Lagonda was founded in 1906 by a Scottish-American named Wilbur Gunn, and the name is actually native American in origin. Lagonda made British luxury cars in competition with Bentley, Rolls Royce and Aston Martin, and the company went through several ups and downs through two world wars and the Great Depression despite building some fantastically designed and styled automobiles. In 1947, the company was finally sold to investor David Brown, who also owned Aston Martin. Lagonda was folded into a new company called Aston Martin Lagonda, and Lagonda provided the engine designs used by Aston for many years.
In 1961, Aston management revived the Lagonda brand with the Rapide sedan. The Rapide shared a front-engine, rear-drive tubular ladder frame platform with the Aston Martin DB4, but featured a longer wheelbase and hand-formed Superleggera lightweight aluminum bodywork designed and created by Touring in Italy. Even with that lightweight design and bodywork, the Rapide weighed in at a solid 3,780 lbs, mostly owing to the heavy steel engine and transmission.
The Rapide received a less powerful version of the same 3995 cc double overhead cam straight-six used in the Aston DB4. The Rapide engine featured dual Solex carburetors to produce 236 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. Optional triple SU carburetors could boost output to 260 hp. Buyers could choose a four-speed manual transmission or a Borg-Warner three-speed automatic. The majority of Rapide production used the automatic transmission.
The front suspension was a classic British double A-arm independent design, with rack & pinion steering and a sway bar. In the rear, the Rapide used a DeDion swing axle design with torsion bars and trailing arms. Disc brakes were fitted at all four wheels.
The bodywork was quite similar to a DB4, but featured four doors and a distinctive Lagonda vertical grille. The aluminum bodywork gave the Rapide a sleek, sensual look that suggested speed, and the top speed of about 130 mph lived up to the promise.
Inside, the Rapide was a perfect sports-luxury tourer of the era. High quality wood was used throughout, with typical British gauges covering all major functions. A clock and radio were standard, along with leather upholstery and wool carpet. Rear seat passengers had airline-style wooden fold-down tables built into the backs of the front seats.
Over four years of production, just 55 examples of the Rapide sedan were made. All Rapide production was bespoke, and none were made without an order. Seven left-hand drive examples are known to have been. A “shooting brake” station wagon design was also available, but actual production numbers are not known.
The initial purchase price of a Rapide in 1961 was about $13,750, which was well over twice the price of a brand-new E-type Jaguar, and about $3,000 more than the basic DB4 coupe. Rapides almost never come up for sale, but if you’re looking for the car that M would have parked next to James Bond’s Aston Martin, this is it.