Lamborghini’s smallest model: a 2½-Litre mid-engined coupe. Tight “2+2” accommodation within an exciting and generally well engineered package. Performance only moderate for high price, but maximum speed over 140 mph. Noisy, and gearchange poor. Very flat cornering; superb roadholding.
Just as it did in racing over a decade ago, the swing towards the mid-engined configuration has led to some fundamental re-thinking by the designers of the world’s fastest and most exotic roadgoing sports cars. Having changed the total concept of their cars in the interests of weight distribution, roadholding, traction and steering response, they began to look to the merits of sophisticated suspension design, of light weight, and overall compact-ness as a way of building cars of very high performance but not necessarily great size, nor with huge and thirsty engines.
Each of Italy’s major specialist car manufacturers has its “supercar”, built to satisfy the small but ever-present demand for the “ultimate” sports car. These have engines of at least 4-Iitres or more, located in the midships position, and two seater bodywork of – by the standards of a few years ago – modest dimensions. But perhaps the more significant development of recent years has been in the next generation down; the cars which Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati have built in search of a wider and cheaper – though scarcely commonplace – market. It is here that the Ferrari Dino 308 GT4, the Lamborghini Urraco and the Maserati Merak meet head on. Not much smaller physically than their supercar cousins, all three have vee-configuration engines of less than 3-litres. And, as so often happens in racing, the desire to adopt a certain mechanical layout, plus mimicry of rivals good ideas – and the close knit nature of Italy’s freelance stylists – has resulted in cars which not only share similar specifications and can be expected to have fairly similar performance, but also look remarkably alike.
The Lamborghini Urraco is the first of this important group to be the subject of a full Autocar road test. First shown at the Turin Show in 1970, the Urraco has only gone into full-scale production in the last 12 months. Like the more recent Dino 308, the Urraco has a V8 engine, transversely mounted behind the driving compartment and its ‘‘two plus two” body is the work of Bertone (the Maserati Merak has a 3-litre V6 mounted longitudinally – and body by Guigiaro). Lamborghini are less conservative than Ferrari, so that inside and out the Urraco is executed with more flair. But it is half a litre smaller in engine capacity and 35 bhp short of the Dino and yet costs nearly £500 more than the Ferrari in basic form. The car that we tested was a Urraco S which has leather seats and trim, electrically operated windows and tinted glass as standard, and costs another £500 more at £9,385.
Even at this price the Urraco is the cheapest Lamborghini by some distance. It is also the smallest, and that in itself is one reason why this is the most manageable – and the fastest “Point A to Point B” model of the marque to date. In terms of straight line performance the Urraco is quite impressive for a 2 ½ -litre car without being remarkable. Its maximum speed of 143 mph compares favourably to under-3-litre competitors like the Porsche 911S and the Alfa Romeo Montreal, but the standing start acceleration times are slower than both, the 0-60 mph time being 2.4sec slower than the 911S and the 0-100, 5.2sec slower; the Alfa Romeo is correspondingly 0.9 and 1.2sec quicker than the Lamborghini.
Raised headlamps spoil the perfect lines of the Urraco; auxiliary lights are used for signalling during the day Massive wheels and tyres almost dominate the car.
What makes the Urraco so quick on the road is its very high standards of roadholding, its totally predictable handling and its powerful, well balanced braking. It is at its best on smooth twisting roads which it covers in a manner that is every enthusiast’s dream: fast, responsively and comfortably, with glorious noise of a highly-tuned V8 for accompaniment. On motorways the constant high noise level can be irritating but the car is capable of fuss-free and stable cruising at over 120 mph, if the opportunity presents itself. At the other end of the scale, the engine is tractable and untemperamental enough, for town use, though a heavy clutch, awkward gearchange and limited rear-quarter visibility mean that it is not at its best under these conditions. Of its type, then, the Urraco is a most practical car, though it is of a price where all round practical it is rarely an important selling point.
