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1968-1969 Lamborghini Espada Series I by Bertone

Evolved from Bertone’s Marzal show car, the Lamborghini Espada was long, low, and somewhat “geometric” inside and out. The Lamborghini Espada arrived during a period of success for Lamborghini. Though a mere five years old in 1968, Lamborghini was booming. The Sant’Agata factory was teeming with activity, and Ferruccio Lamborghini was ready to tackle Ferrari on all fronts. His first car had been a front-engine coupe, his second the amazing mid-engine Miura. Now it was time for a full four-seat GT, which arrived that year as the Lamborghini Espada.

The Lamborghini Espada’s distinctive styling was inspired by the Bertone-designed Marzal show car of 1966. The one-off’s all-glass gullwing doors, honeycomb dash and backlight sunshade motif, and rear (not midships) engine positioning were abandoned, but the basic shape was retained. Like the Lamborghini Miura, the Lamborghini Espada was penned by Marcello Gandini.

Also like Miura, the Lamborghini Espada was engineered largely by Giampaolo Dallara, who stuck to the formula established with the 400 GT 2 + 2: front-mounted quad-cam V-12 bolted up to a 5-speed Lamborghini gearbox directly behind, all-independent wishbone coil suspension, four-wheel disc brakes. Automatic transmission was conspicuous by its absence in a car of this type, but Sant’Agata belatedly corrected that with optional 3-speed Chrysler TorqueFlite beginning in 1974.

Despite basic similarities with the Lamborghini 400 GT and its Lamborghini Islero successor, the Lamborghini Espada went its own way in several respects. Its chassis, for example, was a cheap but strong fabricated pressed-steel platform supplied by Marchesi of Modena. Compared with the 400 GT, the Lamborghini Espada engine was tuned for “only” 325 bhp (DIN), and the entire power package rode 7.9 inches further forward. This and an extra 3.8 inches between wheel centers permitted a larger, four-seat cabin despite a half-inch decrease in overall length. The Lamborghini Espada also spanned wider tracks (by 4.2 inches) and, with its many amenities, was inevitably heavier -- by no less than 1000 pounds.

Again like the Miura, the Espada was a real head-turner, another feather in Bertone’s -- not to mention Lamborghini’s -- cap. A simple nose with circular quad headlamps announced a very wide hood with twin NACA ducts to feed the 4.0-liter V-12’s six twin-throat Weber carburetors. Front fenderlines blended seamlessly into the belt, which curved up at the rear to meet an almost horizontal roofline terminating in a chopped tail with a full-width glass panel below the backlight (presumably to give the driver a better view of those trying to keep pace). Once more, hood and upper fenders formed a forward-hinged unit for easier access to a very full engine bay.

Inside were four bucket seats and decent space aft (so long as the front seats weren’t pushed all the way back). Initially, the Lamborghini Espada presented its driver with a functionally correct, if aesthetically messy, dash with full instrumentation and a wide, downsloped center console housing shifter, various minor switches, and “eyeball” vents (the last borrowed from Ford of England; the indicator stalk came from the Austin Mini). The original three-spoke steering wheel was rather ugly, but nicer ones appeared later.

Only 37 Lamborghini Espadas were built during 1968, but volume soon rose to a steady, albeit low, level. The Espada made an excellent stablemate for the mid-engine Lamborghini Miura (and, later, the Lamborghini Countach) and its basic chassis would be used for the Jarama (see entry), which replaced the Lamborghini Islero in 1970.

In fact, the Lamborghini Espada was advanced enough to last a full decade with only detail alterations. Series II models arrived in early 1970 with the aforementioned nicer steering wheel, plus a cleaner dash, revised grille, vented brakes, and 25 more horsepower. Two years later, Jarama S-type alloy wheels were specified. The Series III bowed at Turin in late ’72 showing another minor grille rework and steering wheel, as well as a redesigned “cockpit” instrument panel with inward-curved center section. Toward the end of the run, Lamborghini claimed 365 bhp.

Though production tailed off rapidly in the aftermath of the first Energy Crisis, the last Lamborghini Espada wasn’t built until 1978. Significantly, Lamborghini has yet to field a direct replacement, perhaps because it would be tough to top this exotic Latin flyer. Collectors, take heed.


Images: Bertone;; lamborghiniespada