The seminal moment

Espada03_493e951e1ca70-lightboxI opened the door and climbed in. Contemporary press reports often made reference to “the Italian driving position”. Thankfully – perhaps for the first time I’d thought of it this way – I seem to have the classic Italian short legs and long arms. The steering wheel is maybe a little too angled but apart from that, the driving position suits me.

I adjusted the seat, switched on the ignition and then generally prodded all the switches to see what they would do. Yep, it all works. Now for the main event, that last click on the ignition key…

I had been briefed to start the V12 by ‘tickling’ it into life. It’s all too easy to flood the engine if you dump copious amounts of fuel out of 12 big carburetor chokes. I’d already heard the fuel pumps stop clicking so I gave the throttle a couple of jabs and turned the key.

It’s a unique sound, the cranking of a Lamborghini V12. You can hear and feel the potential. She coughed then stopped. I jabbed the throttle twice more and flicked the key again. A few cylinders made the effort this time so the next trick is to repeatedly – but lightly – jab the gas pedal to tickle the other cylinders and introduce them to the chorus. That’s it – she’s on 12! Now a deeper prod of the gas to clear her throat. Wow! Listen to that! Now I let her idle for a short time to get some temperature.

I attempted to pull gently off the drive. And stalled. I had long wondered why drivers of old Italian motors gave the cars so much throttle before pulling away. I often winced at the thought of what must be happening to the clutch. The fact is, getting all 12 chokes to make a smooth transition from the idle jets to the main jets – especially when cold – never quite happens. You need to get the car off the idle jets while stationary THEN pull away. I had been told before, I’d just been reminded! This time only a flick of the key was needed to start the engine.

Pulling away was easy. The 4 litre V12 lacks torque at low revs so you need to give it some gas to see some action. The steering is meaty, despite power assistance, although it lightens up as speed gathers. The first motorist I saw had seen me first and mounted the kerb while staring at the big wide coupe pulling on to the main road. “The old girl’s still got the magic then!” I thought.

Given that I’d have been happy if the Espada were to drive like a Foden truck, I was delighted to discover that it actually drives really nicely. It’s not what I’d call quick – I’d call it gathering speed rather than acceleration. It feels planted and the brakes are mighty.

Another early observation was that the headlights are diabolical. It makes no difference to me or oncoming traffic if I am on main beam. One of the things I plan to do is upgrade the headlights with more modern, possibly gas discharge, units.

To start as I figured I would go on, I made an early call to a gas station – Optimax of course (Ferrari recommends it for all its cars back to the year dot). Filling up with gas is a pretty cool experience. The filler caps are behind the faux vents on either side of the C pillars so there is a preparation sequence of opening the vents and removing both caps before filling each side. It kind of rams home a message to onlookers: this baby drinks gas!

With the tanks brimmed I was ready to give it some exercise.

Given that the Espada was ‘the Italian Rolls Royce’, one might expect this huge GT car to be something that burbles around town on a wave of torque. It isn’t. The Lamborghini V12 is a supercar engine, no question about that. It’s perfectly driveable at modest speeds but it doesn’t feel like it enjoys it much.

Open the taps up though and get the revs up beyond 5,000rpm and it all comes together. The throttle response improves and the synchromesh ceases to be mildly obstructive. 5,000rpm upwards is The Promised Land. In fact, performance in this realm could even be called acceleration. And lots more goes on here too. Lovely sounds like the clicks of the gearlever as it passes through the 3rd – Neutral – 4th detents (the sound and weight is like cocking a pump-action shotgun). Then there is the pertoosh noise the carbs make on gearshifts. Last but not least is the exhaust howl. It makes your hair stand on end. Somehow – and that big dashboard contributes to it – the sensation is one of piloting a large jet, or an express train. The whole experience is epic, heroic even. There is precision rather than finesse in the way an Espada goes about its business.

Handling is interesting. The car is wide, low and heavy. There is plenty of grip from the tall, fat Pirelli P6000s. But tall sidewalls demand a different approach to cornering – one that involves forward planning and commitment and which demands smoothness. Eye up a corner correctly, turn in precisely and the Espada will hold on tenaciously to show a surprising turn of speed through roundabouts.

My first audience was a couple of guys in an M3 that I’d passed and which subsequently gave chase. I took the ‘racing line’ through a wide, clear roundabout and after easing off on the other side, the M3 cruised past with the driver and passenger both grinning like they had swallowed coat hangers and both giving an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Yep, the old girl’s still got the magic. Was it worth 30 years of waiting? Oooh yes!





Phil James