Chronologically, as well as mechanically, the Urraco follows on from the Miura – the model that really established the I Lamborghini name among the elite of specialist car manufacturers. The Miura was the firm’s first venture into mid-engined cars. Its V12 engine was mounted transversely with the gearbox alongside it. The single-cam per bank 2,463cc V8 of the Urraco is shorter and altogether more compact, so that the gearbox can sit in line with it, directly in line with the crankshaft. Thus the bulk of the, engine is to the right of the car centre line, just behind the driver’s left ear in the right hand drive version. The five-speed gearbox is on the left of the engine compartment and a pinion on the secondary shaft drives a straight-cut spur crownwheel in the differential casing directly behind it. The layout means that the drive-shafts have to be of unequal lengths and furthermore that they have to work through an angle of 10 degrees, pointing forwards. The longer right-hand shaft passes between the engine block and the exhaust manifold of the rearmost cylinder bank. The complete engine/transmission assembly plus the rear sus-pension are contained on a box- section tubular subframe which is rubber mounted to the integral body/chassis structure at its punt type floor pan.
For an engine of its size and state of tune (it is rated at 220 bhp DIN at 7.500 rpm) the Urraco’s neat V8 is very tractable, though it has relatively little power low down in the rev range.
Provided one avoids sudden wide throttle openings it will trickle along in third or fourth gear below 1.500 rpm (from less than 20 mph). Leisurely take-offs in second gear are smooth and sometimes convenient as first can prove difficult to engage. Indeed, cruising along in traffic it is easy to forget which gear the car is in, thanks to the freedom from transmission snatch down to very low rpm and the fact that it makes the same noise throughout. Opening the throttle wide in too high a gear causes the four Weber carburettors to flood themselves and sometimes cut the engine; this proved a problem during our in-the-gears acceleration tests. On the open road it means that one sometimes has to take first coming out of a tight bend to be sure of a clean, fast exit.
Air for the engine is taken in through the armadillo-like slatted ducts behind the rear quarter lights but the radiator is in the nose, with pipework to the header tank in the engine compartment passing through the central tunnel that also encloses the gear linkage. Under normal traffic and weather conditions the water temperature rarely exceeds 80 deg C and only one of the two electric cooling fans is in operation.
The second one can be brought in to anticipate overheating by a facia switch; it will turn itself on automatically at over 80 deg C and does in any case operate when the air conditioning unit is switched on. Oil temperature is usually steady at 60 deg C, but rose to over 80 during our maximum speed runs. The oil pressure runs at 6 kg/cm2 (85 psi) at around 6.000 rpm, dropping to below 2 kg/cm2 (28 psi) at the 700 rpm idle speed when hot, at which point the pressure gauge’s warning light comes on. Oil consumption, which was heavier around town than on a long Continental trip, averaged 500 miles per pint.
Fuel consumption also varied a great deal with the use to which the car was being put. Average fuel consumption of 17.5 mpg for a 800-mile period, which included commuting and several lengthy main road journeys in this country was worse than the constant speed figure at 100 mph. A 1,300 mile round- trip to Germany, however, produced an overall figure of 19.8 mpg.
Cold starting demanded rather more than the usual Weber trick of “two pumps and half throttle” but the Urraco’s drive away characteristics were good. Starting when hot required a longish period of churning and some throttle coaxing. Some of our drivers were disappointed that the engine did not more obviously “come on cam” but such is the smooth delivery of power up the rev range that the Urraco is actually accelerating faster than it seems. But not as fast as the speedometer would have one believe; it was over 10 per cent optimistic and at the 143 mph maximum indicated 155 mph! The best-recorded maximum speed, incidentally, represented 7,500 rpm, which is the red line point on the tachometer. Though it took three miles run-in to build up the last 10 mph or so, the engine showed no signs of strain at the maximum and was notably free of vibration. Only the noise level gave a clue to the amount of work the engine was doing.
The gear ratios have been well chosen with roughly equal increments between second, third and fourth. The gearbox is a two-shaft design with Porsche-type synchromesh and with the change pattern in the old Porsche style: first to the left and down, and second to fifth in the conventional H pattern.
