Driving Aston Martin’s Million-Dollar Lagonda Prototype
Taraf? Or traif? We get behind the wheel of Aston’s new V-12 super-sedan.
It is the color of molten drugstore chocolate. It rides on oversize chrome aftermarket wheels that appear to have been stolen from a Pep Buoyed Acura. It sports a wide gold pinstripe that looks like it was applied with a mop. And, planted on the broad plane of its rectilinear trunk, is a body-colored boomerang TV antenna large enough to acquire signals from all three broadcast networks, and maybe Skylab. The 1979 Aston Martin Lagonda is at once heinous, ravishing, domineering, and audacious. I am smitten.
Did I mention it doesn’t have a windshield?
“The strange thing about Lagonda owners,” Paul Spires says, as if there is only one strange thing, “is that nearly all of them don’t own just one Lagonda. They own three or four or five. One man I know owns eighteen.”
Spires keeps tabs on the Lagonda community. He is Commercial Director of Aston Martin Works, the world’s premier site for the preservation and restoration of vintage Aston Martins, which just happens to be owned by Aston Martin and sited proximal to the brand’s original factory building, in Newport-Pagnell, England. Because it employs some of the same technicians who originally designed the Lagonda, it is among the few facilities that can properly repair the car’s preposterous Cathode Ray Tube/Light Emitting Diode/Vacuum Fluorescent dashboard, finicky touchpad controls, and guzzly quadruple carburetors. There are always Lagondas in his shop.
“But the ride is perfection,” he says. “It has a self-adjusting rear suspension, and that, combined with the long wheelbase, gives it amazing handling.” He gestures at a deep green, highly tuned, mid-Eighties V8 Vantage owned by Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer, pure muscle and sex.
“A Lagonda will destroy that on a twisty road.”
I am at the site in part for this keen historical reference, but also to determine whether the new Aston Martin Lagonda—a revival of the brand’s ultimate luxury nameplate—is Taraf (“success” in Arabic) as its new name suggests, or traif (“not kosher” in Hebrew.)
Sixteen feet long, built by hand from an aluminum and carbon fiber, powered by Aston’s glorious all-motor V-12, and appointed in luxurious specie-inflected paint and leather schemes (Platinum White, Sandstorm Gold Pearlescent), the Taraf makes a precious first impression. Inspired by the bold angularity of the previous car’s William Towns-design, its overall takeaway is one of potency, presence, and seduction. It shimmers with an auric aura, like a dangerous weapon you can’t help but touch. Its stance and sneer are confident but not cocky, an apex predator just before the devouring. It is square-jawed and squared-up, but never square.
Is it a square deal? Do you have $1 million burning a square hole through your treasure chest? Because that’s how much it will cost for a U.S. customer to nab one of the 100 or so that will be built. While you’re completing a mental Cost Benefit Analysis, bear in mind a few details. First, this seven-figure price includes some mild customization by the marque’s bespoking Q department, which helps personalize the color and trim of every Taraf. It covers any fees associated with importing the car into the States, something Aston cannot do, but with which they will be happy to help you to the extent the law allows. It provides entry into the exclusive club of exclusive owners of exclusive limited edition Aston Martins, like those who own Vulcans or One-77s or C100s. And as a value proposition, it might not suck. One-77s sold new a few years back for around £1.4 million; a very slightly used one is on the sales floor of Aston Martin Works with a price tag of just over £2 million. From this perspective, appreciation is possible.
From behind the Taraf’s wheel, appreciation is definite. I am one of four Americans to ever drive the car, and the experience—even in the thirty-nine degree deluge that is typical and stereotypical of English winter—was typically and stereotypically Aston. This means soundly quick, sounding great, and refined as Sahara of Domino sugar.
Though more than a foot-and-a-half longer than my beloved Rapide sedan, it drives like a huge GT. Effortless power. Impossible poshness. Intentional, yet controlled mannerisms. If the Rapide is an alternative to the Panamera Turbo S, the Taraf is an alternative to a Phantom. Neither Aston supersedes their Teutonic competitor on a single standard metric, but both seduce absolutely. No purchase of a million dollar car is rational. And at this price point, a buyer wants to be kissed before they’re fucked.
Like every contemporary Aston, the car is impossibly outmoded. (The DB11 cannot arrive soon enough.) Sure, there’s a WiFi hotspot in the boot, which allows devices to stream to the rear-seat screens. But there are no massagers or recliners or footrests or perfumers or magic roofs back there, items that are now de rigueur on some of the better Kias. (Note: There is a champagne fridge, thank Bacchus.) And there’s no lane change guidance, or adaptive cruise control, or self-parking, or self-driving, or interpretive finger gesture wagging. And let’s not even discuss the nav system, which is so antiquated it may as well include a sextant and a spyglass.
And, still. There is something about the Taraf, like the Lagondas before it, which makes it unique. And that uniqueness is its unique selling proposition. Aston has stood still so long, it has made obsolescence a virtue. Buying a brand new Taraf is like buying a castle, or a captive dolphin. It’s insane, idiosyncratic, and indefensible, yet delightfully anachronistic. I dare your friends to resist swimming in your moat with your pet dolphin.
We often bemoan all we have lost in purity, in automotive directness, since the advent of the digital age. As if opposition to the electronic overreach of last century’s Lagondas, the Taraf, regardless of whether it’s by choice or by force of Aston’s limited resources, leaves modernity behind. Driving one is like driving the actualized fantasy of a brand new 1979 Lagonda, built in 2004. It lacks a hood ornament with forty-one electro-hydraulic sensors that cause it to retract automatically at the approach of prying hands. But you can get one cast in solid rose gold, and chances are if you saw it on the front of this car, you’d know better than to think about touching. The Taraf is not for everyone—thank god. But for those who want it, it’s priceless.
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