It always used to come to us in November, to be readied for the Mille Miglia, and it’s a gutsy car that hasn’t been tarted up for Pebble Beach
Lagonda introduced the 4½-liter M45 at the 1933 London Motor Show. With its overhead-valve 6-cylinder Meadows engine, here was a Lagonda sports car capable of genuinely high performance, even by today’s standards.
For 1935, two additional models were introduced-the 4½-liter Rapide and the 3½-liter-both on the same shorter, lighter chassis. But in these post-Depression years, even victory in the 1935 24 Hours of Le Mans came too late to save the company from collapse. It looked as if Lagonda was about to be absorbed by Rolls-Royce, but it was instead rescued by entrepreneur Alan Good, who appointed W.O. Bentley as chief designer.
W.O. took Lagonda into the luxury car market in 1936 with the new LG45. It featured longer springs and Luvax dampers, and Bentley improved the engine, his modifications emerging in the “Sanction III” power units introduced at the 1936 London Motor Show.
Competition variants of the LG45 were tailor-made at Staines Bridge for the Lagonda company’s quasi-Works racing team, Fox & Nicholl Limited. Arthur Fox and Bob Nicholl were Lagonda specialists, whose business had been preparing and racing Lagonda cars since 1927.
For 1936, four cars were built for Fox & Nicholl-two four-seaters, bodied to comply with Le Mans regulations, and two two-seaters. Registered “EPE 97,” this car made its racing debut-apparently painted French Blue instead of Fox & Nicholl’s normal racing red-in the experienced hands of Algerian-born French driver Marcel Lehoux in the sports car Grand Prix de l’A.C.F. at Montlhéry, France, on June 28, 1936. While sister car “HLL 534” won its class in what appears to have been its only race, Lehoux retired.
This LG45R Rapide next appeared finished in Fox & Nicholl’s usual dark red in the RAC Tourist Trophy race over the Ards road circuit outside Belfast, Ulster, in August 1936, driven by the Honorable Brian Lewis. It was running a strong second after two hours before sliding off the road. Lewis recovered to run third behind Eddie Hall’s famous Derby Bentley but began losing oil and nursed the car home to 14th at an average speed of 76 mph.
Fox & Nicholl retained EPE 97 for 1937, and in June it was at Le Mans, co-driven by Charles Brackenbury and by Fox & Nicholl’s 1935 Le Mans-winning star, Hawker Aircraft test pilot-cum-racing driver John Hindmarsh. It retired at 10 pm on Saturday evening.
That year’s RAC Tourist Trophy race was run at Donington Park, and EPE 97 reappeared, co-driven by Brackenbury and C.E.C. “Charlie” Martin, who crashed it at Melbourne Hairpin when a front stub axle broke.
In 1952, EPE 97 was acquired by VSCC stalwart Joe Goodhew, who lowered the body ten inches and fitted an ENV preselector gearbox. He and Bob Freeman-Wright-managing director of Kodak-drove the old car in the inaugural Goodwood 9 Hours. Despite being 16 years old, the Lagonda finished 14th among the 18 finishers and averaged 72 mph, against the victorious Works C-type Jaguar’s 81 mph.
Colonel L.S. Michael then acquired EPE 97 and constantly developed the car through a busy club racing program until 1960. He achieved an astonishing 120 placings, including victory in the VSCC Pomeroy Trophy event in 1959.
This versatile Post-Vintage Thoroughbred (PVT) then lay fallow until 1974, when it was acquired by David Dunn, who rebuilt it to its original Fox & Nicholl specification. Both engine and gearbox were rebuilt and the car was bought at auction in 1987 by entrepreneur Terry Cohn.
Over the next decade, it continued to race, either with Cohn at the wheel or ace driver Martin Stretton. It was one of Cohn’s most prized cars until his untimely death, at which point it was acquired from his estate by its current custodian.
This LG45R Rapide is not only eligible for many of the world’s most prestigious events, but actually competed in them. The car was one of the earliest cars (36th) to be granted an FIA Heritage certificate, which it holds in addition to FIVA and FIA certificates.