In practice, first is often difficult to engage and the change is not a good one. The movements are large – six inches across the gate at the lever knob and eight inches front to rear – heavy, and not very positive. The lever is spring-loaded towards second and third but it takes some time to learn to let the lever go with the spring to this central plane before pushing it forward when changing from first to second.
The layout doesn’t help, for it means that the most important “overtaking” change from fourth to third is an awkward one while on an “Alfa pattern” five-speed box it is a simple straight-line change. Reverse, opposite first and engaged by lifting the gear lever collar, is easy to find and change into, thanks to the provision of synchromesh.
The clutch is heavy in operation but with relatively short pedal travel and a direct horizontal leg push this is hardly noticed. Faced with our standing start acceleration tests the clutch was not really up to the job. We had been concerned by damp weather conditions on the day reserved for performance testing the Urraco, but need not have worried.
On an almost dry piece of road using 5,000 rpm, the clutch totally refused to cope with the load. Eventually we used a wet patch to encourage a little wheelspin, feeding the clutch in fairly gently from 4,000 rpm. For the same reason the car would not restart on a 1 in 3 hill and was reluctant to do so on a 1 in 4 gradient.
A look backwards from the centre of the facia shows the four close-coupled seats, and the rear view obscured by the engine-room slats and their centre support
The standing start figures are to some extent hindered by one of the factors that gives the Urraco such tremendous cornering power – its big 205/70 Michelin XWX tyres. We have now had experience of these VR tyres on a number of cars and though they are expensive, they do have superb grip qualities. On the Urraco they are fitted to Min. magnesium alloy Campagnolo wheels with 7 ½ in. wide rims. There is some evidence that these tyres are actually a size too big in section, by the way the car tends to “white line” following bumps or changes in road surface.
The great amount of traction that these tyres provide undoubtedly has an effect on the Urraco’s handling characteristics. A 40:60 front to rear weight distribution sounds like a recipe for oversteer, whereas the Urraco actually understeers to the limit. Under normal circumstances on the road the understeer is very slight. The steering, which feels rather dead when going slowly (in this it is like the Espada) is beautifully responsive at speed; light, precise and with just enough caster action. It is low geared at four turns from lock-to-lock, presumably in the interests of manoeuvring round town, though this is not helped by the very wide turning circle.
The Urraco uses simple and space-saving MacPherson struts front and rear, the latter having particularly long coil spring/damper units and being located by reversed lower wish-bones and tubular trailing arms. Suspension travel is a useful 6 ½ in. and at no time during our tenure did the car noticeably hit the bump stops. The ride is firm, particularly at low speeds, but the steering’s strong reaction to bumps is an inhibitor to travel-ling really fast on indifferent surfaces.
There are ½ in. diameter anti-roll bars front and rear and to most intents and purposes body roll is eliminated completely. Only in tests on the MIRA steering pad did we induce a noticeable amount of roll. The lack of nose-up attitude on acceleration and, more important, nose dip under braking is similarly impressive and contributes to the reassuring feel of the car on a fast cross-country am.
The cornering power is such that almost any smooth bend can be taken 20 per cent faster than one expects, while the stable way that it slows for comers and lays the power down coming out of them means that surprisingly fast averages can be set up without a great deal of effort.
It follows that the Urraco’s “swervability” in a panic situation is very good indeed. Its behaviour in the wet is also pre-diet able, thanks to the car’s nicely balanced handling.
The brakes – 11in, ventilated discs front and rear – have no servo, but pedal pressures are not inordinately high. Our retardation tests showed them to be very progressive and at 90lb pedal pressure giving a figure only just short of 1g, all four wheels locked. The figures are probably more impressive than they seem for in this case there is virtually no nose dip to confuse our decelerometer. The Urraco also came through the fade test very well.
On the other hand, the hand-brake, which operates through a separate set of callipers on the back wheels, is only a small step from useless. Even with the pull of both hands it managed a deceleration of no more than 0.15g and was unable to hold the car on anything steeper than a 1 in 5 hill.
We were impressed by the Urraco’s high speed stability. On the German motorway , where we did the maximum speed runs, it ran straight as a die and could be driven ‘‘hands off” at 140 mph. This, and the car’s top speed, are a tribute to its aerodynamics, which are notably free of spoilers, air dams and other fashionable add-ons.
