1988 Aston Martin Lagonda S4
8-cyl. 5340cc/309hp FI
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
Designer William Towns’ extraordinary 1976 Lagonda sedan is just about the most polarizing collectible car you can buy. Its sharp-angled origami styling is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, and if you fall for one and buy it, you love the car’s look and commanding presence, but also may grow to hate both the car and yourself when the electronics go south, as they often do.
Aston Martin had flirted with the Lagonda nameplate now and then ever since the acquisition of the company by David Brown in 1947. He followed up his £20,000 Aston Martin purchase with a £50,000 gamble on Lagonda shortly after, gaining the services of WO Bentley and his new 2½ -liter, DOHC 6-cylinder engine. A total of 550 Lagonda dropheads and sedans were built between 1946-53, a further 430 between 1953-56, 55 between 1961-64 and half a dozen in the early 1970s. All were fairly frumpy versions of the current Aston Martins of the time.
William Towns had penned the squared-off DBS of 1969 and his instructions were to come up with something edgy. Harris Mann’s wedge shapes were all the rage, and Towns one-upped Mann with the razor-sharp Lagonda that became the hit of the 1976 Earls Court Motor Show. It was powered by Tadek Marek’s DOHC, 5.3-liter V-8 engine, which developed 240 bhp and drove through a Chrysler 3-speed automatic transmission. There was little brightwork, the headlights popped up above a thin line park lights and the grille was only about 6 inches tall.
Early cars had carburetors, but later ones had fuel injection. The body was refined in 1988 with the corners rounded off and the pop-up headlights abandoned. Inside, the interior was wool carpet, burled wood and hand-stitched leather, but there was not much room inside considering the overall size of the car. Electronic gremlins were a persistent problem. Early cars used LED readouts in the digital dash. They were hard to read in daylight, and didn’t work most of the time, anyway. Later cars had CRT readouts, which cost several thousand dollars to replace, when they too failed. Push-button stalks on the steering column were equally problematic.
In their day, Lagondas were the darlings of the nouveau riche, pop stars and Arab sheiks, who were inclined to colors like candy apple red with a lime green vinyl top, white puffy leather inside, and gold-plated mag wheels. At least the sheiks could cope with 8 mpg. Some thought the cars were vulgar, and they remain divisive automobiles even today. A total of 645 Aston Martin Lagondas were sold in about 11 years, but a small percentage of those are roadworthy today. The very best cars, with full provenance and all records are absolutely the ones to buy, as deferred maintenance and general neglect will likely make for more headache than it’s worth.