Going continental

DSCF1081_493ea8d8b2a39-lightboxI collected it three days before I would be embarking on the Eurotunnel and my longest journey yet in the Espada: a trip to the continent. I spent those three days finding traffic jams, thrashing the car, finding more traffic jams and even I couldn’t muster any more than 90 degrees.

Crushing continents is what the Espada was designed for. I would now, finally, after three years of getting to know it, put it to the test: can a Lamborghini Espada still cut the mustard as a consummate Gran Turismo?

I would be leaving on a Friday afternoon which would mean catching the Brussels ring road in rush hour. It’s the kind of road that makes the M25 look like a free-flowing nirvana so I called a friend for an alternative route to Spa Francorchamps that avoided it. However, not long after I’d left the Eurotunnel, the phone rang and distracted me as I sailed past the exit for the alternative route. To be honest, I’d had such a wonderful drive down to Folkestone without a hitch that I was sufficiently emboldened to tackle Brussels rather than turn around for the Lille exit.

Here I was in a 29 year old supercar doing exactly what it was designed to do: cruise effortlessly at over 100mph across countries. I’d done England, passed through France and was now spearing into Belgium. I got to thinking: here I am flying past traffic, listening to the complex V12 overlaid with period tunes from the hi-fi like it’s a modern car. Except of course it’s not. The Espada comes from an era when few cars could even reach 100mph let alone cruise at considerably higher speeds all day. What a truly remarkable machine!

I reached Brussels and sure enough my progress ground to a halt. I flicked on the auxiliary fan and lit a cigarette to relax as the temperature sat at a steady 90 degrees, the engine gently humming and everybody but everybody gawping at the big old Lamborghini. I spent about an hour in that stop-start hell before resuming my gallop to Spa. This is the way to travel!

Reaching the Shell garage at the top of the hill outside Liege I refilled the twin tanks and a bit of quick arithmetic calculated that since Calais I’d managed close to 20mpg. I carried on to the circuit to meet up with my friend Cheng Lim and his mighty Cobra. By now it was getting dark and I was glad of my brighter headlights although I still think I’ll end up fitting HID Xenons – the current headlamps are simply not up to the velocities of which the Espada is capable.

The following morning was an early start for scrutineering and I’d pre-organised a paddock pass for the Espada – you’ve got to love the ‘passport factor’ of a Lamborghini! Especially as the Six Heures du Spa is one of the biggest classic car racing meetings in Europe now. It proved very popular with the spectators. Cheng and I went out and qualified the Cobra in 3rd position.

A little later in the morning, my friend Albert Mensinga (“Dinkel” from the car forums) arrived from Holland. No sooner had he arrived than Cheng announced he’d fitted the new front discs and needed to bed them in. He strapped on the UK registration plates for a quick blat to Malmedy, the Espada would be the chase car. Albert hopped in the Lamborghini with his camera for the ride. From past experience chase car duties behind that Cobra made my Red Rose TVR Tuscan feel gutless …the Espada gamely gave its best but was no match for the 630bhp 6.6 litre Cobra. “Welcome to Belgium Albert!”

On the Sunday, rain was forecast but held off all day until our race. I took and then lost 2nd place on the opening lap …then it rained. As I was passing through the backmarkers, I suddenly happened upon the two leaders. I like the rain and was setting fastest laps in the conditions – P1 was mine up to the driver change. Unfortunately we caught the safety car wrongly and lost the lead but Cheng drove a blinder as the track dried out and recovered 3rd. For six years he and I have been going to Spa to get on the hallowed podium and have been so close (leading, poles, fastest laps) so many times but cheated by bad luck (puncture, broken throttle pedal, vapour lock) that P3 felt as good as a win to us. We leapt about like Schumachers to the bemusement of the other two podium finishers!

It had been a fabulous weekend but I still had one part of the adventure to come – the 400 mile return trip in the Espada. It never missed a beat.

The following weekend, I took the Espada out for a drive and to my surprise it felt like a different car. That 1,000 mile blast had clearly done it the world of good as the throttle response was razor sharp and it pulled like a train. I could nonchalantly overtake traffic just as I would in The Duchess – just drop a cog and nail it. The car was really coming good now.

The weekend after that was the Lamborghini Club UK annual dinner in Anglesey, another 600 mile round trip. I caught jams on the M6 and A55 and the car just sat there humming at 90 degrees until the road cleared and serious progress could be made. It sounded terrific in the A55’s tunnels! I enjoyed getting lost trying to find the Tre-Ysgawen Hall venue – it meant I could hammer round the empty lanes of Anglesey until the sun went down. To crown the year, I was awarded the LCUK “Pride of Ownership Award” for 2006.

The Espada’s final outing in 2006 was to be perhaps its strangest and most challenging: a London Tunnel Run. I’ve done lots of these runs, usually in my Cerberas. They’re all about the sound of the engine underground and, after the Anglesey trip, I fancied the Espada might sound rather good in London’s smaller tunnels. It was a Dawn Raid Tunnel Run, kicking off from Canary Wharf at 6.30am for a dash through London before heading down to the coast. The Espada was magnificent, it showed a surprising turn of speed at London’s traffic lights amongst the modern sports cars, made a glorious noise in the tunnels and fairly galloped down the A3 to Portsmouth.

On its return, I handed the Espada back to Jim the Bentley at its “hotel” with a small list of over-winter tweaks and improvements in readiness for 2007. “This year, Rodney, we’re going to make like millionaires.” I’m going to Monaco and then on to the Lamborghini factory to celebrate my Espada’s 30th birthday on the Furball 5000 Alpine Tour. I can’t wait!





Phil James