This is the most famous Lagonda of all.
Special competition variants of the LG45 were tailor-made at Staines Bridge for the Lagonda company’s experienced and battle-hardened quasi-Works racing team: Fox & Nicholl Limited of Tolworth, Surrey. Just as Enzo Ferrari’s private Scuderia ran the quasi-Works Alfa Romeo team cars from 1932 to ’37, so Fox & Nicholl represented Lagonda’s vital interests in International motor racing.
For 1936, the production department at Staines Bridge built four competition cars specifically for Fox and Nicholl. This quartet comprised two 4-seaters, bodied to comply with Le Mans 24-Hour regulation requirements, and two 2-seaters, this superb surviving example offered here being one of the latter. It was completed in May 1936 and entered by the team for that year’s 24 Hour race at Le Mans, which was unfortunately canceled due to strikes in France. It was first U.K.-registered EPE 97 that August.
Fox & Nicholl’s as yet officially unregistered new car, chassis 12111, made its racing debut painted French Blue instead of Fox & Nicholl’s normal racing red livery, and it was raced by Algerian-born French driver Marcel Lehoux in the sports car Grand Prix de l’ACF at Montlhéry, outside Paris, FRA, on June 28, 1936.
By Chassis 12111’s next appearance, it was registered as EPE97 — and finished in Fox & Nicholl’s dark shade of red — for the RAC Tourist Trophy race over the fabulous Ards public-road circuit outside Belfast, Ulster, in August 1936. The car carried race number 1 and was running in a strong 2nd place after two hours before sliding off the road and striking a bank. Lewis rejoined and recovered to run a close 3rd behind Eddie Hall’s famous Derby Bentley before finishing 14th due to an oil leak.
Fox & Nicholl then entered the car in its third major race, the British Racing Drivers’ Club 500-Miles classic on the high-speed Outer Circuit of the legendary Brooklands Motor Course near Weybridge, Surrey. This time, BRDC President and former Le Mans winner Earl Howe partnered with Lewis for the arduous race.
Howe and Lewis achieved EPE’s greatest overall result, finishing 3rd at an average speed of 113.02 mph.
Fox & Nicholl retained EPE97 for 1937, and in June it competed in the Le Mans 24-Hour race, co-driven by Charles Brackenbury and by Fox & Nicholl’s 1935 Le Mans-winning star, Hawker Aircraft test pilot-cum-racing driver John Hindmarsh. The car retired at 10 p.m. on Saturday, due to mechanical trouble.
In 1952 it was acquired by Joe Goodhew. He lowered the body 10 inches and fitted the car with an ENV pre-selector gearbox. He and Bob Freeman-Wright, the Managing Director of Kodak, then co-drove the 16-year-old car in that year’s major international British endurance race — the inaugural Goodwood Nine Hours. It finished 14th among the 18 finishers and averaged 72 mph around the 2.4-mile Sussex circuit — in comparison with the victorious Works C-type Jaguar’s 81 mph.
|1936 Lagonda LG45R Rapide Sports-Racing Two-Seater
|Tune Up Cost:
|Uses twin magnetos
|Chassis Number Location:
|Brass plate on scuttle; rear of right spring shackle
|Engine Number Location:
|Right front of crankcase on engine mount
|Lagonda Club, U.K.
This car, Lot 240, sold for £1,569,500 ($2,547,729), including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood Revival sale on September 13, 2014.
I put my hands up to overusing the phrase “dripping with patina,” but here for once it’s correctly applied. Six years after it was last sold, this great old warrior has survived with no further restoration, just some gentle fettling, which is an achievement in itself.
EPE97, one of those great cars universally known by the registration number it’s worn all its life, is not only eligible by model for many of the world’s most prestigious events, but it also competed in them in period. No wonder it warranted 10 pages in Bonhams’ inch-thick, 3¼-pound catalog. And here it is, back at Goodwood, where it ran in 1948.
The green marble-block Fox & Nicholl Trophy first won by Lewis and Howe at Brooklands still exists too, by the way — and is awarded annually by the Vintage Sports-Car Club for its annual Fox & Nicholl road-equipped sports car race at Silverstone.
