The obsession

Espada06_4922d94d66c4e-lightboxI first saw an Espada when I was seven years old. My stepfather’s brother was chauffeur to author Alistair Maclean and Gregory would occasionally swing by with one of Maclean’s new cars. Typically these cars were Rolls Royces or Bentleys …but one day ‘Uncle Gregory’ rocked up in a dark metallic green, LHD Lamborghini Espada S3. I was smitten.

An Espada is still a startling car today but try to imagine what one looks like against a backdrop of Morris Minors, Ford Corsairs and Vauxhall Victors. A spaceship – that’s what it looked like. To my young – but already fairly car-obsessed ears – it sounded amazing. Never mind being years away from understanding how or why it sounded so special, I just knew it was special. And playground bragging rights were mine.

Amongst wanting to be a fireman, a racing driver or a millionaire ‘when I grow up’, at seven years old I had resolved – and I mean resolved – that I wanted a brand new Lamborghini Espada ‘when I grow up’. Oh yes indeed. The concept of ‘model lifespan’ was of course beyond my ken. Acquiring the green Maclean car was ruled out shortly after I had seen it because Gregory wrote off the car – and almost himself – by falling off the side of mountain in Switzerland. ‘Brake failure’ apparently. Yeah, right!

Fast forward a couple of decades. I successfully survived my terrible street-racing teens to make a reasonable fist of a career and earn the ability to indulge my car passion. Car obsession even. The Espada moment was approaching. Trouble is, they stopped making new ones in 1978. In the 90s I came very close to going after the Shah of Iran’s Espada. It would be close to ‘new’ on the basis it had done few miles and had apparently been shipped to Sant’Agata for servicing. I spent a tense day by the phone contemplating a bid but feared I’d get carried away and go broke to get it. A month later I read the auction results in a magazine and spent another day banging my head on the desk and making Muttley noises. The car had sold for not much more than ‘book’ price. I consoled myself with ‘more fish in sea’ and ‘the bloody thing was white anyway’.

In the meantime I’d developed a collecting habit and discovered car storage. Access to infinite garage space may yet prove to be my ruin but for now, well, life ain’t a dress rehearsal right? One day I was in the car store and I spotted the unmistakable shape of an Espada under a cover.

I was seven all over again. “Can I have a look please?” Now, in my mind’s eye ‘my’ Espada had always been dark metallic blue with a tan interior – the tan of the coolest Italian leather jackets. Outside my head I’d never seen such a car but it was burned into my imagination. I had also established that a late S3 would be best.

So: the unveiling. After a brief but vigorous rub of my knees, I lifted the corner of the cover. It’s dark metallic blue. It’s on an ‘R’ plate. It’s got THAT tan leather interior. It’s got 27,000 miles on the clock. Hubba hubba! “When this comes up for sale, call me IMMEDIATELY!” I said, as I thrust my card into the hand of the car store manager. “Don’t you forget, call me IMMEDIATELY”. Six months later in August 2003, he called…

I went to look at the Espada when it was on a ramp at an MOT station. I gulped when I looked underneath. It was as clean as on top. I never expected to find something quite like this 25 years after they stopped making them. Here I was standing under what must be one of the finest Espadas left …exactly three months after I’d dumped a boat load of cash into a business venture. “So, erm, price…?” I mumbled.

The owner was keen that the Espada would go to a good home. Yep, I could warrant that. “So, erm, price…?” Price, as it happened, was one I could afford because it failed the MOT (exhaust hole, emissions, one bad tyre). The owner didn’t really want to spend any more on the car. Also, the time and cost to auction, which would include a few more months of storage, could be argued off the price. The final price is something the former keeper and I agreed not to tell. Sorry.

I bought the car but sorting the MOT and having the car serviced took another month. I still hadn’t driven it. To be perfectly honest, it could drive like a knackered Foden truck and I would still be happy. At the end of September 2003 I was racing my TVR Tuscan and on the Friday before the race was testing at Brands Hatch, Kent. While I was there, the Espada was being parked on my drive. Once I’d had the call that it was at home, to say I was excited to get back would be an understatement. The distraction of knowing a dark blue ’77 Espada S3 was waiting for me may have been why my lap times were somewhat underwhelming that day. I certainly went a damned sight faster when I drove my Cerbera home.

As I turned into my road, there she was gleaming in the autumn sunset, reversed neatly in front of the right-hand garage. Oh Mumma! Parked next to my 560SEL it is about the same width and length …but it is as low as a Cerbera. Running – that funny run like you’re busting for the toilet – I rushed into the house to get the keys off the mat.

This was going to be a seminal moment…

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Phil James