This Lagonda V12 Race Car Is A Monument To Bentley

YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

W. O. Bentley was a legendary engineer, yet the company that bore his name fell onto hard times during the Great Depression. Forced to liquidate, Bentley Motors was secretly bought by Rolls-Royce, their biggest competitor. Rolls-Royce isolated Bentley throughout the duration of his court-mandated employment with the company, but everything changed after April 1935.

Free from his contractual obligations, Bentley and his staff from Rolls-Royce were cherry-picked for a new role designing cars for the recently invigorated Lagonda motor company. His pièce de résistance was created only two years later, a stunning 4.5-liter V-12 engine with overhand cams, 180 horsepower, and the ability to easily cruise at triple digit speeds. From 1938 to 1940, it was used in a stately luxury car that bore the name of this engine. While several road-going body styles were available, some of the 189 units produced were purpose built for high performance.

While this particular example didn’t participate at LeMans, this 1940 Lagonda is an exact replica of the two that competed in this famous race. It is owned by none other than Jay Leno, and is now profiled on Jay’s delightful and insightful YouTube channel.

Jay provides an in-depth tour of the Lagonda, highlighting that glorious V-12 engine and delightful interior details. Once the Lagonda leaves Leno’s garage for a road test, it becomes clear that Jay’s words about this being “an overlooked car” are not hyperbole. This is truly a race car that was ahead of its time, with a engine worthy of extraordinary roads and famous racetracks.

Jay’s insights beg a specific question: What if parent company Aston Martin continued the “race ready road car” tradition into future vehicles bearing the famous Lagonda name? The minimalist Aston Martin Lagonda (sedan) was the starting point for the equally radical Bulldog coupe, but cost concerns in a rapidly changing Malaise Era ensured the performance-oriented, production Lagonda race car never saw the light of day.

Perhaps that’s a tragedy for another day, but it’s likely that W. O. Bentley would disapprove of a Lagonda with the Bulldog’s proposed turbocharged engine. The man with the famous name personified the “no replacement for displacement” mantra that many of us adore, and now we know his V-12 masterpiece was at the heart of a vehicle that blurs lines and stands the test of time.


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    Jay’s car is quite beautiful. The numbers it produces are no longer exotic but at the time it must have been an amazing performer.

    Instead of press releases and pulling things off the ‘net, a little digging comes in handy, unless you’re just trying festoon pictures with knowledgeable sounding words. Some at the time questioned W.O. Bentley’s SOHC valve layout, since both cars coming in third and fourth at the last prewar Le Mans did so with scorched valves, if reliably. Most savvy souls preferred the inline six Lagonda LG6, which also had front torsion bar i.f.s., its Meadows engine much refined since its 1925 debut.

    Why do such articles always confuse top with cruising speed? In road trim, the 175 hp/5,500 rpm Lagonda V-12, especially the 17 124″ wb Rapide models, would reach an all out 105 mph, but that is not the same as “easily cruising at triple digit speeds.” Ascribing the abilities of a pair of quadruple-carbed, longer legged, highly tuned 220 hp Le Mans racers to all Lagonda V-12s is confusing and playing more to “oh, wow” than accuracy.

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