To understand the lunacy of this vehicle, let us turn to the section on low-volume manufacturers in the 1970s, from James A. Laux’s The European Auto Industry:
Although specialist car builders disappeared in the United States before and after the Second World War, in Europe a few succeeded in retaining their independence […] The specialist carmaker had to ask high prices and sell enough cars to periodically finance the development of a new model in order to maintain its image as a quality-conscious innovator. As development costs climbed with more government regulations on emissions and safety, and as consumer expectations rose, the specialist had to cut costs by obtaining more components either from subcontractors or from the volume producers. But as these firms came closer to being simple assemblers their unique appeal would wane. If perceptions of the quality of their cars dropped, trouble would quickly follow, as with Jaguar in the 1970s. If the clientele disliked a new model it could mean disaster.
Clearly Aston Martin wanted to stay modern and be on the cutting edge, veering away from parts-sharing design, but it strayed deep, deep into risky territory with the Lagonda. The new model was not only too daring for customer tastes, but also too advanced for the company’s technical background. The Lagonda’s high-tech-chic all-electronic dashboard and onboard systems were prone to complete failure. Just as Laux noted that customer expectations were on the rise as Aston Martin was developing on of its most unreliable cars, so too did he point out how manufacturers had to charge high prices to cover their development costs. The Lagonda, priced to cover the budget for its radical styling and electronic engineering, was priced among the Rolls-Royces and Bentleys of the day. It was all too much for a car that just wouldn’t turn on in the morning.
So buying into the odyssey of the Lagonda’s looks certainly was a terrible beginning, but the car itself, so unlike anything else on the road, rests along the edge of the real. You hardly believe your eyes when you see how long, low, and creased the car is. Its headlights stare into you, the car drives out of another world into our own. This car defies the normal, the routine, the ordinary. It seems to not fit in with its surroundings, challenging the eye to make sense of its appearance and its rarity. What the Lagonda does is remind you of the uncanny wilderness in the world. You feel that you knew what lies around the next corner, you feel that at home amongst your surroundings, but you are shocked to find this four-wheeled intruder sitting unwelcome and unexpected. You open the door and step inside, a heave drives you forward and through the windows you see those same streets, those same buildings pass by, but they seem different than before, unreal.
und die findigen Tiere merken es schon,
daß wir nicht sehr verläßlich zu Haus sind
in der gedeuteten Welt. – Rilke, Die Erste
and the cunning animals already recognize
that we are not reliably ‘at home’
in the interpreted world – Rilke, The First Elegy
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.