[…] Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertagen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören […] -Rilke, Die Erste Elegie
[…] For beauty is nothing
but the Terrible beginning, that we just barely endure,
and we are so awed by it, because it arrogantly dismisses
destroying us […] – Rilke, The First Elegy
There are two great biblical words that come to mind not only from this section of the opening verse of Rilke’s First Elegy, but also from this 1979 Aston Martin Lagonda: awesome and terrible. Biblically, these terms refer to the incomprehensible, shocking presence of the divine. It’s why angels visit people in biblical stories, lest everyone’s faces get melted off Indiana Jones-style. While I didn’t see any flaming chariots that rainy day, I was certainly awestruck by the sight of this supremely strange automotive longshot.
I see two interpretations of Rilke’s lines – on the one hand, beauty always appears sublime and fantastic, but like a first kiss leading on to an inevitable breakup, it is just the beginning of the Terrible. On the other hand and from a biblical perspective, beauty is the gateway to perceiving the humbling, terrible even, wonder of reality. The Lagonda posesses both of these qualities. Its beauty is perhaps on the side of jolie laide, but it certainly possesses a siren’s call. The lines stretch out, unreal and otherworldly and draws you in. But it’s a siren at heart. Expensive to own and maintain, horribly unreliable by nearly all accounts, it is not a car, but a serenely aggressive life-destroyer. Its owner Olivier Renaud-Clément is certainly a stronger, richer (though probably a good bit poorer) man for owning this vehicle and paying the cost of regular use.
Part of what makes this car so fantastic is that it so closely approaches fantasy. The Lagonda was Aston Martin’s wild gamble at success after just recovering from bankruptcy. Rather than refine old cues from past successes, as did other small-production carmakers of the time, Aston Martin shot for greatness. Continued in Part 3.2
Laux, James M. The European Automobile Industry. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
For my first write-up on finding this Lagonda, please go here to Jalopnik.com.
And for a more entertaining, perhaps more informative piece on the Aston Martin Lagonda, watch the Top Gear clip with James May on youtube. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again.