Wind noise is actually very-low and there is a curious lack of draught when travelling fast with the curved side windows open, though this can set up buffeting in the centre of the driving compartment. But though the car may be aerodynamically quiet, it certainly isn’t mechanically.
It is hard to analyse the origins of the various noises that emanate from behind the little vertical window that separates the engine from the cockpit. The noise is not unpleasant; indeed, it is reminiscent of the Lamborghini V12 in its generous exhaust note. The valve gear and the transmission both contribute to this high interior noise level (though, unlike the 12s, the V8 engine has belt rather than chain-driven camshafts). Some of our drivers are more sensitive to, or less tolerant of noisy cars than others but all agree that the continuous combination of whine and buzzfrom the Urraco can be tiresome on a long motorway journey. Fortunately the Philips RN512 radio/cassette player fitted to the test car was powerful enough to blot out most of the mechanical noise.
Above left: Entire facia is trimmed in suede. Note adjustable footrest for passenger, but no adjustable column for driver.
Above: fairly small but wide and regularly shaped luggage compartment in tail. Comprehensive toolkit with spare belts is standard.
Left: Urraco with everything open. Slatted cover is only protection for engine, is released by lever in door pillar. Front space is for spare wheel and mechanisms only, not luggage.
Below left: Back seats are very occasional indeed, unless front occupants are very small or forgiving, but a single rear passenger is quite comfortable when installed sideways.
Below: Massive air cleaners dominate engine compartment. When removed, access to other components is better, though still far from good.
The noise situation might be improved by further work on cockpit insulation, in some respects the space provided in the cockpit is surprisingly large.
The relatively far forward seating position means that the front wheel arches intrude on leg space so that both driver and front passenger have to sit at an angle towards the centre of the car. This is more noticeable for the passenger who has to adopt a slightly awkward position to make full use of the foot well, but the driver is hardly aware of it; his seat is angled slightly, the steering wheel less so.
The steeply raked windscreen docs, however, present the usual problem for a (all driver and anyone 6ft or over is forced to adopt a driving position that is far from ideal to avoid hitting his head on the sun visor. The well-shaped seats have generous front-rear adjustment and the backrests can be reclined through a limited range.
The prototype short legged, long armed Italian (is anybody really this shape?) is well catered for: others have to compromise in having the wheel too far a way or the pedals too close.
After a 100 miles or so it becomes apparent that in an attempt to give as much head-room as possible the seat cushions have been made too shallow, and the driver has an ache at the base of the spine.
The front seats have head rests that can be moved up and down; those at the rear are fixed. The rear seats are too upright for any more than occasional use by adults, but headroom there is less of a problem than finding somewhere to put the rear seat passengers’ legs.
Since a tall driver, at least, cannot drive comfortably with his seat sufficiently forward to leave any space behind him, the Urraco must be considered a “2 plus 1″ at best. Comfort for one person sitting across the back is aided by the sensible way that the rear seat padded trim is extended round the side walls below the rear quarter windows.
The quality and finish of the trim in the test car was very good. In the “S” specification model the outer panels of the seats and the doors are trimmed in high quality leather, while the centres of the seats are a hard-wearing cloth material which blends well with the fitted carpeting (which is, incidentally, located with Velcro strips – and as we have observed before, this material is not up to the job of holding carpet against the aver-age shuffling foot).
The remainder of the interior, including the top of the scuttle, the facia surround and central “console”, is covered in a bluey-grey suedette which apart from looking good is reflection free, though areas around the window lift switches, armrests etc. showed early signs of wear.
Forward visibility is excellent and the short nose makes the Urraco easy to “place” on the road. The view in the mirror through the heavily-slatted rear cover is better than one might expect, but the slats’ central supporting strut is annoying. This, added to the poor rear three-quarter vision makes reversing awkward.
