Do cars come any cooler than the Lamborghini Espada? Stunning yet ever-so-slightly quirky to look at, a glorious engine and room for four all add up to making this Grand Tourer a truly fascinating classic. With striking Bertone styling inspired by the Lamborghini Marzal and the Bertone Jaguar Piraña concepts, at its launch in 1968 the Espada looked quite unlike anything else – and it still remains that way to this day.
Perhaps even more surprising than its concept-car looks is the way it feels from behind the wheel. Unlike its live axle-suspended contemporaries from Ferrari, the Espada features a fully independent suspension, which combined with the wide track and low centre of gravity endow it with a level of body control quite unlike any other sixties GT. Moving away from the Miura’s separate frame to an advanced monocoque structure allowed the V12 to be neatly packaged up front.
It remains a car primarily set up for cruising, albeit one which loves to rev. The Espada’s engine is a variation of the 3.9-litre V12 fitted to the Miura. Smaller carbs reduce overall power output, but it’s still good for as much as 350bhp at 7500rpm, revving all the way to 8000. The long shift action of the gearbox doesn’t like to be rushed, and suits the relaxed nature well.
It’s even practical, too. There is genuine space for four adults inside, and the boot is wide and square. Perhaps due to this more practical nature, the car lived on for ten years, remaining a sales success for the company. Although sales were beginning to drop off, production stopped in 1978 due to a less than perfect outlook for the company. An icy relationship between Lamborghini and Bertone (who built the bodies), as well as other suppliers keeping their distance from the small company meant that the plug was pulled in an attempt to give the Countach more of a fighting chance.
Is the Espada a perfect classic then? Well, there are one or two things to look out for to avoid financial disaster, but find one in good order and it’ll be hard to find something more distinctive.
Which one to buy?
With 1217 models built over a ten year period, the Espada was the most successful Lamborghini until the Countach. They are rare today though, and as a result the number available for sale at any one time is very small.
The Espada was produced in three distinct versions: Series 1, 2 and 3. The most common, and indeed the most desirable of the three are S2 models. The S2’s V12 received a 25bhp boost in power relative to earlier models, and its cabin features a larger rectangular dash to house the instruments.
S3 examples came with power steering and air conditioning as standard. While PAS is useful, the rack doesn’t feel painfully heavy without it. It isn’t a ‘must have’ feature even if it is a desirable one. The dashboard changed again, with a box section above the centre console bringing many of the controls closer to the driver. Wheels changed from the knock-off items also fitted to the Miura to more modern five-stud items.
Espadas sold to the USA were fitted with 5mph impact bumpers, which rather detracted from the purity of Gandidni’s lines, while later examples also got an anti-smog device to comply with tightening emissions regulations. Thankfully the company managed to engineer this ‘Smog pump’ to cut out at high revs, leaving power unaffected. After 1976, all European Espadas also received the larger impact bumpers, and are slightly less expensive as a result.
As much as restoration projects may seem tempting, such examples will likely need tens of thousands of pounds spent on them to get them back to their best – particularly if any engine work is required.
An automatic gearbox was offered for the first time in a Lamborghini too, but the Chrysler-sourced three-speed TorqueFlite transmission was not a good match for the high-revving engine. The ‘box was set to change up at 4800rpm – 700rpm short of the V12’s torque peak. This transmission also severely limited the car’s acceleration off the line, so it’s not the most desirable specification to have today.
Didn’t they build a four-door Espada? Not officially, but the coachbuilder Frua put together a concept car for the 1978 Turin motor show, called the Faena. This four-door model was extended by 18cm, and featured a higher rear roof line and larger rear end. The car was shown again at Geneva in 1980, but failed to attract any buyers, meaning that just one car exists.
Performance and specs
Engine 3929cc V12
Power 325bhp @ 6500rpm (350bhp @ 7500rpm)
Torque 290lb ft @ 5500rpm
Top speed 155mph
Fuel consumption approx 16mpg
Gearbox Five speed manual, two-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
• The quality of steel used for the Espada’s construction wasn’t exactly the finest, and as a result rust can pop up pretty much anywhere – the front valance, A-pillars and bonnet are all common spots. Body panels are rare and expensive, so make sure everything is visually sound.
• It’s worth taking a look for the rot in harder to reach places if you can, like the boot floor beneath the fuel tanks. That’s ‘tanks’, plural, as the Espada has two, with a total volume of 95 litres. The fuel filler caps are hidden beneath the black grilles on each of the rear quarter panels.
• Give the wheels a quick once-over. They are made from a magnesium alloy, and are prone to corrosion.
• Given the relatively low mileages these cars tend to have covered in their life, the numerous cow hides used to trim the gorgeous interior, seats and dashboard should still be looking good. Spares can be difficult to track down, and re-trimming is surprisingly expensive.
• The engine has many expensive components, so full rebuilds can easily rack up into five-figure sums. If you can find one with a recent engine rebuild, it'll be a huge bonus. If the mileage is heading towards 60,000 and there is no evidence of previous work, be prepared to budget for a full strip-down. Fortunately, spare parts are still in good supply.
• Just like the rest of the powertrain, exhaust systems are pricey. If the original is damaged or corroded, there are many higher quality stainless items to choose from among aftermarket suppliers. Expect to pay over £2,000 for the best parts.
• Setting up six Weber carburettors to work in perfect harmony is a complicated (and therefore expensive, if outsourced) process. They are reliable though, and shouldn’t need much fettling once they’re in order.
March 1968: Espada S1 launched at the Geneva Motor Show
December 1969: Espada S2 launched at Brussels Motor Show. Gains 25bhp, redesigned interior and subtle exterior styling tweaks.
December 1972: Espada S3 launched. Updates include a redesigned dash, new five-stud alloy wheels, revised mesh grille and Alfa Romeo 2000-sourced tail lights replace the previous Fiat 124 Sport Coupe units.
1974: Two-speed automatic transmission available
1975: Impact bumpers fitted to comply with US safety regulations
1978: Espada production run ends
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.lamborghiniclub.co.uk – Big UK owners club
• www.lamborghiniregistry.com – International Lamborghini community and forum
• www.lambocars.com – All the latest Lamborghini news
Summary and prices
As with many sixties Italian classics (and the market in general) values for Espadas are going through the roof. Barely a few years ago it was possible to pick up fine examples for £40,000-£50,000, now, expect to pay between £120,000-£130,000 for the best.
Cars which need some work with marginally higher mileages are priced at around the £100,000 mark. At the lower end of the price range, getting your hands on an S3 restoration project will likely not result in much change from £60,000.