REVIEW:// Espada S3: Lambo fever

Summer of '77

My daily walk to school was an adventurous stroll past exciting '60s appartementbuildings and tidy blocks of modest John Doe houses. Adventurous in the sense of boyhood bravery: walking the thin line over a B-route viaduct edge, collecting garbage wine bottles for their labels and spotting the white Opel Commodore 2.8. And maybe, when it was a really good day, hearing it rev up . . .

2011-01 Lamborghini Espada/lamborghini-espada-white [small]One day I was overwhelmed by a sleek white spaceship parked next to the common mans Ford Taunus, 2CV, Beetle, Simca 1100 and the lot. Now this was something else. Streched out like a cat in the sun, luxury and pace was packed in one gorgeous design. I'd first laid eyes on a Lamborghini Espada: the amazing wheels, the exhausts gunning at the back, the fine leather inside, the rear window and that odd horizontal extra line of glass . . . This was truly a shape from outer space.

A few hours later I dug my nose in the details, sitting with the '76 Cars Annual on the libraries table. There it was: a fourseater with a V12, and 350 horses! Holy cow . . . The next weeks, months I drew air intakes similar as on this Gandini masterpiece ally bonnets, on every of my schoolboys cardesigns. And I drew them a lot.

This Spada I'd spot obviously belonged to someone familiar with the family living in that neighbourhood. The car became a regular, and thus, a friend. One I kept in my bag of favourites over the years.

Summer of '05

Now Tom, a friend of my old pal Wim happens to be the passionate owner of an absolute mint S3, first owner (his dad) and maintained by the man himself. An appointment was swiftly made but since the dark metalic beauty had some engine problems due to some bad hands 'n brain (Tom does not recommend this garage) we drove his LP5000S instead. But that's another story . . .

When we were at his garage a carefull inspection at his fourseater Lambo (with the engine out and sets of Webers stalled here and there) confirmed what I already knew: together with the period Maserati Khamsin this is it when it comes down to defining the hardcore Italian GT car.

lamborghini espada left side

Up close and personal

On a luverly summers sunday morning drive to meet my youths 'friend' I encountered a handfull of shiny ragtops driving in my opposite direction, obviously towards some classic rally's start. Normally the immaculate looking and lightblue Facel Vega would've tempted me to turn back and stalk untill a gasstop could've gave me the opportunity to have a closer look, possibly meet the owner and make an appointment for a delightfull day such as this day out with the Espada.

But in my current state of mind I was almost looking down on those inferior hacks passing by. Although the rumbling Vega was a sight begging for my moment of weakness . . . I pressed my rightfoot and added an extra 15 mph to my current cruising pace. Encouraged by Patrice Rushen's '82 'Straight From the Heart' almost adequate-to-the-era soundtrack with soulfull voices, pumping drums and sexy basslines, I always associated the 70s Italian stylee cars as 'black' and feminine like 'negresse' athletes: powerfull and stylish, sleek and mystical, fast and extremely capable in an understated manner. Strange? Maybe, but to me the Gandinis exquisite and clean cut Lambolines are as effective as stressed muscular ladies legs.


In the backseat

As always the majestic entrance of the owners estate made me forget everything I thought of that morning. Looking at the left: two covered LP5000S's shoulder to shoulder and a Lupo for sheer contrast. Looking at the right: the wooden gardenhouse that beholds the Espada. Straight ahead a nice big house with a tempting and inviting terrace. After a few cuppas for welcome we walked to the sacred place to unveil some stunning piece of Italian Grand Turismo. I saw her before when the owner took me out in his white 4.7 Countach. It was still dark metalic blue, low and very impressive, the interior was still very white and spacious and the Pirelli's looked used (which is very good).

This place, entered by blokes with a shared passion, devotion and care for Lamborghini in particular, was and will always be some sort of chapel. A place that'll provoke spiritual behaviour. The moment I layed eyes on her again I followed that specific Bertone flow and got sucked into that very inviting inside.

2011-01 Lamborghini Espada/lamborghini-espada-rear-window [small]Tom gave her some extra oil for the run to come, cleared the entrance by moving an in the way Beetle (a gorgeous 60s thingy) and hopped in. I watched the Spada's curious back while pumps began to run the necesarry fluids. With a cough, a shake and a rumble the 12 pot woke up from her beauty sleep. A muscular and almost Yankish idle gave hints of what to come but didn't strike me as much as the more agressively cammed and carbed Countach. With a bit of pedal the 474 cm long, 118 cm high and 186 cm wide automotive masterpiece shoved backwards with royal grace. A U-turn and full stop and I opened the door. Wim (190 cm) in the backseat and meself (186 cm) at the passengers side. Tom (190cm) fumbled the toggles, gently switched to 1st and lifted his left foot. From the moment the long doors closed we were in Lambo-world. The absolute pedigree does not go unnoticed, it's simply everywhere: the odeur of speed in style, the seating position of relaxed and comforting wealth, the sound of the wake up call engine music. Fab.


