You probably know Evel Knievel as a stuntman; a daredevil; a crazy motorcycle performer who wore brightly colored jumpsuits and broke virtually every bone in his body. But did you also know that he owned a 1984 Aston Martin Lagonda with an 8.2-liter Chevy V8 and a tow-behind coffin trailer that he slept in?
I didn't, until I got an e-mail last week from Mark Karpinski, production manager at MotoeXotica – the same St. Louis classic car dealer who had that time capsule 1997 Land Rover Defender a few months back. I don't remember the exact text of the e-mail, but it included the words "Evel Knievel," "Aston Martin Lagonda," and "coffin trailer." This, I decided, required further investigation.
So I called up Mark, and he told me the story of the Evel Knievel Lagonda, which is now for sale at his dealership for $109,900 – a negotiable figure, because, as Mark says, "How do you decide on a price for an Evel Kneivel Aston Martin with a Chevy Big Block and a coffin trailer?"
As it turns out, someone decided on a price a few years ago. That's because this Lagonda sold at Barrett Jackson's 2009 Scottsdale auction for $35,200 — or approximately one-third of the current asking price — suggesting that there's a lot more wiggle room than a typical used car.
The Evel Knievel Lagonda story begins back in the late 1960s, when Evel Knievel – a crazy Montanan whose name was actually Robert – started using motorcycles to jump over stuff. It continues to the early 1970s, when he used more powerful motorcycles to jump over bigger stuff. By the mid-1970s, he was using really powerful motorcycles to jump over really big stuff. At one point, he jumped over 13 Pepsi trucks. I swear this is true.
Unfortunately, Evel's career took a turn for the worse in 1977 when he used a baseball bat to beat up an executive at 20th Century Fox. This had the effect you would expect: his sponsors left him, his image was destroyed, and – as a result – his personal finances dwindled. Faced with this depressing situation, Evel did what any of us would: he bought a 1984 Aston Martin Lagonda, installed a tow hitch and a big block V8, and drove around the country sleeping in a custom-built coffin trailer.
Now, before we go any further, a little backstory on the Lagonda for those of you who aren't familiar with Aston's 1970s attempt at a full-size luxury sedan. Here's the deal: it was a V8-powered, four-door Aston-Martin manufactured from 1974 to 1990. It was full of luxury, and technology, and high-tech gadgets and features. And it was the single ugliest car ever built. (This is not an opinion that is endorsed by the editorial leadership here at Jalopnik. The Lagonda is amazing and we think Doug is wrong. - Ed)
Of course, being a 1970s-era Aston Martin, it was also rather unreliable, and frankly a little slow, which prompted Knievel to pull out the factory 280-horsepower 5.3-liter V8 and add in a 440-cubic inch Chrysler V8. Eventually, even this wasn't enough for Evel, and in the late 1990s he swapped out the Chrysler Big Block for an 8.2-liter General Motors Really Big Block, along with a custom-built automatic transmission to handle the power. He also opted for a custom interior with Rolls-Royce leather seats and an eye-grabbing red-and-white color scheme.
So why, you might ask, was Evel Knievel driving around the United States in a hot-rod Aston Martin with a coffin trailer? Apparently, the situation is this: following the baseball bat incident, with bankruptcy looming and his motorcycle-riding days behind him, Evel took up painting. So he reportedly used the Aston Martin to tour the country, cruising around the United States, selling his paintings by day and sleeping in the coffin trailer at night.
Now, if you're like me, and you're faced with the idea of a world-famous daredevil driving around in an Aston Martin Lagonda with a custom 8.2-liter V8 and sleeping in a coffin-sized trailer, you're probably wondering only one thing: What the hell did Evel Knievel paint? Here's a lifelong stuntman; a crazy guy who petitioned the federal government to let him jump over the Grand Canyon; a person who once attempted to sail over the Snake River in a steam-powered rocket. So what was he painting? Rocket ships? Motorcycles being shot into space? THE DEVIL HIMSELF???
No. It was none of that. He painted landscapes. Some animals. Birds in flight. The occasional image of an old man looking off into the distance. I swear this is true.
So anyway, back to the Lagonda. MotoeXotica got it about a year ago, and set out verifying its authenticity. They tracked down an original title, with Knievel's name on it. They tracked down period photos that show Evel with the car. And they even found the original trailer, owned by a guy in Florida, who sold it to the dealer so it could be reunited with the car.
"I didn't think he actually slept in the trailer," Mark told me. "But when we got it, yep, there's a mattress in there." Mark said the dealership kept the car almost exactly how it was, but replaced the coffin trailer's lining because it was "disgusting" after years of use.
The dealer also tracked down a wide range of Knievel memorabilia to go along with the sale, including a toy version of the Lagonda, a bill of sale transferring ownership of the car from Evel to his son Kelly "for the price of a Ruth Chris Dinner," and even a signed print of one of his paintings, featuring a bighorn sheep walking along in the mountains.
Now, this Lagonda can be yours. Just picture it: you're cruising across the country in your new Aston Martin, seeing the sights, enjoying the land, stopping for fuel every 45 minutes. And when you get tired, there's no need to find a hotel, or pay for a room. All you have to do is pull over and climb inside your coffin. Just like Evel would've done.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.