When reflecting on the car industry these days, a quote from Charles Dickens always seems to come to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” You see the whole industry is in a transition, and not a very well organized one, at that. We’re seeing the adoption of new technologies but the future is far from certain. We are witnessing the phasing out of internal combustion engines and the adoption of “green” electric motors and advanced computers to drive our automobiles. To illustrate this fact, Lamborghini’s “pure” V12 combustion engine in its final form will go out of production before the end of 2022. The oil, heat, smells, exhaust, roar and power of petrol engines will soon become a footnote on the scrapheap of technology, which is kind of heartrending for any auto enthusiast.
This is perhaps the reason Lamborghini is celebrating its legendary V12 during all of 2022. The V12 is a beast of a 12-cylinder engine that has powered the luxury Italian carmaker’s most iconic cars for almost 60 years. One quintessential vehicle it powered was the Espada 400 GT, which was the first four-seat vehicle by Lamborghini and was its biggest selling model for years. The Spanish name “Espada” means “sword,” referring to the blade that a bullfighter uses to kill the bull in the arena.
HOW IT WAS MADE
Ever since the start of his venture into automobile manufacturing, company founder and former tractor maker, Ferruccio Lamborghini had just one goal. He wanted to make the best possible Grand Tourer (GT): a sports car that was not only fast but also comfortable and steeped in luxury, too. At the time, Lamborghini thought his competitor’s cars from Ferrari were good, but he felt they were too noisy and rough to be proper road cars. He categorised them as “repurposed track cars with poorly built interiors.” He would then build a different car, a better luxury GT.
Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1968, the Espada 400 GT perfectly embodied Lamborghini’s ambition for over a decade. The Espada could comfortably seat four adults and had space for both luggage and passengers. In addition, the Espada featured a truly outstanding build quality with the utmost in attention to detail and craftsmanship.
The interior came with generous amounts of supple hides, as well as the option for factory installed air conditioning. Power steering was introduced as an option in 1969 and it was included as standard from 1972 onwards. An automatic transmission was available from 1974 as an option.
The heart of the Espada was the 60° V12 engine that was first produced in 1963 with a displacement of 3.5 litres. Later in 1964, it was increased to 4 litres and was capable of delivering 325 hp at 7200 rpm when it was first fitted in the Espada. This increased to 350 hp at 7500 rpm in the Espada Series II, which was introduced in 1970.
The V12 was fed by monster Weber 40 DCOE side-draft carburetors, and had a compression ratio of 9.5:1 (which increased to 10.7:1 from the Series II onwards). The higher the compression, the more power delivered by each piston stroke. The engine weighed a scant 232 kg thanks to substantial use of aluminum to make, not only the cylinder head, but also the crankcase and the pistons. The V12 engine was front-mounted in a position that was slightly further forward compared to the previous Lamborghini 350/400 GTs, in order to make the interior roomier.
The chassis was based on that of the 400 GT but it was lengthened so that the wheelbase (distance between front and rear wheels) reached 2650 mm and it was also widened, with the wheel track (space between the wheels across the axle) increasing to 149 cm. It was unusual for those days as the car had four-wheel independent suspension, with double wishbones and coil springs.
THE SPEED DEMON OF THE DECADE
The Espada was an extremely fast grand tourer that was capable of reaching a top speed of between 245 and 260 km/h. When it was first unveiled, the Espada was the fastest four-seat car in the world. The car had a modern boxy shape as part of a highly innovative design by Carrozzeria Bertone, it proved to be a long- lasting commercial success. The car’s versatility and roomy interiors — despite a lowish height of just 119 cm — meant that it was versatile and a “driver’s” car, and that helped to significantly expand the car’s customer base. A total of 1226 cars were produced across its three series.
The Espada VIP was first introduced in 1971. It was based on the Espada 400 GTE Series II and just 12 of the vehicles were made. The first models in this special series of cars came in a special orange hue and had orange and black leather upholstery. Later vehicles were available in other color combinations. This car was unique as the Espada VIP had a mini-bar and a refrigerator in the rear side panels and a Brionvega Algol 11 television on top of the transmission tunnel to keep the passengers in the rear seats entertained and perhaps intoxicated. Today, these features help make the VIP one of the most sought-after models among Espada collectors.
One of the most famous Lamborghini Espada owners was Sir Paul McCartney. The former Beatle was a Lamborghini lover and bought a right-hand-drive 1972 Espada Series III with manual transmission, red paintwork and a red leather interior. His wife Linda often drove the car, but one time she forgot to put on the handbrake and the car rolled into a nearby pond. It was hauled out of the water after three days and later sold to new owners, who went on to use it for a number of years. Subsequently, it ended up being part of the decoration in an English pub. Later in 2005, it was sold to an unknown enthusiast and it is believed that the former McCartney car may now be in Austria.
The last Espada rolled off the assembly line in 1978. It was the end of an era and one of Lamborghini’s most popular cars. With the demise of its V12 engine this year, the car stands as a stark reminder of how bold, elegant, powerful and advanced this very special Italian rolling work of art really was.