Lagonda taraf

Re­spond­ing to re­quests from Middle East­ern cus­tomers, As­ton Martin has re­vived the Lagonda brand with an all-new four-seater – named Taraf

Octane - - CONTENTS - Words Mark Dixon // Photogr Matthew How­ell

Not quite so wedgy, still rather won­der­ful

Right This Taraf is fin­ished in Topaz Gold, a sub­tle colour that seems to shade into plat­inum in cer­tain lights. But then, Taraf cus­tomers are al­lowed to spec­ify any colour they like. Even black.

Coven­try on a wet Tues­day night in win­ter; hardly the most glam­orous lo­ca­tion in which to pho­to­graph a £700,000 lux­ury car. A chill wind whips dis­carded chip wrap­pers along the pave­ment, and the oc­ca­sional band of well-lu­bri­cated stu­dents stum­bles by on the way back from the pub.

Then comes a sur­prise. ‘Is that the new Lagonda?’ asks one of the stu­dents, slightly less ine­bri­ated than his mates. It’s an un­ex­pected ques­tion, given that this car is one of only two in the UK and hardly fa­mil­iar even to well-in­formed petrol­heads. Turns out that our ques­tioner is a stu­dent on Coven­try Univer­sity’s fa­mous au­to­mo­tive de­sign de­gree course and he can’t be­lieve what he’s stum­bled across while on a night out with his mates. Full marks to him for recog­nis­ing it; the lad will go far.

Whether he’ll re­mem­ber it in years to come, in the way that As­ton Martin de­sign chief Marek Re­ich­man can re­call the day he first saw a Wil­liam Towns Lagonda (as re­counted on page 65), we may never know. But what is cer­tain is that the new Taraf – it means ‘lux­ury’ in Ara­bic – was di­rectly in­spired by the 1970s car, and has been built by As­ton Martin to sat­isfy a de­mand from Middle East­ern cus­tomers who loved the orig­i­nal.

At first, the plan was to build only 100 ex­am­ples, but that fig­ure has re­cently been dou­bled so that cus­tomers in some other global mar­kets can take ad­van­tage of it be­ing EU-leg­is­la­tion com­pli­ant. The to­tal is be­ing firmly capped at 200, so we’re told, which means this will al­ways re­main a very ex­clu­sive Lagonda – and which means it’s even more of a priv­i­lege that Oc­tane is one of very, very few mag­a­zines be­ing al­lowed to drive it.

To be hon­est, when we first open the driver ’s door and slip into the co­coon of beige leather, there’s an ini­tial tinge of dis­ap­point­ment. It’s a per­fectly lovely place to be but it’s not no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent from any other As­ton Martin cabin in terms of de­sign, a nig­gle that would not seem hugely sig­nif­i­cant were it not that the Bill Towns Lagonda was so pe­cu­liarly de­fined by its space­ship dash­board. Re­ich­man him­self ac­knowl­edges the point, ad­vis­ing us to wait un­til the As­ton Martin DB11 ap­pears later in 2016 – the un­voiced im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that the DB11 has had all the fo­cus in this re­spect.

Ex­ter­nally, there is no doubt that the Taraf ref­er­ences the Towns orig­i­nal. Re­ich­man is an unashamed fan of that car but his own cre­ation es­chews out­ra­geous fu­tur­ism in favour of a more re­strained, more el­e­gant and, yes, much more beau­ti­ful shape. As with many in­ter­est­ing cars, your fas­ci­na­tion builds the more you study it from dif­fer­ent an­gles, and our first thoughts on see­ing it in the metal are that it would make a great Lan­cia. Re­ich­man is not of­fended by the com­par­i­son. ‘There is cer­tainly an Ital­ianate na­ture to the car, with its long nose and bal­anced tail, and that was a de­lib­er­ate move away from the more Ger­manic trend to­wards a short nose, which is what BMW brought to the party.’

