RUN BY Dougal Macdonald
OWNED SINCE October 2004
TURNING A DREAM INTO REALITY
I blame the September 2001 issue of C&SC. Aged 26 and working in Hong Kong, I was living a life of long hours, little sleep and no cars. Then a story by Richard Heseltine on the Lamborghini Islero started a dream that took 17 years to bring to fruition, and life has now come full circle with a role on the magazine. Four years and multiple re-reads of the article later, that dog-eared issue of C&SC and I returned to the UK. I had always fancied a classic, but why an Islero? I wanted a fast four-seater with a boot, good for drives to the Highlands or southern Europe – in other words, a proper GT. And this restrained express has always been overlooked. Which was exactly why I wanted one. Insurance was the main barrier.
At 29, with no insurance history for five years, that barrier was firmly down: I remember getting a £5200 quote for cover on a BMW 520i. In a moment of madness, I asked one insurer for an Islero quote. After liaising with the classic department, she said: “How does £600 sound?” I almost fell off my chair.
The chase was on, but how was I going to find and finance my unicorn? The latter was answered when my grandmother passed away and left me some money, but the former proved trickier. Just 255 of this lesser-known Italian were built: 125 first-generation cars, then 100 of the ‘S’, uprated from 320bhp to 350bhp and easily identified by its bonnet scoop and flared arches. I prefer the earlier model and they were a little cheaper – about the price of new Ford Mondeo – but engine fires and crashes took their toll on survival rates. Then, in February 2004, I saw an advert in C&SC for a 1968 car with Joop Stolze Classic Cars. I struck out for The Netherlands to find the car at the back of a barn, covered in dust and looking unloved. I had planned to drive home so was disappointed, but bought it nonetheless.
A friend gave me the number of a Putney garage, and the car arrived on a dark and rainy night. I can’t explain the thrill as I got in, turned the key and it fired, but after a few seconds of chattering chains the garage owner told me to turn it off.
I didn’t know then, but that was the last time it would run for 14 years. The engine block was sound, but the rest of the car was knackered. Eventually, a deal was done: I would do the laborious and non-technical work; they would train me and do specialist work when they had time. And so began the next four years. My first job was removing nearly four decades of dirt and underseal over three weeks of hell. The more I took off the Islero, the more problems I found. One rear quarter was full of rust, which had been filled over and took five days to remove, and the passenger footwell was so rotten that I put my foot through.
By the end of the year I’d stripped and rebuilt the engine. By the end of the four years, though, the time had come to get back to work and I left for Africa. Over the next seven years the car was resprayed and the suspension reattached before, in 2013, the garage owner asked if I’d return to London to help sell his stock of exotic cars. I packed my bags and the following Monday I started my new job.
Focus returned to my beloved Islero, and major jobs were done when money was available, including a handmade Larini exhaust. By 2015 it was time to move and I was unsure it would ever get finished. I was given the name of Lambo specialist Colin Clarke and we agreed a figure to complete the work. Finally, in May 2018, I picked up the car and my wife and I went away to the Cotswolds for my birthday… marred only slightly by a terrifying drive to the hotel in the dark with no headlights.
Further scares have included a return trip from Goodwood with only full beam – so I had to hold the stalk all the way – and driving back from Bicester in 36ºC with the windows stuck up… explaining to my brother why I arrived with no trousers on took some explaining. But the Silverstone Classic gave me a tick on the bucket-list when I got a parade lap of the circuit for the Islero’s 50th anniversary. The V12 at 4000rpm in fourth still gives me goosebumps, and moments like that make it all worthwhile.
Clockwise from top left: at Colin Clarke Engineering, with the engine about to go in; reassembly begins at last after the respray; finished interior; glorious V12 is now as good as new.
Main: the Islero has been taken back to exactly as it left the factory. Above: as found in Holland. Below right: at Silverstone for the model’s 50th anniversary.