1939 Lagonda V12 Drophead Coupé
- Unique bodystyle and Le Mans engine specification
- Preserved for decades in the Briggs Cunningham collection
- Probably the lowest mileage example of its kind
- The pride of the British motor industry in 1939
The W.O. Bentley designed and Frank Feeley styled V12 Lagonda nobly fulfilled the company’s ambition to produce a worthy candidate for the title of ‘the best car in the world’. With hindsight, the V12 Lagonda has been justly described as W.O. Bentley’s masterpiece.
Fast and exclusive, the V12 Lagonda attracted a dazzling clientele, including the dashing young American millionaire Briggs Swift Cunningham (19th January 1907 - 2nd July 2003). Blessed with a considerable family fortune based on meat-packing and banking, Briggs Cunningham was the most dynamic American sportsman of his generation. He spent an estimated $1 million on his attempts on the Le Mans 24 hour race where his Cunningham sports-racers were strong contenders in the 1950s, their best results 3rd, 5th and 10th in 1953. His team won the US National Championship four years in succession, 1956-59. He skippered the victorious yacht Columbia in the 1958 America's Cup race and invented the eponymous device, the Cunningham, to increase the speed of racing sailboats. He was featured on the 26th April 1954 cover of Time magazine, whilst the October 2003 Road & Track magazine article, "Briggs Swift Cunningham—A Life Well Spent", concluded that "Briggs Cunningham epitomized the definition of the American sportsman." He was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1997.
A discerning collector of the finest motor cars, Cunningham opened a landmark museum at Costa Mesa, California, in 1956, but sold the bulk of his collection to Miles Collier Jr. 30 years later. His interest in motor cars went back to his earliest childhood, for Briggs was only nine when one of the family chauffeurs taught him to drive the maternal Pierce Arrow. Since Pierce Arrow’s smallest model had a 6,796 cc engine and the largest displaced 13,514cc, Cunningham certainly started as he meant to go on!
It was just before the Second World War that Cunningham ordered the very special Lagonda V12 offered here. It was completed in October 1939 at a cost of $8,675 – one of the very last of the 189 Lagonda V12s built – and shipped to the USA on one of the last boats available after the outbreak of war. Its 4.4-litre W.O. Bentley-conceived power unit was prepared by the Lagonda factory at Staines to the same specification as the V12 Lagondas which came first and second in their class at Le Mans that year, finishing third and fourth overall. Fitted with four downdraught SU carburettors, special inlet manifolds and a Weslake-inspired cylinder head with smaller valves and an 8.5:1 compression ratio (against the standard 7.0:1), the special V12 power unit had its power output boosted from 160 to a claimed 220 bhp, with no apparent loss in low-speed flexibility.
Cunningham, ever the perfectionist, felt that the standard sidemounted spare wheel and tool kit ‘blisters’ of the factory-built body spoiled the lovely lines of the Frank Feeley-designed drophead coupé coachwork, so the spare wheel and tool kit were relegated to the boot, “leaving barely enough room for one’s motoring hat and gloves”. In nearly 50 years of ownership, Briggs Cunningham cosseted the grey Lagonda and only covered nominal mileage as its wheel. Though the Lagonda was part of the collection sold to Miles Collier Jr, it was only briefly in his ownership before it was sold once again. Its new owner, a prominent Aston Martin Lagonda collector very close to the marque, had it repainted and retrimmed to a very high standard. Otherwise it remained in wonderfully original condition with an odometer reading of just 6,442 miles from new. In 1992, the car was sold into Dutch ownership by Brooks, finally entering the present ownership at the Monaco auction we organised in May 2000.
Since 1992, the Briggs Cunningham Lagonda has covered barely 1,000 miles, retaining its matchless essence of originality. This is surely the most outstanding example of a highly sought-after marque to be offered in recent years, and would be a wonderful entry for any of the prestigious concours events on either side of the Atlantic, combining a matchless provenance with top-drawer elegance.