Lagonda 3-Litre meets Daimler Regency; harrumphing ensues
Andrew Roberts steps back to the pre-suez Crisis era to find out which luxury saloon did the best job of tempting their chauffeur-driven owners into the captain’s chair
In the Fifties the Daimler Regency Sportsman and the Lagonda 3-Litre were two prime examples of a car that constantly prompted the well-heeled owner to give their chauffeur the weekend off. During the week, either might have been used to convey a landowner to a meeting or the managing director of a property development company to the bombsite he planned to transform into a tower block. But come Friday, the urge to take the wheel would be irresistible. And more than six decades later these two cars still quietly exude an atmosphere of a day at the Grand National or maybe a spin to the airfield in order to catch that flight to Le Touquet.
My first impression of these truly magnificent cars is of their natural and effortless sense of presence. Some vehicles attempt to make an impact via the use of excess brightwork or, by the late Seventies, exaggerated spoilers. By contrast, neither the Daimler nor the Lagonda feels the need to indulge in any display of overt ostentation or vulgarity per se. They were made at a time when automotive publicity often appealed to the potential buyers’ social aspirations and to drive either of our test cars would have meant its respective owner really had ‘arrived’.
To buy a Daimler required less in the way of £sd than the Lagonda, although that needs to be placed in a historical context – in 1955 £2600 was twice the cost of a Wolseley 6/90 and somewhat more than the price of a Jaguar MKVII. But then a Regency Sportsman driver might have dismissed the former as suitable for bank managers and police inspectors while regarding the latter as the province of spivs and counter-jumpers.
That fluted radiator grille clearly denoted old money although, in many respects, the Daimler strikes me as a car of a multi-faceted image. Its model name conjures visions of days of leisure, with fishing rods or golf clubs in the boot – but the brochures stated that it combined ‘power with prestige’ to create ‘The Swift Immaculate Cars for Men of Affairs’, which now sounds rather racey.
The original Regency saloon debuted in 1951 but sales were limited, partially because of a rise in Purchase Tax, and production ceased in 1952. Two years later Daimler re-introduced the Regency in MKII guise and in addition to the standard saloon there was the alternative of the Sportsman – and for an extra £326 the Daimler motorist gained a motorcar with idiosyncratic four-window coachwork by Mulliners of Birmingham.
The Sportsman was introduced at the tail-end of the extravagant Docker Daimlers commissioned by chairman Sir Bernard Docker. One way of enjoying the Daimler is to lounge on the richly upholstered rear bench, acknowledging the awestruck glances of various Ford Consul and Hillman Minx owners. But this would be a wasted opportunity because the Sportsman was indeed for the enthusiast who might have otherwise considered a Bentley.
Yet this is not a formidable car to drive. Certain products of this era require the motorist to engage in battle with the steering and transmission but the Daimler positively encourages you to delight in its dignified but never staid progress. As many a Regency owner will tell you, a pre-selector gearbox discourages motorists with delusions of becoming the next Stirling Moss, because the raison d’être of a Sportsman is for it to almost glide above the tarmac. One very positive development during the Regency’s lifespan was the replacement of the hydromechanical braking with a servo-assisted all-hydraulic set-up, allowing the Sportsman to halt with the same degree of grace as it accelerates. This Daimler was fitted with the 3.8 engine from the later Majestic but it was originally powered by a highefficiency version of the famous 3.5-litre straight six that boasted a higher compression ratio and an aluminium cylinder head. A rarely specified option was the 4.5-litre motor.
Both of our duo was targeted at the owner-driver, and this especially applies to the Lagonda. A British saloon of the Fifties fitted with all-independent suspension was extremely unusual and it does feel slightly more attuned to the demands of a sporting motorist than the Daimler, balancing comfort with entertaining road manners. The rack and pinion steering is heavy but precise and the springs allow for a comfortable ride and, should the mood grab you, spirited cornering.
And then there is the note of the twin-cam engine that was designed by Willie Watson under WO Bentley – a powerplant so flexible that a Lagonda could perambulate around town at just 10mph or speed down the A1 with equal élan. The unit is positively silken – I get the impression that that the 3-Litre would be happy to cruise at 80mph without disturbing the occupants’ sangfroid.
Early 3-Litres have a steering column gearchange but this splendid example is one of the MKII models fitted with a delightfully precise floor lever, while the servo-assisted brakes are not the lightest but are exceptionally reassuring. In terms of appearance, the Lagonda seems a degree more discreet than the Daimler, with lines that combined formality with an authentic sense of dash. The 3-Litre is only the second Lagonda of the David Brown era, which began in 1946 when the industrialist famously
saw an advertisement offering a ‘High-class motor business, established 25 years, 30,000 pounds, net profit last year 4000 pounds. Write Box V. 1362, The Times, EC4.’
In February 1947 Brown bought Aston Martin for £20,500 and that September he spent a further £52,500 acquiring Lagonda – one of the attractions of the latter firm was that twin-cam engine. A disused airbase near Feltham was to become a home for both marques, with the 2.6-litre power plant the cornerstone of the Aston Martin DB2 and Lagonda’s first post-war saloon, launched in 1948. Five years later the unit was bored out to power the 3-Litre; Aston Martin enthusiasts would have to wait another eight months for it to be fitted to the DB2/4.
The new Lagonda was initially only available in two-door coupé and drophead forms, the four-door saloon being introduced in 1954. The line-up was facelifted as the MKII in the following year and the final examples listed in 1958.
A Lagonda 3-Litre saloon cost rather more than the Sportsman – indeed, it represented the equivalent of five years’ wages for an average Briton – and it feels more purposeful than the Daimler. The 3-Litre’s Tickford body contains some delightfully anachronistic overtones, such as the centrally hinged front doors, but the flowing wings give it a decisive air. One of its most high-profile drivers was the Duke of Edinburgh, but the fact that it was never
Power, prestige and not a jot of vulgarity – Daimler Regency Sportsman (left) and Lagonda 3-Litre (right)
Daimler cost £2600 in 1955 – twice as much as a bank manager-spec Wolseley
Pre-selector gearbox encourages dignified but not slow progress
Discreet styling combines formality with sense of dash for the sporting motorist
Lagonda dohc engine designed by WO Bentley’s engineers
Originally powered by a 3.5-litre, this Daimler has a Majestic 3.8-litre engine
Floor-mounted gearstick makes this a MKII Lagonda 3-Litre