The List Reader Steve Yately once came within a whisker of buying a project Lamborghini Espada sight-unseen but saw sense at the last minute. Today we give him the chance to drive a prime specimen of this unusually proportioned V12 thoroughbred. Your dream drive made real “Listen to that maniacal crackle of 12 cylinders” Steve Yately once toyed with the idea of buying an Espada in Italy and driving it back, but common sense prevailed. Time to rectify that, as we put him behind the wheel of a Series III. Words Ross Alkureishi. Photography Jonathan Jacob.
A lucky reader samples Lamborghini’s finest conveyance – the Espada.
Drive-my readers are a hardy bunch, willing to undergo multiple hardships in order to get their ix. Take Sutton resident Steve Yately, for example; post-Christmas with little annual leave left, demanding family and professional lives, and on Tuesday I hit him with, ‘I’d like to put you behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Espada. Can you do Friday? Oh, and it’s in Cheshire.’ Well, just inside Wales actually. Yet here he is, standing in the glorious winter sunshine at Hawarden Airport, outside the premises of Cheshire Classic Cars.
‘Who could turn down the opportunity to drive a Lamborghini Espada? Not I,’ he says. Already ejected from his mind is an arduous journey north that involved leaving London after work the night before, catching the train from Euston, only to be ejected unceremoniously onto a bus replacement service at Crewe, and finally arriving just after midnight.
Today Steve is going to get the full-fat experience – experiencing the car as if he owns it. No cosy prior warming up of that V12 by the specialist, he’ll be cranking it up from cold – and it is chilly, with the thermometer hovering barely above zero degrees Celsius. CCC’s managing director Iain Tyrrell raises the garage shutter, and our car is slowly revealed in all its metallic Rosso Granada glory. ‘That’ll do me,’ says Steve. ‘In that colour and with tan hide interior it manages to combine Seventies period charm with supreme tastefulness – not always an attribute you can award to a Lambo of any period. We’ll leave the oranges and acid greens to its more exuberant stablemates, I think.’
That’s a good call. The marque’s extrovert offerings – classic and contemporary – may look glorious in those hues, but I’m not sure they’d be so kind to the Espada’s vast Gandini-penned lines. ‘Park it at the foot of the BT Tower and you’d almost expect Thunderbird 2 to whoosh overhead,’ states Steve. ‘It’s so low-slung and purposeful, yet avoids the overt phallic thrusting of more pointy-nosed period rivals. It has little to prove, with no need to shout its arrival.’ As he climbs down into the lavishly trimmed cockpit, I’ve a feeling the V12 is just about to do exactly that. Steve turns the ignition key; a whirring fuel pump primes the Six Weber carburettors, before the obligatory couple of foot pumps and it erupts first time with a grandiose bellow.
‘Listen to that maniacal cackle of 12 hungry cylinders,’ he effuses, blipping the throttle again. As the quad Ansa tailpipe exhaust note whip-cracks around the workshop, instinctively we both wave somewhat apologetically to the staff – there’s no quiet way to warm through a Lamborghini V12, and that lends cranking it up a distinct sense of theatre. After more gratuitous blippage it settles down into an even idle, and it’s time for the grand performance. We trundle out from the CCC premises and we’re released – the B5192 our stage. Or it would be, had Steve not stalled it. A sheepish grin, a quick restart and we’re of again.
‘This is my first foray into V12 territory. Even after a couple of hundred yards I’m struck by how different the engine note is from the low rumble of a V8 – it’s a higher, more urgent thrum. It suggests subtlety and gentility are not part of today’s programme.’ As we trundle along with locals on the school run, the big Lambo is as conspicuous as a box of Ferrero Rocher in a ploughman’s lunch. Not that my driver is overly bothered, as he begins verbalising his thoughts. ‘My initial fears have dissipated – I’m not lying down with my knees touching my ears, I’m very comfortable.
The steering wheel is within easy reach, gearstick similarly so. Pedals are evenly spaced; so much for the short legs, long arms stereotype. All the important switchgear seems to be present and correct, and I’m particularly taken by the period radio to the right of the steering wheel – resolutely the sole domain of the driver.’
I think it’s fair to assume he won’t be engaging it today, not with that 12-cylinder symphony awaiting. ‘It’s not that happy in this traffic – you can almost feel it longing for an open straight,’ he explains, before promptly stalling it again at a Zebra crossing. ‘The clutch, instead of the workout I was expecting, is wonderfully light, the gearbox rile-bolt precise, but it’s the throttle I’m finding hardest to get right – it’s a little stiff, on or of with not much in between. But hey, we’re both in our forties and neither of us are properly warmed up yet,’ shrugs Steve.
