The Lagonda M45 Rapide was one of the most accomplished British sports cars of the 1930s. The M45 Team cars won a succession of highly competitive races which culminated in victory at Le Mans in 1935.
Since 1923 Le Mans has been the pinnacle race for automobile manufacturers. The 24-hour race around the Circuit de la Sarthe is the ultimate test of speed and reliability and so a win at Le Mans quickly became the best possible marketing exercise for manufacturers. The early winners were almost exclusively major marques, dominated by Bentley and Alfa Romeo from the late 1920s until 1934. No other manufacturers could even get close.
From 1931 to 1934 Alfa Romeo had been the team to beat, winning every race in the seemingly undefeatable Alfa Romeo 8C 2300. However, in the summer of 1934 Lagonda main agents Fox and Nicholl ordered three specially adapted cars to compete in the RAC Tourist Trophy on the Ulster Ards circuit in September 1934. Despite being Lagonda main agents, Arthur Fox and Bob Nicholl had originally intended to use their new supercharged 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2600, a car with even more power than the 8C 2300 that had won Le Mans 3 consecutive years running and so were confident of success.
However, in 1934 supercharged cars were banned from RAC TT races, leaving Fox and Nicholl with no choice but to fast-track a team of 3 cars through the Lagonda factory. These cars, BPK 201, 202 and 2013 were ordered with a 4.5 litre competition chassis with unfinished wooden dashboards and special springs. The coachwork was simple and sleek, without embellishment thereby increasing the top speed. Already thinking into the future, Fox and Nicholl ordered their three Lagondas with specially adapted stronger crankcases case in alloy, specified larger cylinder block studs, because they had a tendency to snap at high RPM after long periods, therefore concentrating on the specific demands of Le Mans.
The 3 cars were competitive from the off, running in the top positions in the Irish TT race and in the following year for the 1935 Le Mans race, Fox and Nicholl chose to enter two of the three cars, BPK 202 and BPK 203. Going in to the race the Alfas were the clear favourites, the 8C was clearly the superior car, however the race began in the wet and the heavier Lagondas proved faster in the tricky conditions and the drivers, Johnny Hindmarsh and Luis Fontes pulled out an early lead.
The morning of the 16th June broke clear and dry and in the improved conditions the Alfas began to claw back the lead. As the race neared completion, the 8C of Stoffell and Helde made an unscheduled stop and in the confusion the Alfa Romeo team made a nonsense of their lap chart. When they re-joined the circuit, they believed they were leading the race and so eased off the pace when in fact they were on the same lap but 8km behind the leading Lagonda. The confusion could not have come at a more opportune time for the Fox and Nicholl team, their lead car had was critically low on oil and so was crawling round slowly with low pressure to save the engine. The second car of Benjafield and Gunter had developed gearbox trouble in the last few hours and limped home to a 13th place finish.
If you’re looking for an eligible car to compete at Classic Le Mans or many of the other vintage motorsport, tours and revival events, here at The Classic Motor Hub we are currently offering for sale a fantastic recreation of the winning BPK 202 team car based upon an original 1934 Lagonda 3 Litre. The original body of the car was badly damaged and so the owner decided to redesign the car to the correct M45 specification ordered by Fox and Nicholl in 1934. As such the body is an exact replica, as authenticated by the president of the Lagonda Club, with the mechanicals also a mirror of the original blueprints. The car is incredibly powerful and handles beautifully, the gearbox is a fully syncromesh Alvis `box that was a common upgrade on Lagonda motor cars in period and makes for a very enjoyable pre-war driving experience.
The engine fires up first time with no mixture or timing to worry about, another feather in this car’s cap for ease of use, something which can rarely be said about pre-war cars. Under throttle the torque pulls from deep down in the rev range and has a nice smooth power band ideal for cruising on British B-roads. The restoration was completed 5 years ago, and the car remains impeccably fresh and ready to drive away. This car is not to be missed and so immediate inspection at The Classic Motor Hub is highly recommended.