A bit of history

In the 70s the Espada was the fastest saloon-car in the world, with a top speed of over 250 Km/h and a standing 1000m in just 25 secs. With 1217 made, it was also Lamborghini's most successful model at that time. Based on the futuristic Marzal show car and the rebodied Jaguar E-type Bertone Pirana it was to fill the spot of a fourseater GT in Lambo's late 60s lineup: the elegant 400GT and the supercar Miura. At the 1968 Geneva Auto Show the Espada S1 made her debut to the public as did the luverly Islero, who replaced the 400 GT 2+2. It's a bit tricky to get the types right since Lamborghini always made running changes in mid-production. But to make things easy the S1 had the Marzal influenced dash (1968-1970), the S2 got ZF power-steering (1970-1972) and the S3 is considered the best driver with improved brakes and suspension (1972-1978).

Under the long ally bonnet - the rest of the car's body is made of steel - lays the 'standard' Lamborghini 3.9 litre quad cam V12. Fed by six twin-throat 40mm DCOE Webers S3's max power is 350bhp @ 7,500rpm, max torque is 290 ftlbs @ 5,500rpm. This particular car is almost completely original - look at those ugly period radio speakers - and very well cared for. But what it really needs are better brakes. The four ventilated Girling discs behind the magnificent 15" Campagnolo cast magnesium alloy wheels and Pirelli 215-70 VR's, just aren't up to their task. A bit of hard braking kept the wheels inline but send the shakes through the whole car. And we were only doing rural roads at about 100 mph! This traveller puts in 1635 kgs of weight, plus 93 litres of Optimax and three average sized blokes: so there is an excuse.

2011-01 Lamborghini Espada/lamborghini-espada-engine [large]


On the road

The needle steady at 1k while we buckled up 70s stylee, which was a bit awkward compared to nowadays easy-fit straps. The first ten minutes everything seemed to need some time get right. The firm ride offers utter comfort. Sounds were kept outside so there was the occasion of discussion - nice when you're heading to wherever in Europe - and with the windows shut the fragrance of speed and mechanic grandeur was kept outside. At least that was how Tom it wanted to be.

2011-01 Lamborghini Espada/lamborghini-espada-white-interior [small]The comfy porn-white leather allowed our arms and legs to have all the space needed. Even Wim had a perfect seat layed out in the back, while enjoying the fast moving landscape and the slightly darker exhaustnote compared to our ears up front. Lots of glass gives an excellent vision all around. The overwhelming feeling to go everywhere was a powerfull statement we shared I'm sure. But off course we all knew we wouldn't go anywhere further than a hoon across our backyards countryside. And on these twisty parts of rural tarmac this Lambo did the best she can, feelling much smaller and agile than you'd expect. But to me it became very clear the Spada was designed to take on endless stretches of highway at high speeds. But then I never had the feeling of being 'King of the road' - as strong as in this Italian saloon.


Three point nine litres

Now about that yum motor: all Yankishness had dissappeared when she was all warmed up, ready for a serious go. Untill about 4k the Giotto Bizzarrini designed mill sounds all very nice, well gentle almost, never losing the racy origin. At 4.5k there is a transition and she makes clear that there is a way back if you want. All nice and very kind but we didn't want that. Above that borderline the V12 really opens up. The pace increased and the typical Lamborghini howl pointed out the boys from the men. Tom shifts at 6k, redline is at 7 . . . People start to look better, take pics if they can and jaws are dropped. My smile became bigger every minute. Glorious.

On overrun the pops are way more decent compared to the LP5000s ravage 'n flames. The Countach is a wild one, the Espada at least tries to hide some of the savageness all Lambo's run through their veins. Again, at speed, the car is perfectly balanced and in control. In peace and with confidence there's no need to force things, pull the gearswitch hard, try to stay in yer seat and all that. . . . One could not hustle a Miura or a Countach in such a cool-handed way in traffic. And besides that there's room for friends and luggage: this is the perfect Lamborghini for me. But didn't I already knew that for years.

Unlike the brand might suggest there's so much bulletproof confident feeling all over IMO anyone could drive a Espada. Correct me if I'm wrong. With a learning curve similar to any other sporty saloon this is a buy worth thinking of. Off course a bit of budget helps to keep fear of exorbitant maintainance bills outside. And in the case of Wim and Tom for that reason, they do a lot of work themselves.

2011-01 Lamborghini Espada/lamborghini-espada-front-right-angle [large]

The next day

The other day and on my commuters short cut off-highway trip back home I followed a 575. Now that looked like a GT that could handle the slow twisties. With me in 2nd 'n 3rd gear I lost the silver one after a curve or three. A big bow to modern electronics . . . but is it more fun than in the Lambo? I think not. And what it certainly lacks is that Helmut Newton-ish style . . .

Looking at the prices of a good Espada, Jarama and Islero makes me think. Maybe they're not 'old' enough. Or maybe it's the type of car, the classic GT shape that has died out or isn't preferred anymore. For me a Quattroporte, Khamsin, 365GTC/4, 400- and 412-like peoplemover is a very appealing concept. And no, a current S6 Audi or Beemer M5 just won't do the trick.

NB. the 12 Pot-plated Espada belongs to Phil James.

Words and photography: Albert Mensinga, autumn 2005