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Coachwork by James Young
Major Godfrey Anthony Gillson, Kingham, England (acquired new in 1939)Jim Davies, Staines, England (acquired from the above circa 1944)Jim Whitehead, New South Wales, Australia (acquired from the above in 1957)Current Owner (acquired from the above in 2015)
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, 2018 (First in Class)
Throughout prewar British automotive history, few marques possessed the mystique of the late 1930s Lagonda. The combination of performance, luxury, and exclusivity provided owners with rarefied motoring pleasure. This example represents what may well be the ultimate Lagonda: a V-12 Rapide Drophead equipped with robust Sanction IV performance enhancements and unique custom coachwork by James Young. In an odd turn of automotive events, Walter Owen Bentley’s most impressive engine was not to be found in the marque bearing his name. After the sale of Bentley Ltd. to Rolls-Royce, W.O. Bentley eventually went on to assume the role of technical director at Lagonda in 1935, enticed by the company’s Le Mans win that year. At Lagonda, he and his team created his mechanical masterpiece: a 60º V-12 engine that would also become the Staines firm’s most memorable motor. In his autobiography, The Cars in My Life, Bentley recounted his objectives for this V-12: “Mechanical refinement and silence combined with turbine-like power.” In March 1938, Autocar’s assessment was succinct: “The waiting has been worthwhile to those who appreciate a fine car. It is a magnificent machine.”
According to the Lagonda Club, between 1938 and 1940, 190 of the 12-cylinder Lagondas were produced, and a mere 17 of those were performance-enhanced Rapide models. This example is rarer still, equipped with a Sanction IV engine originally earmarked for Le Mans competition. The build sheet for this car, chassis 14107, details special instructions specifying “No Bonnet; No Headlamps; ‘Lo’ Radiator Shell; No front wing assembly.” On October 25, 1939, the short, 124" wheelbase chassis was delivered to the revered coachbuilder James Young Ltd. in Bromley, Kent, to be fitted with custom coachwork, strikingly different from the vast majority of these cars, which carried production bodies. Unique features include a covered, rear-mounted spare tire, a split windshield, and Art Deco touches found in the fender-mounted parking lights and in its distinctive rear fender curves. A full rear seat makes this a four-passenger car and – affording additional security for travelers’ belongings – the trunk is accessed from the interior compartment via a hinged rear seatback.
The original owner of 14107 was Major Godfrey Anthony Gillson of Cornwell Manor, and following his passing in 1944, this Rapide was acquired by Lagonda’s former factory manager Jim Davies. In 1957, the car passed to Jim Whitehead, an Australian who owned seven V-12 Lagondas during his lifetime. It remained in the Whitehead family for the next 58 years and, in 2015, the current owner acquired the car and embarked on a thorough and authentic restoration, mindful of retaining original components whenever possible. Auto Restorations of Christchurch, New Zealand, carried out this exhaustive effort over a two-year period at a cost of approximately $500,000. Finished with dark green paintwork with a black canvas convertible top, highlights of chrome grace its beltline molding and rear fender stone guards, as well as its wheel discs. Its interior is upholstered in tan Connolly leather complemented by a walnut dashboard, housing a full array of gauges. The overall presentation evokes quiet but confident sporting luxury, the very definition of British grand touring. In 2018, the comprehensive restoration efforts were validated at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, where it won First in Class, following successful completion of the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance® with no mechanical issues a few days earlier.
In its day, the Lagonda V-12 was enjoyed and revered by knowledgeable automotive enthusiasts. Author Dennis May wrote, “The V12 in its brisker form was the fastest closed or convertible car on the British market in the immediate pre-war period.” Briggs Cunningham remarked upon his introduction to the V-12: “The twelve cylinders made it very smooth running as well as quiet, and the chassis was excellent with good roadholding.” Eighty years later, those assessments remain valid, and regardless of criteria – performance, beauty, or roadworthiness – this unique Lagonda delivers. It is an unmatched combination of the firm’s most potent mechanicals capped with custom coachwork. This Rapide has traveled a mere 32,000 miles at the hands of just four enthusiastic owners during its lifetime. Add to that 14107’s recent class win at one of the world’s most prestigious concours, and its next owner can look forward to unmatched pleasure on the road and on the show field.