There it was. Standing before us on the workshop floor, looking a little sad, somewhat untidy and definitely tired. An Aston Martin Lagonda Series 3, found in an old barn on a farm in Stapleford, just outside of Nottingham in England. The owner, an American tourist, and a car enthusiast, of course, knew what it was when he saw it by accident after he had taken a wrong turn off the A52 and ended up at the farmhouse. It was an incredible story but right now, our company, Darby Dashboards, along with an engineering firm and a body builder were standing in this workshop in Jackson, Mississippi after having been asked to have a look and see what could be done to bring the Lagonda back to life.
From the trim aspect, we could see that the burled walnut had dried out and cracked. It would need to be completely replaced. I also suggested that we should look at adding walnut, or a similar wood grain, to the areas where the vinyl surrounded the instrument binnacle, the steering wheel to be replaced with a wooden one, and to extend to the wood to the upper sections of the door panels.
The body builder had it relatively easy because the Lagonda was all about straight lines and square cut panelling and areas like the rear right wheel guard, the trunk and the front area, which was minus the grill could be quickly replaced by making entirely new ones. We thought the auto trimmer had the toughest job, in a way, because the back seat had been completely destroyed by chickens that had been roosting there for over 20 years it seemed. The smell was a bit off as well. He would need to make a new back seat, in leather, and the owner wanted Recaros in the front, just for pure comfort.
From an engineering point, it was going to be difficult to remake the engine parts that would not be working or had been severely damaged. The new owner wasn’t all that fussed about a restoration project. It wasn’t necessary to make the car exactly as it was 30 years ago. He wanted the car to drive better, be more comfortable, have more modern engineering done on it if necessary and stand out in a crowd.
The Lagonda was one of the first cars made that had modern digital technology, but electronics and wiring had come a long way in the past 15 years, so the idea was to maintain the display switches but replace the wiring and perhaps run all the systems through a computer. Could it be done? Yes, of course. If money were no object, anything could be done! The car cost £8,000, transport and shipping and taxes brought the cost up to about $25,000USD. The work estimate was going to be around the same – $25,000 depending on what other changes may be done as we went along.
Even the job we, Darby Dashboards, had, was going to be a challenge making the wooden inserts that surrounded the instruments and the driver controls. It was decided to leave the car in right-hand drive. We took all the measurements and photographs that we needed to get started. We had to look at our manufacturing process to see if it could make wood grain bend back on itself and retain its shape and integrity.
The original engine in the Aston Martin Lagonda Series 3, of which only about 70 were built, was a 305 horsepower, 5.3 litre V-8 with a Weber-Marelli fuel injection system. The owner and engineer discussed changing the engine to a fuel injected diesel but after looking at dimensions, this turned out to be impractical. With some body modifications, they decided on a Chevy small block V8, which gave the equivalent HP. Some engine mount modifications would be needed and some alterations to the exhaust track under the car.
The auto electrician suggested we enhance the headlights by placing a couple of Black Oak light pods under the front bumper protrusion. They could be mounted in the area and look a part of the car rather than an addition. We checked out the website to see what shape would be the best to use. The body builder said it would be possible to cut apertures into the bumper and mould rubber around the lights to give the pods a natural look.
The total restoration took over 3 months with some periods of total inaction while discussions were held with small design changes that needed to be made as we went along. The interior leather colours, the carpeting and the roof trim all needed to complement each other in colour and texture. The walnut wood grain was changed to cherry wood which had a deeper lustre and the darker wood which went well with the white leather upholstery.
What we didn’t see until the car was dismantled, was the amount of rust in places that affected the structural integrity of the car. These frame sections had to be cut out and replaced and that took time. The engine wasn’t a perfect fit so that had to have some mods done in the car’s compartment to be able to sit neatly in place. The lighting and the new wiring were super jobs, probably a bit easier to do from scratch rather than trying to find out what existing wiring functions were. The light pods looked great. In fact, from the website a couple of guys ended up purchasing high-quality 20 inch light bars for their 4WD’s they used on hunting and camping trips.
The owner was ecstatic with the final result but due to the many modifications that were made to the car, it could not be entered into a concours restoration competition. A shame! This was another restoration job carried out with the two P’s – Precision and Passion. That Aston Martin Lagonda never looked as good as it did the day it was finished being restored.
While history tells us that Henry Ford was the originator of production line car assembly and that the USA ranks high in the automobile industry, it was the British car makers that produced vehicles that had a touch of class. Did the Queen of England motor around in a Chevrolet or Cadillac? No, she always has, and still does, use a Rolls Royce as her preferred means of travel. Never mind that the old Roller is owned by a German company now, BMW. Over the past 20 years, we have seen the amalgamation of many of the iconic car makers due to deficiencies having to be shared for them to survive.
At Darby Dashboards, we have had a long association with British cars because it has been our job to replace, or manufacture from new, wood grain dashboards for a number of different models which can be a challenge at times. Let’s look at some of our favorite models that we have worked on.
At the top of our list is Rolls Royce. You just cannot beat lovingly hand-made British craftsmanship. Only a fraction of the manufacture of these cars was carried out on a production line. The Rolls-Royce brand proudly advertised the fact that many of the stages of the making of their cars were hand-crafted. It certainly showed when we pulled out a dash to replace. Wiring and instruments behind the façade were beautifully arranged with the best quality material.
The Bentley comes in at number two. Another German company, Volkswagen, took over the making of this super British car. You have to hand it to the Germans. They knew a good product when they saw it. The old Bentley looked a lot like the old Rolls Royce in design and was manufactured on the same principle of doing a lot of the work individually, not on a production line. The walnut dashboard extended to the passenger side and the steering wheel was leather.
There was nothing more famous than the Lagonda model but the new Aston Martin is a beautiful car. This is another British car maker bought out by a European company, this time, Volvo. Darby Dashboards specialises in the wood grain replacement of Lagondas, and we can do this is cherry wood or burled walnut. Not many of the modern cars go for wood in the dashboards anymore.
Rover and MG
The Rover, especially the models made in the mid to late 60’s, was a stately vehicle, beautifully made and fit for royalty. The 69 TC 3500 had a full woodgrain dashboard as well as a wooden steering wheel. It was something beautiful to behold. We don’t do many replacement dashboards for this car but we do have the pattern. The Rover was the big brother of the MG and the old MGTC and TD models all had wooden dashboards. The Chinese company Nanjing Autos owns both of these British names. The MG Rover Group was the last British mainstream car manufacturer to go broke. What a pity!