At that, we hit the outer limits of the town, and a national speed limit sign is his signal to open those significant Weber taps. There’s a smooth, powerful surge with an accompanying resonant growl, before the briefest of pauses as he reloads, and then once again fires the throttle. It’s a gentle introduction to this grand Italian beefcake and as we continue to progress I can sense Steve quietly trying to work out the nuances of the car’s character.
Deeper into the Welsh countryside he breaks his silence, ‘I think the urgency of the engine’s note is making my newbie instincts change up too early. I think there’s much more to come.’ As we approach a roundabout he shifts down into second and coasts round before nailing it. There’s that familiar strong surge, but this time he glances at the rev counter. As it passes 5000rpm the pitch hardens and I can sense him telling himself, ‘hold, hold, hold…’
The power continues to build ferociously as the acoustics tighten ever more wickedly up through to the 7200rpm redline. ‘Blimey, the cacophony from those twelve trumpets finally letting rip is everything I hoped it’d be. There’s plentiful torque available,’ he says, engaging the anchors as another roundabout approaches. ‘And it gets you round these no matter what gear you find yourself in. The brakes though are, shall we say, of their time and require considerably heftier input to arrest progress significantly. ’
We blast past Mold on the bypass and then cut back through town heading north-west. Again it’s clear the big-engined Lambo isn’t at its happiest here, and that long snout makes pulling out of junctions a digit-crossing experience, as you edge out warily like a truculent bull scanning for enemy matadors.
With the engine now thoroughly warmed up there comes a bonus, because it’s becoming toasty in the cabin. ‘The heat is welcome,’ he says. ‘And overall cabin visibility is excellent. It’s airy in here and not claustrophobic at all, the glass in the tailgate especially helpful in this regard – no peering through letterboxes.’ Or louvres. While stablemate Miura was a wild child, the first true supercar setting the ‘ballistic performance, but with compromises attached’ template, the Espada was for an entirely different and more sophisticated clientele.
The chassis judders as the offside front tyre hits a pothole during our B-road blast in rural Wales. ‘It actually handles these roads quite well,’ says Steve. ‘There’s relatively little wallow and although the Series III’s power-assisted steering is nice and light, it’s not too vague, with a decent amount of feel. Its turning circle has also been a pleasant surprise and what car park manoeuvring we did at the start wasn’t the beads-of-sweat-on- the-forehead ordeal I thought it would be.’
Time for a spot of lunch, so we stop at St Asaph and have a chat over a cuppa and sandwich. The first point of discussion is the Espada’s unique aesthetic – I explain that to me it has always looked a bit awkward, with a hint of the Pink Panther’s car to its rear end. ‘You’re not the first person to say that to me,’ he confides.
‘But for me, I would never, ever tire of its looks. It just works – I have always admired the sheer drama of it.’ He pauses for a moment, and then recalls one of our earlier conversations. ‘Don’t you own a Lancia Fulvia Zagato?’ Ah, that’s a good point well made – beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.
‘I can remember finding two Espadas for sale in Italy on the internet around 12 years ago,’ he continues. ‘The deal was £20k each or £35k the pair. I got as far as discussing the possibility over a pint, with a couple of like-minded mates. The epic money-making road trip was on. A few more pints down the line, though, and we had already talked ourselves out of it – the main reason being that we were about 34,950 quid short. When I got home, a brief recount of the story to my wife elicited a patient eye roll, a pat on the knee and an expression that said, “Good, I won’t have to kill you after all”.’
Actor Bob Hoskins once famously said, ‘It’s good to talk,’ but it’s infinitely better to dream. That’s what Steve was doing back then. Today though, as we climb back in our steed, we’re dealing firmly in reality. We head straight for the A55 North Wales Expressway and release this bull into its natural environment. ‘Oh, it’s simply glorious,’ says Steve, in his element. The V12 is barely ticking over as we cover ground effortlessly, with the interior calm occasionally punctured by a resonant heavy burst of acceleration.
‘You know a friend exclaimed, “An Espada? Better get going before it breaks!” when we were discussing this opportunity. And he wasn’t the only one. “Hmm, temperamental, those are,” “that’ll be a handful,” “it won’t work,” and so on. Similar reservations, I have to confess, did reside within me, to one extent or another; preconceptions of ungainly driving positions, heavy clutches and even heavier steering, combined with a bewildered scattering of switchgear to steer the experience into one ultimately of anticlimax. I needn’t have worried. The biggest niggle is the indicator stalk, which is an uncharacteristically spindly affair hovering just out of finger range. Not exactly a deal breaker, is it?’