All the more re­mark­able, then, that Re­ich­man has been able to in­cor­po­rate sev­eral de­sign cues that pay trib­ute to the Towns orig­i­nal with­out look­ing in the slight­est way con­trived or retro. The headlights may flank a deep grille – some­thing con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence from the Towns car – but they have the shal­low, flat-fronted as­pect of the 1970s orig­i­nal, and are com­ple­mented by tail-lights that re­call the thin, hor­i­zon­tal strips of the ear­lier model.

Even more no­tice­able is the rel­a­tively upright line of the D-pil­lar, which, as on the Towns car, con­trasts dra­mat­i­cally with the shal­low rake of the A-post. Re­ich­man ex­plains that it’s in­tended to give the im­pres­sion that it’s pulling the wind­screen rear­wards, while em­pha­sis­ing the rear oc­cu­pant space.

And that’s the cru­cial point: the Taraf is all about the man in the back (and, given the mar­ket this car is aimed at, it will al­most cer­tainly be a man) rather than the one sit­ting up front. Of course, it sac­ri­fices ab­so­lutely noth­ing in terms of per­for­mance: 0-60mph in 4.4 sec­onds and a max­i­mum speed ‘greater than 195mph’ are hardly a dis­grace. But, ul­ti­mately, this car is a limou­sine rather than a sports car or even a GT. The way it drives, while hardly an ir­rel­e­vance, is fur­ther down the pri­or­ity list than it would be for other As­ton Martin prod­ucts.

Insert the in­fa­mous crys­tal key­fob into the cen­tre of the dash and the 5.9-litre V12 comes to life with a muted roar; there’s no the­atri­cal bark from the ex­haust. The Taraf is ba­si­cally a stretched Rapide S – more ac­cu­rately, it’s a fur­ther vari­a­tion on As­ton Martin’s es­tab­lished VH plat­form – and that car’s en­gine has been very slightly de­tuned to suit its new role here, down 10bhp from the Rapide S’s 552bhp. Damper set­tings and spring rates have also been played around with, but the Taraf still rides in the man­ner typ­i­cal of a mod­ern lux­ury car, with an un­der­ly­ing taut­ness. It’s never harsh; in­deed, it’s no­tably sup­ple by to­day’s stan­dards, but it’s not as pil­lowy as the bal­loon-tyred Towns Lagonda fea­tured in the pre­ced­ing pages.

You do no­tice the sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the two cars in the way that the Taraf’s wind­screen pil­lars sweep away from you like the light streaks on th­ese night-time dual car­riage­ways, but out­ward vi­sion is ac­tu­ally pretty good. The Taraf never feels like a small car – it is, af­ter all, 5.4 me­tres long, or 17ft 8in in the old money, with a wheel­base ex­tended by 19.9cm – but it’s in no way cum­ber­some; you’re just vaguely aware of the car’s ex­tra length when turn­ing out of a junc­tion. Or try­ing to find a space in a typ­i­cal Bri­tish car park.

Han­dling? Well, bear in mind that this is an in­cal­cu­la­bly pre­cious en­gi­neer­ing pro­to­type, and that we’re cir­cu­lat­ing on greasily wet roads in the middle of Coven­try, so let’s just say that there are no wor­ries on that score. With its mid/rear-mounted eight-speed transaxle and a front/mid-mounted en­gine, weight dis­tri­bu­tion is ex­cel­lent. Given the room to do it, you could doubt­less have fun us­ing the ex­tra length and rear-wheel drive to pro­voke some pen­du­lous over­steer, but that isn’t go­ing to hap­pen tonight in Coven­try.

The me­chan­i­cal lay­out posed a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge with the in­te­rior pack­ag­ing, how­ever. You can’t help but no­tice, when you swap front seats for rear, that the ac­com­mo­da­tion out back is dom­i­nated by a large lump of leather-swathed trans­mis­sion tun­nel. There’s been much in the press re­cently about men’s ten­dency to sit on Lon­don Tube trains with legs sprawled apart in the fash­ion of Black­ad­der’s Lord Flash­heart, and you might ex­pect that the one place you could do this in pri­vacy would be in the back of your Taraf. Not so.