With such a deep and steeply raked screen the sun can soon heat up the car’s interior and the fitting of air conditioning does a lot to improve passenger comfort in a car of this type. The refrigeration unit is controlled by a knob on the right of the small centre console with a three-speed fan switch to the left and two adjustable ducts between them. The fan is quite noisy, though masked by the general mechanical buzz. The normal heating/ventilating system is controlled by two levers at the sides of the steering column. These are stiff and vague in operation and the heater is of the simple water valve type, making selection of temperature difficult.
The facia is comprehensively equipped, with two groups of tumbler switches on the horizontal surface below the instrument panel, Espada style. The instruments themselves are by Jaeger and nicely matched. In order to keep the scuttle line as low as possible, the large speedometer and rev counter have been placed either side of the steering wheel. We remember that the Ford GT70 prototype had this layout at the suggestion of the works rally drivers. When they came to drive it, they found it unsatisfactory. We feel the same; it is hard to cope with two important dials spaced so widely apart. The battery of lozenge-shaped warning lights directly behind the wheel is good and a convenient touch are dimmed by the instrument light rheostat.
Living with the Urraco
However inadequate the rear seats might be for full-sized people, the space in rear is a great asset for carrying oddments, coats, etc.; anyone who has driven a strictly two-seater mid-engined’ car knows how irritating lack of this space can be.
The carpeted compartment in the rear is small but symmetrically shaped and we found that it accommodated a surprising amount, providing one kept to soft bags instead of suitcases. The glove locker is very small.
The rectangular supplementary lamps are used only for warning flashing, but the quartz-halogen headlamps are powerful enough not to need assistance. The electric mechanism for the headlight pods works efficiently (and did so involuntarily on one occasion on pave); in the event of failure they can be raised manually.
The front compartment, the cover of which acts as an exit duct for radiator air, is totally occupied by the spare wheel, battery, horn, transistor ignition pack, and reservoirs for brake, clutch and screen washers (the latter very awkward to fill). It is not even recommended to stow the comprehensive tool kit in there, to avoid damaging heater air ducting.
The Urraco is not the sort of car that we would expect many owners to want to service them-selves. The engine, on display as it is from inside the car, is neat to look at. but not very accessible. Even the dipstick and the oil filler cap are tucked away and the filler requires a long-necked funnel. The distributor and alternator are on top, in the centre of the engine vee. The radiator header tank is behind the engine. The petrol filler is alongside it, potentially a little dangerous and inconvenient in that the engine cover has to be lifted and supported with its strut every time the tank is filled.
The recommended service interval is 5,000km (3,000 miles) at which point the engine oil is changed. Transmission oil is changed every 10.000km.
It would be wrong to attempt to justify the Lamborghini Urraco in terms of value for its near-£10,000 price, or in comparison with other cars of similar engine size and greater accommodation with almost comparable performance. Such cars are not bought on an entirely rational basis. The important thing is that the mini-Supercar concept works; that the Urraco is a practical all-round car, untemperamental, more spacious than many of its type – and very satisfying to drive. At the same time it has more cornering power than almost any road car we have driven.
Its gearchange needs improvement and the general noise level could be reduced, but any other disadvantages are those of the shape and style of car that Lamborghini and Bertone have chosen to produce; i.e. the sheer problems of accommodating people in such a low, super-streamlined and, in our view, excitingly elegant shape. Those are problems which we believe that all but the bulkiest potential customers will be happy to endure.
Rear view: Four exhaust pipes all serving a useful purpose, and some idea of the view afforded by the slatted engine cover. Neat rear lamp duster treatment is a good point
MANUFACTURER: Aulomobffi Ferruccio Lemborghmi S.p.A. 40019 S. Agata Bolognese (Bologne) Italy
UK CONCESSIONAIRES: Lamborghini (GB) Lid., 55 Park Lane, London W1
Insurance Croup 7
EXTRAS (Inc. VAT)
Air conditioning £327.93
Philips RN512 radio/cassette player £120.00 approximate
Special Car Tax £663.46
Total (in GB) £9,385.21
Seat Belts £30.42
Delivery charge (London) £118.80
Number plates £4.60
Total on the Road (axe. insurance) £9,564.93
TOTAL AS TESTED ON THE ROAD 1974 £10,012.86