1939 Lagonda V12 Rapide
“In making an evaluation of the best 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”. – So Road and Track described the sensational V12 from Staines in 1978. In its own sales literature Lagonda excused the delay in producing the first V12 in the following terms:
“….. for a vintage wine may not be hurried to maturity or a new motor car launched precipitately upon the market ….. Figures, which cause even its designers (Mr W.O. Bentley – and others) to pause and marvel are available to show that this new motor is destined to eclipse anything of its type so far produced.”
Cutting through all this eulogy and the company’s self-praise, the V12 Lagonda proved to be the finest car built by that company in pre-war years and, had the term Supercar been coined at the time, the V12 would have qualified in spades for that description, equalling in many respects the achievements of its peer group which included V12 offerings from Cadillac in the United States, Hispano-Suiza in France and Lagonda’s own arch-rival, Rolls-Royce in England. W.O. Bentley himself unsurprisingly demonstrated a keen interest in ensuring that his new engine design would show a clean pair of heels to the Phantom III from Rolls-Royce – the company which had taken over his old Bentley Motors Ltd.
Lagonda drew its client base from the rich and famous and offered the V12 model in both formal and sporting guises. The shorter chassis length (10ft 4ins) was selected for the most sporting of all pre-war production models, the V12 Rapide Drophead Coupé, of which this is a 1939 model. The sensational coachwork design was entrusted to the wizardry of Frank Feeley and constructed in-house. Few continental bespoke coachbuilders were to achieve such perfection in design.
The 4.5 litre V12 engine developed a massive 180bhp at 5,500rpm and sufficient torque to enable the car to be driven from 5mph to 105mph in top gear. British motor racing hero Earl Howe selected a V12 Lagonda for his personal transport and recorded a mileage of 101.5 miles in the hour at Brooklands in one of these cars, despite having to stop to change a burst tyre. The Rapide was truly race-bred from a company whose Le Mans successes were legendary.
This V12 Rapide was delivered new on 2nd May 1939 to C.A. Bird of Sutton Coldfield in England. The next recorded owner was A Fielding of Borth in North Wales in 1965. Albert (Bert) Fielding was the owner and proprietor of the town garage in sleepy sea-side Borth, just North of Aberystwyth, with a penchant for quality motorcars. The Lagonda almost certainly shared Fielding’s garage with the 1929 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8A Castagna Landaulette which he also owned (sold by Bonhams at Goodwood in August 2007). Well-known British connoisseur and collector, Bruce Spollen, (past President of the Vintage Sports-Car Club), was the next recorded owner in 1970. H J Collins of Stalybridge in Cheshire owned the Rapide in 1978 and then from 1984 until 2003 the car was in the long-term ownership of highly respected collector and Pebble Beach judge Craig Davis in Zug, Switzerland and Pebble Beach, California. It passed to well-known collector Ray Scherr in California in 2003, remaining in his ownership until 2007. During that ownership we are advised that the engine was completely rebuilt. More recently the Rapide was sent to Bishop Gray in the U.K. for a thorough check to ensure that the car was ready in all respects for the Continental tour, some £30,000 being spent. Since then it has completed 300 or so trouble-free kilometres.
The exquisitely elegant Drophead Coupé coachwork is presented in two-tone black over blue livery and the car is furnished with matching blue leather upholstery and equipped with sprung bumpers front and rear and the wheels dressed with polished aluminium discs. Overall condition is described by the car’s private British owner as “remarkably original with a nice patina.” It has a current UK registration and cancelled Swiss Permis de Circulation and is accompanied by a comprehensive maintenance file.
Here is a handsome and extremely rare motor car of overall gently matured appearance and undoubted integrity from one of the World’s leading sports car manufacturers, capable of providing effortless high speed touring with an exhilarating top speed in excess of the magic 100mph.