The seats are gen­er­ously pro­por­tioned but there are most def­i­nitely only two of them, and the tun­nel en­cour­ages you to sit with both legs primly canted slightly to one side. There’s lots of legroom, much more so than in the Towns car, and plenty of head­room, but a com­pro­mise has had to be reached.

No one will want for lux­ury in a Taraf, how­ever, that’s for sure. The qual­ity of fix­tures and fit­tings is first class, and in any case As­ton Martin is con­fi­dent that pretty much ev­ery buyer will opt to have their car cus­tomised by its ‘Q by As­ton Martin’ depart­ment. Spe­cial ma­te­ri­als, colours, tex­tures, fit­tings can all be in­cor­po­rated at the buyer ’s whim. Need a be­spoke cage in which to trans­port your saker fal­con to the desert? As­ton Martin will be only too happy to oblige.

All this comes on top of the ba­sic list price, of course, which in the UK is a healthy £580,000 plus VAT. But Lagonda sa­loons have al­ways been ex­pen­sive. The orig­i­nal Rapide of the early 1960s, based on a mod­i­fied DB4 plat­form, was priced at £4950, when a typ­i­cal Bri­tish house cost £2770.

Then came the first Wil­liam Towns Lagonda – not the ‘wedge’, but the DBS-based four-door, of which only seven ex­am­ples were orig­i­nally made: it cost £14,040 at launch in 1974, when the av­er­age house was £9970. The Lagonda would have seemed dear at the time but the ask­ing price for the ‘wedge’ Lagonda that fol­lowed it – con­fus­ingly la­belled the Se­ries 2, as a re­sult – had a con­sid­er­ably more eye-wa­ter­ing price tag: at the time the first cars were be­ing de­liv­ered to cus­tomers in early 1979, it re­tailed for £49,333, when a house cost £17,793.

So, given that a typ­i­cal UK house is now val­ued at around £197,000, the Taraf’s tax-in­clu­sive price of £696,000 is par for the course. And for that you get a bodyshell en­tirely clothed in car­bon­fi­bre pan­els, cour­tesy of Cana­dian spe­cial­ist Mul­ti­matic’s UK op­er­a­tion based in Thet­ford, Nor­folk. Not that you’d know: As­ton Martin has patented a cur­ing process that guar­an­tees the weave will never be vis­i­ble through the top coat.

Car­bon­fi­bre has many ad­van­tages for a lim­it­ed­pro­duc­tion car like the Taraf, says Re­ich­man. It’s hugely strong, of course. More­over, un­like alu­minium, it holds its shape per­fectly when moulded, with no ten­dency to spring back like the metal does when it’s re­moved from a press tool – which means that an al­loy panel’s shape has to be ‘over­crowned’ to com­pen­sate. To look at this Taraf, you’d never guess that it wasn’t sculpted out of tra­di­tional metal. And it’s light; de­spite its ex­tra length, the Taraf weighs al­most ex­actly the same as a Rapide S.

A very spe­cial car, then, and one that has no di­rectly com­pa­ra­ble com­peti­tor, as Marek Re­ich­man ex­plains with the help of an anal­ogy with the world of avi­a­tion. ‘Most lux­ury sa­loons are like an Air­bus A380: they’re big, and they have a cabin for first-class pas­sen­gers, but they’re not to­tally fo­cused on that. A Taraf is like Con­corde. It’s very dra­matic, very Bri­tish, and ev­ery­one on board is trav­el­ling first class.’

Above

Plenty of legroom in the back of the new Lagonda, but there’s no get­ting away from that bulky trans­mis­sion tun­nel, dic­tated by the mid/rear-mounted transaxle.

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