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SNAPSHOT 201: Aston Martin and Lagonda in 1950

Our Snapshot this week displays these two famous marques very close to the beginning of their lives as part of the David Brown organisation.

The design of the Aston Martin 2-Litre Sports in the foreground was based on the pre-war Aston Martin Atom, one of the world’s first true concept cars.  The Atom boasted a rigid integral body and tubular spaceframe chassis, lightweight aluminium body panelling, parallel-linkage coil-sprung independent front suspension and a Cotal electromagnetic semi-automatic gearbox.  It was originally powered by the existing Aston Martin 15/98 engine, but in 1945 was updated with the first use of Claude Hill’s newly patented 2-litre 4-cylinder pushrod powerplant.

The technology of the car made it a highly effective machine: small, light, and combining the performance, roadholding and handling of the best open sports car with a quiet and comfortable aerodynamically efficient saloon body that could be easily modified and economically produced.

The owner of Aston Martin, Gordon Sutherland, drove the car for many miles, and after the war it was driven by industrialist David Brown – convincing him in 1947 to buy the company that produced it.

The 2-Litre Sports Aston Martin in our picture was first fruit of the newly acquired company and was premiered on the company’s stand at the 1948 London Motor Show.  Its chassis was based on that of the Atom and was powered by the new 4-cylinder engine.

Sadly, only 15 examples were built from 1948 to 1950.  The weight of its body, and its limited power output of only 90 bhp using low-quality post-war pool petrol, combined to yield a top speed of only 93 mph.

This no doubt contributed to David Brown’s decision, only a year after his purchase of the Aston Martin company, to buy Lagonda, astutely recognising that Aston Martin, renowned for its excellent chassis design, needed a modern high-output engine.  The Lagonda twin-cam 6-cylinder engine, developed by William Watson under the supervision of W. O. Bentley, filled that essential gap.  The Lagonda may have had a conventional separate chassis, but at its introduction in 1948 it was believed to be the only all-independently sprung British car, with independent suspension using coil springs at the front and torsion bars at the rear.  It was available as a 4-door saloon and, from 1949, as a 2-door drophead coupé; both had 4 seats.  The car sold well despite its high price of over £3,400, and 510 were made up to the end of production in 1953.

It did not take long for the 6-cylinder engine to be fitted to an Aston Martin.  The DB2 was launched in 1950 and started a series of famous DB models, many of them successful in racing.

Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive

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