A remarkable and highly important 1936 Lagonda Rapide LG45, featured in all key publications on the marque and noted in many as “The most famous Lagonda of all,” will enter the limelight once more to star in Bonhams & Butterfields’ annual Quail Lodge sale. Prepared by celebrated specialists Fox & Nicholl, ‘EPE 97’ raced extensively during 1936 and 1937, and has also been campaigned successfully at major international historic events over the last 40 years.
The car is expected to sell for $1,200,000 – $1,500,000 when it comes under the hammer at Quail Lodge, California on August 15, 2008.
When the brilliant W.O. Bentley took over as chief designer at Lagonda in 1935, his aim was to create a line of motor cars that would dominate the luxury car market. At the same time he wanted to build competition models capable of putting Lagonda at the front of the grid at Le Mans – in much the same way as the vintage Bentleys that carried his name in the 1920s had done. Within a year, Lagonda specialists and racing drivers Arthur Fox and Bob Nicholl were employed to build four competition models to compete at Le Mans. However, the 24-hour race wasn’t held that year, and ‘EPE 97,’ one of the two two-seater models, ran instead in the 1936 French Grand Prix at Montlhery, driven by Marcel Lehoux, aswell as the 1936 RAC Tourist Trophy, and the BRDC 500-Miles race at Brooklands, where the car finished 3rd , covering an average speed of 113.02 mph.
The following year Fox & Nicholl entered the Lagonda in the Le Mans 24-Hours GP d’Endurance, driven by Charles Brackenbury and John Hindmarsh, but the car retired with mechanical problems. After an appearance at the RAC TT at Donington, ‘EPE 97’ was borrowed by Alan Hess, the editor of Speed Magazine, to set a new world record, for driving a sports car with a passenger – from a standing start – for 104.4 miles in one hour.
Over the next 20 years the car achieved over 120 placings in club racing events, in the hands of its new owner, Col. L.S. Michael, including overall winner of the Pomeroy Trophy in 1959. The following year ‘EPE 97’ was stored away and remained unused until 1974 when it was acquired by David Dunn in Ireland. Mr Dunn restored the car to its original Fox & Nicholl specification, retaining much of the original bodywork. It was sold via the existing Bonhams team (when working at Christie’s) in 1987 whereupon it was bought by well-known collector, the late Terry Cohn. Upon Mr Cohn’s death in the early 2000s, ‘EPE 97’ passed to the present owner. Many rallies and tours – including multiple Mille Miglia retrospectives – ensued and now this wonderful old war-horse – with only three owners over the past 34 years – will once again be offered to the market.
James Knight, Bonhams’ International Head of the Motoring Department commented, “As an auctioneer, there are some cars you handle that you simply become bonded to – ‘EPE 97’ is one such car. I remember sitting in David Dunn’s living room in 1987 – at just 23 years of age – discussing its potential sale. My knowledge then of such a car was limited but it was obvious here was a car that had such presence – like a thoroughbred race horse that had performed admirably in period and now exercised for pure recreation. We have known this car for many years and it is simply one of the most charismatic 1930s endurance racers in existence.”