis 4½-Litre driven by John Hindmarsh and Luis Fontes having won the endurance classic outright in 1935.
In October 1938 a Lagonda V12 saloon driven by Earl Howe had covered 101.5 miles at Brooklands in a single hour, despite having to stop to change a burst tyre, and this together with other high-speed tests, during which the car had shown complete reliability, indicated that it would be a highly suitable candidate for reviving British prestige at Le Mans. Accordingly, it was decided to enter a two-car team in 1939 with the aim of securing valuable data, and then to mount a full-strength challenge the following year. In the race the two streamlined two-seater Lagondas fared better than expected, Messrs Brackenbury and Dobson finishing in third place with Lords Selsdon and Waleran fourth. Had a less conservative race strategy been employed, then either might have won.
The rare Lagonda V12 drophead coupé offered here was first registered on 14th June 1938 and has been owned by only two families from new. Its first owner was Thomas Alastair Sutherland Ogilvy 'Taso' Mathieson, the well-known racing driver and motoring writer. Highlights of Taso's competition career include a Brooklands Mountain Circuit lap record for 2-litre cars in 1933; a 2-Litre class win at Le Mans in 1950; and a 3-Litre class win in the Targa Florio in 1952.
A three-page letter on file, written in January 1950 by Mrs Marion Halliday, Taso's sister, describes how the Lagonda was laid up from early 1941 until the late summer of 1945. On being de-mobbed, her younger brother (Taso) sent the car to the Lagonda works in Staines, instructing them to do anything they considered necessary. She suspects it was a lot as the cost was 'considerable'. Taso then sold the car to his elder brother who used it in France during 1946. In 1947 the Lagonda passed to Marion, and University Motors then undertook extensive refurbishment of the coachwork for her. She signs off by saying the car was a 'great pet and I parted from her very reluctantly - in fact, I only did so because I was recently married and we shall be living abroad and cannot take her with us.'
The old-style continuation logbook shows that the Lagonda passed via Guy Salmon to the Gwynn family and was registered to Reginald (known as Peter by his family and friends) Gwynn, Peter's father and the executor's grandfather, on 6th January 1950. It was registered in Peter Jnr's name on 11th November 1970.
In recent years Peter commissioned The Vintage Carriage Company of Newchapel, Surrey - a company in which he was both Managing Director and a shareholder - to embark upon a sensitive restoration of the Lagonda. Sadly, this work had to be halted upon Peter's death last autumn. At that time, the axles were off and the gearbox out. 'EXT 640' has been reassembled for the sale so that it can be manoeuvred under its own power. Although the car has benefited from a fair amount of expenditure, it is in need of further attention. Cosmetically, it is well patinated, though perhaps too much so for some tastes. The body is sound though there are areas of corrosion, while the paint is average, as is the chrome and hood. Larger headlamps of the correct style would improve the appearance. The interior is commensurate with the exterior and has the appearance of your favourite 75-year old Chesterfield leather sofa.
Accompanying documentation consists of a nice, comprehensive file containing plentiful correspondence, much of it from the 1950s, and eleven expired MoTs dating back to 1993 (at 41,284 miles), the most recent of which was issued at 50,932 miles and expired in March 2009. The car also comes with Swansea V5 registration document.
W O Bentley's Lagonda V12 drophead coupé is one of the most sophisticated, attractive and exclusive cars of the pre-war era and this example, with its tremendous and well-chronicled provenance, offers the buyer a choice of ongoing enhancement or comprehensive restoration.