How a son got back his dad’s rare 1938 Lagonda LG6 Saloon

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The Dagostino Lagonda was featured in a 1979 edition of Automobile Quarterly and in a collection of automotive photos called Auto 100. Paul Stenquist

David Dagostino was a typical 12-year-old living in the Metro Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights when his dad, Frank Dagostino, did something decidedly atypical given his position. Frank was a diesel mechanic by trade and a lover of automobiles by passion, but he was far removed from the contemporary ’70s Motor City gearheads whose automotive interest usually focused on something like a Ford deuce coupe or a Tri-Five Chevy.

Frank instead loved English cars. He had owned numerous Jaguars and long aspired to an elegant pre-war Rolls Royce or Bentley. Those cars came with a hefty price tag, but Frank spent years searching magazine ads for an affordable example.

The Lagonda badge suggests the marque's Native American connection.
The Lagonda badge suggests the marque's Native American connection. Paul Stenquist

In early ’71 he reached out for a broker’s list of available cars. Among the offerings were a number of Rolls and Bentley sedans, but all were priced beyond reach. There was one affordable exception, a 1938 Lagonda LG6 Saloon. It looked like the more expensive machines but was priced reasonably. So, Frank did what any car-crazed enthusiast might do; he bought it sight unseen from its UK owner for 585 pounds—approximately $1500 back then—and had it shipped uncrated in the cargo hold of a slow boat. Over a period of about five months, the car made its way across the Atlantic, up the St. Lawrence Seaway, and down through the Great Lakes to a dock on the Rouge River in Dearborn.

Getting to work

 “It was said to be in running condition,” said David, “but when dad went to pick it up at a dock near the Ford plant it wouldn’t start.”

Dad was a good mechanic and before long he had replaced some damaged parts and had the car running smoothly.  He and David then did a partial cosmetic restoration, repainting the car, repairing the chrome and generally tidying things up. The mechanicals and interior remained as delivered by the factory.

“I can still recall wet-sanding every inch of that huge car,” said David. “It was hard labor but very rewarding.”

The Lagonda was photographed at the Dearborn Inn in Michigan. The hotel is an integral part of Ford Motor Company history, so it may seem an odd choice for an English car. But Dearborn has long been home to the Dagostino family and their Lagonda.
The Lagonda was photographed at the Dearborn Inn in Michigan. The hotel is an integral part of Ford Motor Company history, so it may seem an odd choice for an English car. But Dearborn has long been home to the Dagostino family and their Lagonda. Paul Stenquist

A rich history

In addition to being a good mechanic, Frank was an intelligent man and an astute observer of things automotive, so he undoubtedly knew this Lagonda LG6 was a rare machine. According to the Lagonda Club only 82 LG6 automobiles were built between 1937 and 1939, and approximately half of those were dropheads rather than saloons. Some were built on a shorter chassis, rather than the 11-foot, 3.5-inch-wheelbase chassis that supports this Lagonda’s oversize body. David has reason to believe that Lagonda built only 12 automobiles that are approximately the same as the one his father bought so many years ago.

While the years have taught us to link Lagonda to Aston Martin and all things British, the company has a deep connection to America as well. Lagonda was founded in 1906 by Wilbur Gunn, a U.S. citizen who became a British national in 1891. The Lagonda name had originally graced a Shawnee Native American settlement in what is now Springfield, Ohio, the town where Gunn was born. To this day there is a Lagonda Elementary School and a Lagonda Creek in Springfield.

Gunn’s initial automotive efforts met with success. Lagonda built sporting machines through the ’20s and is said to have invented the fly-off handbrake, a boon to motor racing. A Lagonda M45R Rapide won Lemans in 1935, but the firm ran out of money shortly thereafter and went into receivership. A new owner introduced the LG6 Saloon in 1937. An advanced machine for the day, it featured independent torsion-bar front suspension with unequal length wishbones, a Meadows-built 4.5-liter overhead valve six-cylinder of approximately 150 horsepower, and split-circuit hydraulic brakes. A 12-cylinder version was offered as well. War soon got in the way of further development, and by the time hostilities were over and recovery was underway, Lagonda had been merged with Aston Martin. In the years that followed, it became a model rather than a marque.

Huge headlamps, a fog light, chrome horns, and a vertical grille can make any lover of pre-war British luxury cars swoon.
Huge headlamps, a fog light, chrome horns, and a vertical grille can make any lover of pre-war British luxury cars swoon. Paul Stenquist
The massive steering wheel comes in handy when maneuvering the heavy machine. Beautiful wood and red-leather upholstery set the tone.
The massive steering wheel comes in handy when maneuvering the heavy machine. Beautiful wood and red-leather upholstery set the tone. Paul Stenquist

A bronze plate affixed to the inside of the front door indicates the car was purchased at Brooklands Motors in London.
A bronze plate affixed to the inside of the front door indicates the car was purchased at Brooklands Motors in London. Courtesy of David Dagostino
Some LG6 Saloons were delivered without a rear bumper. David liked the bumper-less look so he removed it when the car was repainted.
Some LG6 Saloons were delivered without a rear bumper. David liked the bumper-less look so he removed it when the car was repainted. Paul Stenquist

Settling in for good

The Dagostino family continued to enjoy their Lagonda for almost 20 years. But having had his fun, Frank sold it in May of 1990. As fate would have it, the buyer was on the other side of the Atlantic. So back to Britain the automobile went. The new owner rebuilt the engine and transmission and replaced the worn upholstery with period correct material that matched the original. But the car remained largely unrestored.

Over the years, David would occasionally search classic car magazines and saw the Lagonda advertised as it changed hands a couple of times. In 2013, the car was again listed for sale, and David decided this might be his last chance to own the automobile he grew up with. So, he purchased it, once again sight unseen, and the big saloon crossed the Atlantic once more. This time it was packed in a container and transported from New York to Dearborn by rail.

When the car arrived, David was surprised to see it was still wearing the paint that he and his dad had applied so many years ago. Touch up attempts had left the finish uneven, so the car was repainted, complete with the red pinstripes it was wearing when it first crossed the ocean.

Frank was getting on in years, but he lived long enough to see his car come home. David repeatedly tried to get dad to join him for a ride, but Frank steadfastly declined.

“No, son,” he said. “It’s your turn to enjoy the car.” So that is exactly what David plans to do.

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