Lagonda LG45 Rapide Tourer by Lagonda

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LG45 Rapide Tourer by Lagonda





At the 1933 London Motor Show two important new Lagonda models were unveiled: the 1,104cc Rapier with twin-overhead camshaft engine and the 4½-litre M45 which employed an overhead-valve six-cylinder proprietary engine, manufactured by Meadows. Here at last was a Lagonda sports car which was capable of genuinely high performance, not only by the standards of the time, but enduringly so even today.

George A Oliver described the 4½-litre Lagondas as skillfully 'making the transition from the big and robust sports car of the early years to the equally robust but suave town-carriage cum road-burner of the later period' and this was especially true of the M45 Rapide, the top-of-the-range model. Quicker and cheaper than the contemporary Bentley, the Rapide incorporated significant improvements over the standard M45 model. The wheelbase was shortened to 10' 3", Girling brakes were standard equipment, the crankcase was RR50 alloy, heavier connecting rods and larger diameter crankshaft bearings were fitted, and a freewheel device was bolted to the T8 gearbox. A Tecalemit full-flow oil filter was provided for the Rapide together with a Scintilla magneto, while suspension was damped by Girling-Luvax hydraulic shock absorbers and André Telecontrol dampers. At £825 it was significantly more expensive than the standard M45 perhaps a sales ploy to enable the M45 to be phased out and manufacture of the Rapide to continue at a more commercially viable price.

In 1935, two additional models were also introduced. Both shared the same shorter, lighter chassis frame and were entitled the 4½-litre Rapide and the 3½-litre. Unfortunately, this multiplicity of models added to the company's post-Depression financial problems, and even the notable victory in the 1935 Le Mans 24-Hour Race came too late to save the company from collapse. It looked as if Lagonda was about to absorbed by Rolls-Royce, as had Bentley Motors, but that summer it was rescued by entrepreneur Alan Good, who appointed the revered W. O. Bentley himself as new chief designer.

'W.O.' took Lagonda straight into the luxury car market in 1936 with the new LG45 model. It featured longer springs and Luvax dampers, while retaining the successful and well-proven M45-model Meadows six-cylinder engine and chassis. Bentley also directed his attention to improving the proprietary engine, and his modifications emerged in the 'Sanction III' power units introduced at the London Motor Show that very same year.

Under the technical direction of the great W O Bentley, recently departed from Rolls-Royce, the big Lagonda became more refined, the M45's successor - the LG45 - gaining synchromesh gears, flexible engine mounts and centralized chassis lubrication among many other improvements. Intended as a prestige, upmarket model, the LG45 was aimed squarely at the Bentleys built by W O's erstwhile employer. Endowed with such impeccable pedigree, the 4½-Litre Lagonda quickly established itself as a favourite among the wealthy sporting motorists of its day.

For some though, this more refined 4½-Litre had moved too far away from the original sporting image of the marque, among them being Lagonda company director and former racing driver Dick Watney, previously with Rootes. It was the perfectionist Watney who conceived the Rapide, considering that the big Lagonda had grown too sober; the 4½ - Litre's obviously fine performance notwithstanding. Stylist Frank Feeley, whose fruitful post-war career with Aston Martin would commence with the DB2 and included the design of the DB3S, was briefed to create an eye-catching, four-seater sports car on the production LG45 chassis without either shortening the frame or employing too many special components. Announced in September 1936, less than six months after the company's takeover by Alan Good and Dick Watney, the result was the lightened Rapide, powered by a 'Sanction 3' engine. The latter incorporated the previous 'Sanctions' (improvements), adding a redesigned cylinder head and revised carburettor/induction arrangements to the package. For Rapide version of the 'Sanction 3' the compression ratio was raised from 6.68:1 to 7:1, or 7.5:1 for any owner willing to prepare his own high-octane fuel! There was also an improved exhaust system based on the Fox and Nicholl racing design.

Lagonda's own coachwork was among the most handsome offered by any manufacturer, and for the lightweight LG45 Rapide a 'no frills' open tourer body adorned with helmet wings was the only type specified. The most eye-catching British sports car of its day, the Lagonda Rapide went every bit as fast as its sensational looks suggested.

It was against this background that special competition variants of the LG45 had been tailor-made at Staines Bridge for the Lagonda Company’s experienced and battle-hardened quasi-works racing team, Fox & Nicholl Limited, of Tolworth, Surrey.

Arthur Fox and Bob Nicholl were Lagonda specialists, whose sizable business had been preparing and racing Lagonda cars since as early as 1927. Fox had persuaded the Lagonda Company to support his team's competition activities and in 1929 he and Nicholl ran a flotilla of four 2-litre cars in both the Irish Grand Prix and RAC Tourist Trophy races. He rapidly established himself as a meticulous preparer of competition Lagondas, and he was never slow in improving upon the factory specification if he perceived any possible advantage.

For 1936 the manufacturers' production department at Staines Bridge built four competition cars specifically for Fox and Nicholl. This quartet comprised two four-seaters, bodied to comply with Le Mans 24-Hour regulation requirements, and two two-seaters. It was completed in May 1936 and entered by the team for that year's 24 Hour race at Le Mans, which was unfortunately cancelled due to strikes in France.

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