By Chris Wiblin
2022 review by Autolycus
There are many marque histories that include in their title the words “The Complete Story”. They virtually never are. This history of the Lagonda Rapier and Rapier cars makes no such claim to completeness – but it is the closest to that ideal state that a reader could ever wish to have. It is also a fascinating tale, beautifully written.
Chris Wiblin naturally has all the right qualifications. A past editor of the Rapier News, he has taken over 30 years to research this history. As he admits in the preface, this gave him the advantage of being able to talk to people who were in or around the Lagonda and Rapier companies in period. But that in itself is no substitute for thorough and intelligent research to back up the stories from those people, and this combination of meticulous interviewing and forensic attention to historical details shines through on every page of this book.
The story starts by setting the scene to March 1933: Lagonda’s struggles to make money from their large and confusing range of cars, exacerbated by the effects of the depression and their less than impressive performance in racing when they arrogantly decided to ditch Fox & Nicholl and manage their own team. This difficult period ended with the logical but risky plan to move into the 9hp market with the Lagonda Rapier. This was a sporting car with a jewel of an engine, an 1104cc twin-cam four-cylinder designed by Irvin Thomas (“Tim”) Ashcroft. The second chapter deals with the development of the 9hp prototypes and the third with the problems and delays in bringing the new Rapier to production – and here the key strength of Chris Wiblin’s storytelling comes to the fore: thorough investigation of technical history is brought to life by deep biographical research and interviews with with surviving players or those who knew them.
Chapters 4 and 5 relate the sad tale leading from the optimistic launch in April 1934, to stuttering sales performance and on to the insolvency of Lagonda in 1935 and the rescue of the Rapier design by a small group that included Ashcroft, to create a new company called Rapier Cars. The search for more power is covered in fascinating detail that includes the story of Chris Shorrock and the Centric supercharger. The story is no less gripping as it moves into the aftermath, including the ultimately futile attempts to extend the life of the Rapier with Edward Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford, to produce the de Clifford Special for racing and rallying.
Despite the strange choice of the 1104cc capacity that ruled the Lagonda Rapier out of 1100cc category racing, both incarnations of the Rapier had a lively racing and rallying history, and this is told, again in fascinating detail, in chapters covering pre- and post-war competition. Coachwork gains its own extensive chapter – and here again the strength of the author’s research and interviews with those who knew the true story brings the history to life to an extraordinary degree. Although Abbotts made most of the early Rapier bodies, many other coachbuilders were involved and their story is told. The main text finishes with a comprehensive section on agents and distributors and a short section on the modern-day Rapier Register.
As is to be expected for such a complete history, the appendices list all Lagonda Rapiers and Rapiers, and rare and much appreciated features are lists of sources of illustrations, acknowledgements and references, and full index.
This has to be one of the finest marque histories so far written. It has already been nominated as a contender for this year’s SAHB Michael Sedgwick Award for the best book on a British motoring subject. That nomination is thoroughly deserved.
Publisher: The Rapier Register. To order, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Price: £50 plus postage and packing.
Description Hardback with dustjacket (265 x 210 mm), 698 pages; black & white and colour images.