Trip over, we trundle back to base and park up. Steve gazes at the charging bull sitting atop the steering wheel boss. ‘It’s a good place to be, right?’ There’s no need to answer. ‘Can we gloss over the stalling start to set of my little adventure, and blame the feather-light pedals on my current daily drive – a dinky little Mazda – for my initial lack of commitment?’ No need, I explain, the powerplant wasn’t fully warmed up.
So, to the all-important question – would he have one? He takes a few seconds to ponder. ‘I made the right decision all those years ago; could I have afforded an engine rebuild or body restoration? No, and the chances are the ‘bargains’ would have needed both. ‘It was over all too soon, but it’s been quite a ride and my love affair remains undiminished, so it’s a yes. Today has revealed the Espada to be what I always hoped it was – a ‘sensible’ four-seater supercar you can get the kids in. It has a decent boot and you can do the weekly shop in it, although pootling along with weekend traffic on the Sutton bypass isn’t its natural home. The open road beckons. Hmm, what time does the Naples Aldi shut…?’
Thanks to Iain Tyrrell, Max Walker and all at Cheshire Classic Cars (cheshireclassiccars.co.uk) where this Espada is currently for sale.
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1973 Lamborghini Espada SIII
Engine 3929cc, V12 dohc-per-bank, six twinchoke Weber 40DCOE carburettors
Max tower 350bhp @ 6500rpm / SAE gross
Max torque 290lb ft @ 5500rpm / SAE gross
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Brakes Ventilated dual-circuit discs with twin servos
Suspension Front and rear wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Steering ZF worm and sector; optional power
Weight 1761kg (3875lb)
Performance 0-60mph: 6.5sec;
Top speed: 158mph
Fuel consumption 15mpg
Cost new $19,945 (1973 USA)
CC Price Guide $50,000k-S180,000
Steve relishes the prospect of tickling twelve cylinders with a five-speed manual. Just in case you didn’t know what you were stepping into. Digniied colour suits it, says Steve. Steve was particularly partial to the totally driver-focused radio to the right of the wheel. Such drama yet so easy to get along with. Our reader is in grand touring heaven. A dozen cylinders, half a dozen Webers, and it even started first time. Pretty impressive; and then there’s the noise… Espada rekindled Steve’s dream of an epic Italian road trip.
‘My fears have dissipated – I’m not lying down with my knees touching my ears, I’m very comfortable’
‘I would never tire of its looks. It just works – I have always admired the sheer drama of it’
STEVE’S DREAM DRIVE LIST
De Tomaso Pantera ‘Everything that’s good about Seventies excess. It looks like it’s going to pounce and eat you – chest wig optional.’
Jensen Interceptor ‘Svelte Italian styling and American muscle, yet still quintessentially British – a proper chap’s car.’
Aston Martin V8 Vantage ‘Thoroughbred to Jensen’s mongrel. Price tag as muscular as its styling’
Iso Grifo ‘Another fine example of US grunt in an exquisite package, a rare beauty.’
Bristol Fighter ‘Heroically bonkers last hurrah from Bristol. Modern, yes. Classic? Instant.’
Ferrari 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ ‘Good old-fashioned Ferrari up-front V12 sexiness. Truly iconic.’
Porsche 959 ‘Understated (well, for Group B anyway) guided missile that you could really use every day. An awesome machine.’
Maserati Ghibli ‘Everyone’s mental image of the archetypical seductive Seventies supercar.’
STEVE YATELY’S CAR CV
A cast list of down-to-earth practicality that’s the polar opposite of the exotic Espada
AUSTIN MONTEGO 2.0HLS
‘My dad’s car, back when electric front windows were considered posh, in which I learned to drive. Resplendent in Oporto Red metallic paint, with two-tone brown velour interior, it was fairly quick, but Austin-Rover build quality meant dad bought Japanese thereafter.’
FORD CORTINA MkV 1.6L
‘My first car, with a special place in my heart. There was a point when every offshoot of my family had a Cortina – even my grandad had a MkI, followed by II, III and ultimately IV. A true car for the everyman – I sold it on the day Freddie Mercury died, and was disconsolate twice over.’
MORRIS MINOR 1000
‘Just hearing that blowing-a-raspberry exhaust note as one pootles by still brings a smile to my face, and elicits memories of bouncing along, jostling that Bakelite hula-hoop of a steering wheel. Proves you don’t need a million horsepower to have a good time. Still missed.’
MERCEDES-BENZ W124 E220 ESTATE
‘A dozen years of sterling service now, doing familial duties. Hewn from a solid lump of granite, it’s a seven-seat family shuttle, camping trip Tardis or elegant workhorse. Self-levelling suspension (springs as well as spheres – no sinking Citroën antics for us), cosseting yet firm until their failure turned it into a bouncy castle. A costly ix, but their replacements should take it round the world a few more times.’