The ex-J.B. Nethercutt General William Lyon Mark Tuttle
1939 LAGONDA V12 DROPHEAD COUPE
COACHWORK BY LAGONDA, DESIGN BY FRANK FEELEY
Chassis No. 14069
Engine No. 14069
Dark green over light green with green leather interior and black soft top
Engine: Sanction 2 V12, overhead camshaft to each bank, 4,480cc, twin downdraught SU carburetors, 175bhp at 5,500 rpm; Gearbox: manual four-speed with synchromesh; Suspension: independent front by wishbones and torsion bars, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: hydraulically operated four wheel drum. Right hand drive.
"Of the half-dozen patrician motor cars still remaining on the world market, none ever inherited so rich a patrimony of design as the 12 cylinder Lagonda." So said Lagonda in August 1937, a few weeks before the V12's launch at the London Motor Show. It was probably true, at any rate as far as sports cars went. There was no doubt about the quality of those responsible for the creation of the V12. When the Bentley company was liquidated in 1931 and purchased by Rolls-Royce, under the terms of his service contract W.O. Bentley went with it. He did not enjoy his time there. It would not have helped that Bentley, who had designed five different engines in ten years, must have had to cope with the strong-willed E.W. Hives, the influential experimental shop manager whose philosophy was that engines and cars should gradually advance by development and test. Hives went on to become Lord Hives, Chairman of Rolls-Royce. When his service contract ended in the summer of 1935, Bentley joined a new Lagonda management as technical director under A.P. Good. His task was to produce a new car of great refinement and such power that even with the heaviest of formal coachwork, 100mph could be exceeded. Bentley's time at Derby had not been entirely wasted and he reached out for Stuart Tresilian, the brilliant young engineer who, under Elliott, did much work on Rolls-Royce's Phantom III V12 powerplant. Tresilian came in and with Bentley produced a Lagonda V12 of smaller capacity but greater power than the PIII. It was a compact unit; cylinder banks were set at 60 degrees, and it was given quite a short stroke to obtain smooth power across the speed range.
W.O. Bentley outlined his objectives when the V12 was introduced. He wanted to give a top speed gear range from zero to 100mph, to make gear changing largely superfluous, yet to provide acceleration through the gears superior to any non-racing car. The entire mechanism was to function so smoothly and silently that passengers were unaware of anything but mere motion. The independent front suspension was to contribute to the springing's absolute suppleness with perfect stability. His V12 engine was, without adaptation, to be sufficiently suitable for either a town car or a sports model. Steering was to be the first perfect compromise between direct action, fingertip lightness and complete selectivity at the highest speeds. Finally, his intention was to provide hydraulic brakes that could be used with absolute confidence at any speed.
During development, a V12 Lagonda was put at Hives' disposal. He recorded his impressions: "In addition to the ordinary road test we took the car to Brooklands. The general impression we got from the car was that it represented a distinct achievement having regard to the time and resources at the disposal of the Lagonda company. It is evident that Tresilian put in a lot of hard work designing this car."
Hives was clearly aware of W.O. Bentley's great talent and experience as a development engineer. The Lagonda they tested lapped Brooklands at 93.5mph, which certainly implies a ready 100mph maximum. Hives noted their best recent speed with a Rolls-built Bentley was 89mph. A V12 Lagonda driven by Lord Howe in 1938 became the first production saloon to cover 100 miles in the hour. Lagonda really did get all those elements right before the outbreak of the Second World War.
This truly fabulous example, chassis number 14069, is fitted with factory Drophead Coupe coachwork and according to the Lagonda Club was first sold new and registered on 31 March 1939. Although the Club records do not list a first owner, the car was supplied with Dualescent paint and a red leather interior. The supplying agent was University Motors and hence the MG registration number in the UK. The second owner, immediately after the war, was Eric B. Fox of Fox's Glacier Mints Co. based in Leicester by which time the car had been used by the Works in their advertising of the period as it appears in a Lagonda factory magazine, Photo World, dated April 1945 and in an Autocar magazine advertisement from May 1945. The advertisments bore the caption "In Due Course: A new, less expensive and smaller LAGONDA will carry the name into markets hitherto unacquainted with all LAGONDA has signified to discerning motorists for over 40 years". The use of MG 6448 in the advert is intriguing since the factory Drophead Coupe model was never an inexpensive model when new! It was last serviced at the factory in 1947 and returned to Leicester still in Mr. Fox's ownership. Nothing then appears until 1960 when the car is recorded in Kent and a few years later in SW10, London.
We are unsure exactly when the Lagonda arrived in the US but in 1968 it was owned by famous collector J.B. Nethercutt who in turn sold it to equally respected and discerning collector General William Lyon in 1987. The car then passed to Pebble Beach Concours Judge Mark Tuttle and then joined the present collector in 1993. In its present ownership the Lagonda has been extensively restored with the paint and bodywork expertly undertaken by Walter Johnson of Bainbridge Island (who has produced ten First Place Pebble Beach winners in the last eleven years!). The engine is fitted with new Jahns pistons, Carrillo con rods, modern profile Crower camshafts, and all of the internal workings have been updated for both performance and reliability. The only visible non-original items are a dipstick and separate Bijur system reservoir with manual activation. The current owner made every effort to keep the Lagonda as original in appearance as possible but says that the power produced is close to 200bhp! Every nut and bolt has been checked and then double checked as the owner is very much an owner/driver and would not have any of his cars on the road unless they were properly prepared and ready for motoring. The interior has been trimmed throughout with finest American leather, color matched to the coachwork while the wood has been re-veneered and refinished to exacting original specification by a master violin maker. Finally a new quality soft top was made to complete the car. In 1997 all the work and expense was justified with a gratifying First in Class in the Open European Classic 1938-1942 class at Pebble Beach. The Lagonda comes with a complete tool kit and original factory manuals and brochures. This is clearly a fine motor car with history included and one that could grace any discerning collection.