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

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy GUS GRE­GORY

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

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