You know this could have been the future for Aston Martin back in the 1990’s. By the turn of the decade Aston Martin faced two choices, either Ian Callum’s 1988 design for what would be known as the DB7, or a reworking of the 15 year old Aston Martin Lagonda design, a car that already had a dodgy reputation for its looks, among other things!
After being rescued from bankruptcy and spending most of the 80’s staying under the radar with only two products, Aston Martin was desperate to burst back onto the scene following its buyout by Ford. By 1988, the company had only three models on its books, the Aston Martin V8, the very obscure V8 Zagato, and the controversial Lagonda luxury saloon. By this time all of these cars had a design that dated back over 10 years, the V8’s design harking back to the DBS of 1971, the Zagato sharing the same underpinnings but with a different body, and the Lagonda’s design originating in the mid-1970’s. Under Ford ownership, their general design ethic was to consult famous Italian styling house Ghia for advice on a full overhaul of the brands, and thus enter the Callum brothers; Moray and Ian.
At the time, Ian Callum was an in-house Aston Martin designer, while his brother Moray worked for Ghia. Both of them had been commissioned by the company to design what would be the face of the manufacturer’s style for the 1990’s. While Ian began work on the DB7, Moray worked on an update for the Lagonda known as the Lagonda Vignale.
This, however, is where similarities end. Seeing as Jaguar and Aston Martin were now owned by the same company, Ian would take his design for the DB7 from the Jaguar XJS, sharing the same platform. Moray on the other hand decided to take a look in Ford’s book, and instead chose to base his car on the platform of an Extended Wheelbase version of the 1990 Lincoln Town Car. The chassis wasn’t the only thing borrowed from the Lincoln, the four-speed gearbox and the 4.6L Ford DOHC V8 engine were also brought over, though the engine wasn’t particularly impressive, only producing a measly 190hp. The Ford engine was only to be used as an intermediary, though; had it made production, it was agreed that a 5.9L V12 (later applied to the Vanquish and still used today, albeit overhauled) would be utilised to propel the substantial saloon.
The resulting car however was indeed a massive machine, even larger than the 21ft Rolls Royce Silver Spirit! This wasn’t obvious though as the rather art-deco design of the Lagonda meant that its dimensions were somewhat difficult to observe. Upon its debut alongside the DB7 at the 1993 Geneva Motor Show, critics found the design impressive, likening it to classical Duesenbergs and Delahayes of the past, while Callum’s mindfulness in making the overhangs shorter (a practice which has become commonplace in recent years) gave the car aesthetics which still look relevant today. The resulting longer wheelbase also provided bounteous space inside. Internally, the car continued to maintain an art-deco credo, with analine-dyed parchment leather being supplemented by beech wood and aluminium touches, as well as woollen over-carpets and headlining. Evoking the aura of a gentlemen’s club, there was seating for five in the two Vignales built by Ghia; however, a third example – built later by the Works Service department and given the codename DP2138 – had room for four, due to the twin armchairs which supplanted the bench seat in the rear.
The sole production Lagonda Vignale was sold to the Sultan of Brunei for £1.3m in 1995, and had various design alterations, including slightly smaller dimensions (it used an alternative Ford platform), different headlights and a redesigned grille, not to mention burgundy paintwork and an upgrade to V12 power. Meanwhile, the Sorrento Blue car was kept by Ford until 2002, when it was sold by Christie’s, the hammer dropping at $403,500 despite the conservative estimate of $60-120,000. Unfortunately, a similar fate wasn’t to await the grey car: due to its semi-engineered inferiority, it was destroyed once its worthiness as a publicity tool had expired.
However, the Lagonda Vignale would not become the new face of Aston Martin, the company desiring to reclaim its sporting prowess in similar fashion to those rocking days of the 1960’s. As such, the DB7 was chosen as the favoured son, and the Lagonda brand was axed in 1994. Though it would have been interesting to see the new Lagonda compliment the DB7 as a sporty limousine, with both Aston Martin and Jaguar under one roof, it is expected that the company would not want internal competition between its own models, namely the Lagonda going up against the Jaguar XK. While Ian Callum continues to work for Jaguar and has penned every new model for the past eight years, Moray now sees work with Ford America, designing a slew of family cars such as the Ford Windstar, Mercury Villager, Super Duty pickup trucks, Ford Excursion, and the Ford EX concept.