Taraf coming to UK? Words Jethro Bovingdon. Photography Aston Martin. The Lagonda Taraf has officially launched in the Middle East – but it could be sold in other markets, including the United Kingdom, USA and Russia – here the full story.
After much swiping of security cards, we’re finally inside the main hub of what used to be the One-77 production facility at Gaydon. Those sinuous carbonfibre creatures have long since departed for their new homes and the white room with its immaculate, glossy light-grey flooring is still. Or at least it would be if it weren’t for an impossibly long, square-shouldered saloon car lurking in the far corner, maybe 40ft away. It’s surrounded by half-a-dozen people, finessing shut-lines, caressing trim and ensuring every last detail is perfect. This is the new Lagonda.
‘At 175mph it feels like you’re gliding along the road but still connected, involved’
Tomorrow it will be shipped out to Dubai, where in a few days’ time AML’s new CEO, Dr Andy Palmer, will launch it into the Middle East market. He will also reveal its name – Taraf – which apparently translates roughly as ‘success’. And he will drop broad hints that, despite earlier suggestions, it may now be sold in other markets including the UK. But right now all that concerns the team is getting this car ready for its public debut.
This is also my first sight of the new car in the raw, and although the PR team and Marek Reichman – Aston’s engaging, considered and deeply passionate design director – would probably prefer the hubbub around the car to stop, I can’t help thinking it’s the perfect introduction. My guess is that this car, inspired by the William Towns-designed 1970s Lagonda, will forever be surrounded by a crowd. Later, Reichman will describe the Lagonda marque as a ‘shared experience’ and I think that’s absolutely the nub of this car and its wild inspiration.
The speed of the Lagcnda’s development, just two years from inception to delivery, is a testament to Aston Martin’s creativity and engineering agility, but re-imagining this marque has been a long road. ‘The launch of the Lagonda SUV concept back in 2009 was to really tell the world that Lagonda is part of our portfolio,’ explains Reichman. ‘It showed that we can use Lagonda to do things outside of the core of Aston Martin the sports car maker.’ Launched at the Geneva show, the Lagonda SUV concept was controversial to say the least, but Reichman is adamant that it was an enlightening exercise. ‘That car was a dividing piece, but what it told us was, “hey, this brand is alive”, people want to know, they want to hear, to criticise or to praise. For us that was great.’ Few would have guessed it at the time, but the passionate reaction to the SUV created real belief in the rebirth of Lagonda.
‘These cars will be so bespoke, there could be a price variance of £100,000’
Reichman is warming up now and his excitement about the project is plain to see. ‘The next phase was to say, “Ok, we know Lagonda means something,” so what next?’ The answer lay with the previous Lagonda and its continuing iconic status in the Middle East ‘The beating heart of Lagonda is really strong in the Middle East. Probably 70 per cent of the Williams Towns cars went there and we realised we had a marketplace eager for a product that’s very different, very unusual and very bespoke. Hey presto.. the project becomes alive.’
So new design and engineering knew they were to create a super-luxurious saloon – and take their inspiration from Towns’ wedge. However, as Reichman is at pains to point out, it couldn’t distract from the core of their current work – namely creating the DB9 and V8 Vantage replacements – and it had to make money.
To meet both criteria meant a small team and a clear vision were crucial. ‘The Lagonda was generated through what we call our Special Projects,’ Reichman begins. ‘We call them the SAS of the engineering team. They are a crack squad of engineers, led by Dave King, who work very closely with design. So we work with one fully formed vision ’
That vision is effectively the framework of the project, starting with the vast 5396.5mm length, the 3189mm wheelbase and all the other critical measurements. Once these hard points are agreed they act as ‘vision-checkers’, says Reichman, and ensure that compromise doesn’t creep into the project. ‘We agree in that vision – a package – early on and then get the company to buy into it, too. Once we’ve agreed the parameters as a team we have a high degree of confidence that it can work. From there it’s about managing the programme to make sure we realise our ambitions completely.’
As expected, the Lagonda will get the 5.9-litre V12 and new eight-speed ZF automatic transaxle gearbox from the latest Rapide S. Charismatic, effortlessly powerful (c550bhp) but with the sharp bite of a thoroughbred sportscar engine, the V12 should imbue the Lagonda with a unique mix of expensive refinement and a sense of endless, soaring performance.
‘It’s still an incredibly sporting car,’ says Reichman. ‘We call it a super-sports saloon and that beating heart is really important. So you feel you have all the space of an S-class but the feeling of driving is that you’re still connected to the car and the road. We’ve had the cars testing out in Oman at 175mph and it feels like you’re gliding along the road but still connected, involved.’