A long, cared-for life
After 1959, the car lay fallow until 1974, when it was acquired by David Dunn, who rebuilt it to its original Fox & Nicholl specification. He restored the body to its original height by fitting new bonnet side panels and welding 10 inches of aluminum sheet back along the bottom where Goodhew had cut away the original.
Fur trader and car dealer Terry Cohn bought it in 1987, the catalog says, but the transaction may have been when SCM’s database shows it as having been sold, by Christie’s in 1983, for $95,000, a not inconsiderable sum 31 years ago.
At this point the original engine was removed, as Terry wanted to race the car, and the original block was crated and remains with the lot, though as of 2008 it still wore the original crankcase and cylinder head.
With a new crank and flywheel and big carburetors, it now makes about 200 horsepower rather than the original 130. Terry used the car for racing and road trips, with himself or his future son-in-law Martin Stretton at the wheel. I remember running in convoy with it on one of Ray Wiltshire’s Classic Cavalcades to Le Mans in the early ’90s — until an engine fire prevented our Delahaye 135MS from actually circulating the famous course. Terry had a snorkel and goggles strapped across the spare wheel, presumably in case it rained.
Never a trailer queen
After Cohn’s untimely death in 1999 (Bonhams handled the dispersal sale of the rest of his collection in 2002), the Lagonda was sold to Dr. Richard Lisman of New York City, in whose ownership the original seats were removed, sent to a leather-conservation expert, copied and stored and come with the car. It ran in seven Mille Miglia retrospectives between 2002 and 2008, with mechanicals carried out by Meadows engine experts Cedar Classics in England before every event.
The Bonhams team (then Bonhams & Butterfields) handled its sale for the second time, during Monterey Classic Car Week in Carmel, CA, on August 14 2008, for $1,382,000 (SCM# 117432). The car passed to the vendor, another long-term enthusiast and racer.
I profiled it for SCM in the November 2008 issue (“English Profile,” p. 42). Since then, it has raced at the Monterey Historics, Lime Rock Park meetings, Lagonda Club and Vintage Sports Car Club of America meetings and the Mount Equinox and Hunnewell, where it took fastest time of the day.
So it’s still been hard-used, enjoyed and more importantly, looked after, most recently by RPM of Vergennes, VT.
In this ownership, it’s presented as it ran at Le Mans in 1937, carrying the number 3 — and it was found that the rear tube taillights remain of the same pattern that once sat atop its tail at Le Mans to illuminate its rear race number, albeit now mounted on the chassis.
That it has a different engine block, a replacement gearbox and extensive bodywork repairs all seems lost in the mists of continuous history. And though it’s more recently had various renovation works — Derek Green of Cedar Classics confirmed to me in 2008 that it had had the wings straightened and the tail sharpened up and painted, as well as those replacement seats — it remains beautifully patinated and not overly messed with for the past four decades.
Now, on to the small print, and another question of numbers.
American ownership, U.K. registration
A sale-room notice pointed out that if it were to remain in the EU, there would be a further 5% duty to pay — a reduced levy for works of art that is usually applicable to important cars. But it appeared to sell on the phone to a U.S. bidder. Certainly Bonhams’ man in the U.S., Rupert Banner, was present at Goodwood and made the winning bid from the bank of phones to one side of the rostrum, which rather implies that on the other end of the wire was an American client.
If it does remain in American hands, that brings up the question of its registration number. U.K. registrations stay with the car for life, unless transferred, and the number by which famous cars become known becomes an integral part of their makeup.
However, as the car has been out of the U.K. and not registered there for the past five years, if a subsequent owner wishes to keep the number when the car is re-registered in the U.K., they will need to apply for it. Success is no certainty.
The catalog pointed out that the number, or “index mark,” as officialdom calls it, remains available with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and, luckily, it’s not likely to be applied to another car in the meantime. Paul Brown of registrations specialist Regtransfers said: “DVLA has not, so far, sold on any numbers that have already been issued to cars. But who knows what will happen when they run out of numbers to sell.”
The smart thing would be to ring-fence this important number by putting it on retention with DVLA, which costs £105, plus a £25 annual fee. The only snag, as Brown reminded us, is that to do that the vehicle must have a U.K. registration document, known as a V5C. Tricky if it’s in the United States.
Anyway, at a 50% gain in six years, well sold. Let’s check back in another six and hope it still looks as original. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)