Why you’d want a Lagonda 2.6 Litre / 3 Litre
More than 70 years after its introduction, the Lagonda still elicits gasps of amazement from all who venture under its skin.
This was a seriously advanced car in 1947 – especially in staid-looking 2.6 Litre form – and throughout its production life. With a twin-overhead-cam engine, pure cruciform I-beam chassis, all-independent suspension – wishbones and coils up front, torsion bars to the rear – and rack-and-pinion steering, this was state-of-the-art racing spec. Yet it formed the underpinnings of a fine saloon and drophead in the years of post-war austerity, and was brought to production by a tractor manufacturer…
The secret, of course, was WO Bentley. The brilliant engineer, who introduced aluminium pistons in 1913 and won numerous races before WW2 with his eponymous cars, joined Lagonda in 1935 and, following its pre-war V12, designed the twin-cam ‘six’ for the post-war market.
The Ministry of Supply was unimpressed and it could all have vanished into thin air, if it wasn’t for David Brown. The transmission and tractor maker, who had raced motorcycles and designed his own twin-cam straight-eight in the early ’20s, bought Aston Martin in 1946 but found it desperately lacking in the engine department.
The opportunity to snap up Lagonda the next year – for a mere £52,500 – couldn’t have been better timed. He really only wanted the engine, but realised that the 2.6 Litre was too special to die, and put it into limited production.
That the Lagonda was a very fine car shines through in The Motor’s road test of the 3 Litre: ‘It is one of the very few passenger saloons whose primary appeal is to the skilful and appreciative driver,’ it enthused – though it did comment on a pronounced tendency to oversteer in spite of excellent traction, and a somewhat hard ride.
A special car came at a special price, however, and the Lagonda was very costly compared to mass-produced Jaguars and the like. That said, it was trimmed to an exceptionally high standard throughout, and came with plenty of equipment that would have been optional extras on others, such as a radio, two-speed wipers, windscreen washers, and a comprehensive heating and ventilation system.
Sadly, Frank Feeley’s superbly elegant restyle and the new car’s 104mph top speed failed to reignite Lagonda sales, and production slowed to a halt in 1957.
Images: Will Williams
Lagonda 2.6 Litre / 3 Litre: what to look for
Though there’s a pre-war feel to the body’s flexibility, it is exceptionally well insulated from chassis noise and vibration. The Lagonda bowls along effortlessly, with a surprising turn of speed from the free-revving twin-cam straight-six. An overdrive conversion gives this example even longer legs for relaxed touring.
See above for trouble spots
Shared with contemporary Aston Martins, the cast-iron twin-cam engine is set low and well back in the chassis. Check for signs of water and oil mixing (head-gasket or liner-seal failure), for excessive breathing and leaks, and for fore/aft crank movement indicating failed thrust washers. Properly set up, it is durable.
Double-wishbone front suspension with anti-dive characteristics was state-of-the-art; regular lubrication is needed to reduce bush/kingpin wear.
The four-speed, three-synchromesh David Brown gearbox is a robust unit, shared with Astons: check all synchros work well and that first isn’t too noisy.
Luxurious trim was a given: expensive to restore, but lasts if well looked after. This example is all original, with subtle repairs to the driver’s seat.
Timber abounds: check its condition, and that it all matches. Instruments should be complete and original – if present, they can always be rebuilt.
Lagonda 2.6 Litre / 3 Litre: on the road
In their day, these Lagondas offered lively performance and a comfortable ride. Pre-war body construction methods mean some flex, but the sturdy cruciform chassis keeps the all-independent suspension under control.
By today’s standards, a 2.6 Litre may feel a little staid, but the 3 Litre has an impressive turn of speed and lopes along effortlessly (and remarkably quietly) at the legal limit.
The cast-iron engine (an aftermarket alloy head is available, at a price) is a fine piece of engineering, with wet liners that have to be set up accurately otherwise leaks can occur either from the head gasket or the liner-base seals.
It’s not rocket science, but it’s recommended that engine work is handled by engineers experienced in the Lagonda’s foibles. There is no valve adjustment, clearance being achieved originally by swapping cam followers, but now usually by grinding the valves to length. Hardened seats and stainless-steel valves improve durability on unleaded.
The gearbox is a sturdy David Brown unit, with column change until 1955, though this car (and many others) has since been converted to a more familiar floor change. Installing a later 3-litre engine into a 2.6 is not uncommon, and should not detract from value.