I’m keen to hear if Reichman felt constrained or inspired by the Towns car. Designers love freedom and I’d wondered if the presence of the old car might have felt like a burden. That idea is shot down in seconds. ‘Inspiration, absolutely,’ he grins without hesitation. ‘I remember when I first came to work here in 2005. I was visiting Words and somebody was telling me, “this is the Bond car, over there is a DB4 GT Zagato…” and I was just,
“wow, there’s a Lagonda. Oh my god, just look at this thing.” As a designer, I love that it challenged so many things and was completely unique. To have somebody say to use that feeling, that shape, as your inspiration is pretty incredible.’
So what does Lagonda mean to Reichman? ‘It’s all about dramatic proportion. And yes, the Towns car utilised unusual technology.’ He wears a wry smile at this point. ‘At the time that technology was ground breaking. Unfortunately it didn’t work! But for the new car there had to be an element of technology – reliable technology.’ Rather than any wacky dashboard electronics, the decision was taken to make the tech innate in the very structure of the car by creating a full carbonfibre body. ‘We took all the knowledge we had of carbonfibre,’ he continues. The result is it’s weight- neutral with an Aston Martin Rapide yet it’s almost half a metre longer and fits four people in extreme luxury. We learnt so much from Vanquish and the carbon chassis of One-77 – about bonding and structures – and that knowledge allows rigidity, light weight but also freedom in terms of radii, shapes and forms versus aluminium. So the technology is mater al in that respect and the drama that comes from the original car is proportion.’
The overall effect is little short of mesmerising. Marek walks me around the car and explains some of the little tricks employed to lighten the shape, points out the broad shoulder-line employed to create a sense of tension and sporting aggression, the unbroken lines that run from the vanes of the grille, through the LED light bar of the headlamps and all the way down the flanks of the car…
It’s fascinating to get a sense of how every detail is meticulously woven into a cohesive whole. I want to nod wisely, but then I hear myself blurting out: ‘Wow, it looks great.’ But while I feel conscious of my relative design naivety, Marek seems happy enough. ‘Right at the beginning I wanted that magic of “wow, I saw one of those Lagondas”. The same reaction you’ve had today and that I had back at Works when I saw a Lagonda. It’s a combination of something regal, sporting and – I hate to use this word, but… futuristic. One of the first thoughts was that the baddies in The Matrix need to be in this car. A satin black version of this? They’re in there.’
That’s my cue to slip inside and try to get a sense of what travelling in the new Lagonda might be like. The rear accommodation is beautifully wrought and – thank goodness – there’s room to sprawl in complete comfort where in a Rapide you’d be bunched-up. From the driver’s seat things are more familiar, with similar architecture to that of a Rapide S, but the views out over the long bonnet, and down the crisp flanks as you glance in the mirrors, are unique. This particular
Lagonda is relatively restrained, intricately quilted cream leather complementing the ebony centre facia beautifully. The expectation is that every Taraf will be completely individual, with solid gold badges, gold thread running through the headlining and endless other material choices all available to the wealthy few.
Aston Martin is yet to confirm the price or just how limited the Lagonda will be, but expect the initial production run for the Middle East to be between 100 and 200, and in terms of pricing, somewhere between the £400,000 of the Zagato and the £1.1m of the One-77. ‘We haven’t talked about it too much,’ says Reichman, ‘simply because these cars will be so bespoke that there could be a variance of perhaps £100,000 simply because of each customer’s unique choices.’
And after the Middle East, well, other markets are now being evaluated. As Andy Palmer will tell the audience of VIP guests in Dubai: ‘It is clear from the initial reaction to the car that interest from
around the world is extremely high and I can confirm today that we are also evaluating the opportunity to offer this Lagonda in other markets.’
So Lagonda is back and the foundation for a full re-launch of the marque has been laid. ‘Lagonda will always be a bespoke proposition, but I’d expect less limited models in the near future,’ Reichman tells me through a wide grin.
Such is the excitement around this car, it’s no surprise it won’t remain a one-off. ‘This is history in the making for me,’ says Reichman. ‘To do a show car is one thing, to produce a real car is something else again. To see it on the road – that’s a magical experience.’
Sadly I can’t see inside the AML design studio but I get the impression things are moving pretty quickly in there. When will we see the next chapter in the Lagonda story? It certainly won’t be another 25 years. Marek signs off with a hint bigger than his new saloon: ‘Geneva should be interesting next year… see you there.’
Top and left. Reichman introduces his creation to VIP guests and prospects at the car’s launch in Dubai Taraf name could be for Middle East market only. Every interior will be bespoke the important thing here is the spacious rear seating.
Clockwise from left. Taraf high-speed-testing in Oman: design director Marek Reichman with the styling ‘clay’ and the new Lagonda with its Towns-designed forebear.
Above and right. New saloon is being marketed initially in the Middle East, where the previous Lagonda was a big sales hit. It wears an updated version of the Lagonda ‘wings’ badge.