Classic Cars

Expensive Failures: Aston Martin Lagonda

A car can be weird-looking, expensive or unreliable and still sell, but it probably shouldn’t be all three.

It is exceptionally difficult to make a cutting-edge performance or luxury car. There are the obvious styling and engineering challenges in this task, but the job of selling the car is often the hardest part. Carmakers have to walk a very fine line between unoriginal and just purposely weird. Not only that, sometimes the time just isn’t right to debut something hugely expensive, no matter how good it is. Every supercar or super luxury car is a huge gamble.

Aston Martin in the mid-70s was a company in bad shape. It had been sold to new owners in 1972 and then again in 1975, and seemed to be nothing more than a money sink. AM had seemingly been sitting stagnant since the 60s, and the new owners decided that a massive new product roll-out was the only way to save the company. A new V8 Vantage and Volante genuinely would do wonders for the company, but before these came the Lagonda. The four-door supercar, with its unconventional looks, was to spearhead the new launch and serve as a halo model.

Technically there was a Lagonda in 1974, which was a four-door version of the V8, but the Lagonda as a separate model was launched in 1976. The Lagonda was intended to make a bold styling statement, and love it or hate it, there is no denying that it was bold. And even for those who don’t care for the shape of the car, it was still something of a major accomplishment, with a hood so low that you might think the engine was placed elsewhere. But many purists hated it, and even those that loved it would have to admit that the angular body lacked the usual Aston curves. The car does have its fans, but Bloomberg Businessweek listed it as one of the 50 ugliest cars of the last 50 years.

Aston wanted the interior to make as bold a statement as the exterior, and decked it out with a dazzling array of electronic gadgets. Predictably, these electronics failed right out of the box, and one had to wonder whether the rows of touch-sensitive buttons and LED instrumentation had even worked in the factory. When the first cars were delivered to their owners, it is said that they arrived in a state of being already completely un-drivable. Yet, despite this huge reliance on electronics, even in the face of it being a terrible idea, the car was not offered with electronic fuel injection, at least not at first.

The big 5.3-liter V8 produced 280 horsepower and did so with a return of mpg numbers under 10. So to go with the ugly title bestowed by Bloomberg, the Time also gave the Lagonda the title of being one of the 50 worst cars of all time, thanks to its tendency to break down. Compounding the problems with the Lagonda was its price, as at the time there were only a small handful of other cars more expensive. Reliability of early automotive electronics wasn’t especially good in general, but few cars relied so heavily on them, thus it became more noticeable with the Lagonda, despite the huge price tag.

The Lagonda would stay in production until 1990, but don’t mistake this long production period with success. In the end, just 645 units were sold over this 14-year period. It’s possible that AM could have made the controversial styling work had reliability not been such a problem. Or perhaps people wouldn’t have minded that the car never worked right if it had been more aesthetically beautiful. But it can certainly be said that the combination did not work out for the Lagonda.

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