Rust is the killer, because the entire floorpan, bulkheads and rear inner wings are steel; the ash body frame also rots away. Parts are available from the very keen Lagonda Club and Aston Service Dorset, plus stashes of used spares.
Lagonda 2.6 Litre / 3 Litre price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £55,000
- Average: £30,000
- Restoration: £12,000
- Show/rebuilt: £85,000
- Average: £50,000
- Restoration: £20,000
- Show/rebuilt: £65,000
- Average: £40,000
- Restoration: £15,000
- Show/rebuilt: £115,000
- Average: £70,000
- Restoration: £25,000
Lagonda 2.6 Litre / 3 Litre history
1946 Lagonda announces 21/2-litre saloon and dhc; saloon prototypes bodied by Vanden Plas of Belgium, to a design by Frank Feeley
1947 Sep David Brown buys Lagonda after just six prototype saloons have been built
1948 2.6 Litre saloon production starts at Feltham, with David Brown manual gearbox
1949 Drophead coupé production starts, bodied by Tickford
1952 MkII model: saloon only (10 built), 125bhp
1953 2.6 Litre production ends, with 519 built (124 dhc). Sep Replaced by 3 Litre (two-door sports saloon built first)
1954 3 Litre two-door dhc and four-door saloon production starts
1955 David Brown buys Tickford; MkII model gets floor gearchange
1956 Two-door fhc and dhc production ends
1957 3 Litre production ends, 261 built
The owner’s view
Peter Gilkes’ 3 Litre two-door saloon has been in the family for 34 years: “It was my father’s retirement project; we bought it at the Ellard auction of Lagonda projects and rebuilt it together over eight years. The interior is original except for the carpets and the body was done professionally, but we did the mechanicals.
“When we stripped the engine, the thrust washers were broken but it was largely unworn. The body was good apart from the lower rear wings, which were full of filler. It’s been on the road for 26 years now and does around 2000 miles a year.
“It’s a great touring car: we’ve been to Ireland, the Dordogne, Shetland, the Orkneys and Le Mans. I’ve fitted Simon Constable’s overdrive conversion, which fits in place of the torque tube in front of the diff and is brilliant.”
Sporting rather than sports saloons and dropheads with 3-litre ‘six’ and 85-100mph in pre-war styling, finally brought up to date by Graber in 1956.
Sold 1950-’55 • No. built 2074 • Price now £10-25k (saloon)
Though 50% more expensive new (100% in the case of coachbuilt cars), Bentleys sold in far higher numbers and are affordable now in Standard Steel form.
Sold 1946-’55 • No. built 7728 • Price now £15-40k (sal)
Lagonda 2.6 Litre / 3 Litre: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
The discerning customer’s post-war saloon and drophead coupé of choice, the Lagonda has class, performance, heritage, style and many innovative features, without being in the least bit brash.
When well restored, it’s a capable and relaxed touring car that is a delight to own and drive.
FOR: Thoroughly usable and comfortable, with terrific club support and specialists that make owning such exclusivity more affordable than you might expect
AGAINST: Prohibitively expensive to restore due to complex construction and propensity to rot; Aston values make shared components expensive
Lagonda 2.6 Litre / 3 Litre specifications
- Sold/number built 1947-’57/780
- Construction cruciform chassis, steel floor/bulkheads, aluminium body over wood frame
- Engine all-iron, dual-overhead-cam wet-liner 2580/2922cc ‘six’, with twin SU carburettors
- Max power 105bhp @ 5000rpm to 140bhp @ 5000rpm Max torque 133lb ft @ 3000rpm to 164lb ft @ 2000rpm
- Transmission four-speed three-synchro manual (Cotal electric change on prototypes only), driving rear wheels
- Suspension independent, at front by wishbones, coil springs (anti-roll bar on 3 Litre) rear swing-axles, torsion bars, radius arms, lever-arm dampers f/r Steering rack and pinion, 2.75 turns lock-to-lock Brakes 12in front, 11in rear hydraulic drums, with servo on 3 Litre
- Length 15ft 8in-16ft 31/2in (4775-4966mm)
- Width 5ft 8-10in (1727-1778mm)
- Height 5ft 2-4in (1575-1626mm)
- Wheelbase 9ft 51/2in (2883mm)
- Weight 3136-3724lb (1425-1693kg)
- 0-60mph 17.6-12.9 secs
- Top speed 90-104mph
- Mpg 15-20
- Price new £2996/2957 (sal/dhc, 1953)