Think of a supercar that typifies the 1980s. Did you think of the Lamborghini Countach? It’s pretty likely to be one of the very first to spring to mind, but it wasn’t the only wild supercar that Lamborghini produced at the time.
It may have been slightly overshadowed by its big brother, but the Jalpa does a pretty fine job of summing up the era too. It doesn’t get any more 1980s than Phil Collins driving a white Jalpa in Miami Vice. Or does it? Rocky Balboa cruising in a black example during one of the fourth film's epic montage scenes comes pretty close.
Developed during what was actually a very tough period for Lamborghini, with the factory close to closing down. Becoming insolvent in early 1980, new investors were brought in with fresh ideas – and a new idea to revisit the Ferrari 308
The Jalpa was based on the ultra-rare Silhouette
– itself an evolution of the Urraco – but this was a substantial re-engineering exercise undertaken by Lamborghini. Known as project P118, Bertone offered an updated eighties-tastic body kit with widely-flared wheel arches, a deep front splitter, a redesigned engine cover and a set of 16-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, the Jalpa’s restyled dashboard was a little more controversial, with a very square-cut cockpit design. The instruments were all mounted in some slightly inelegant black boxes, and although matching the very angular look of the bodywork, it was not universally loved. There’s certainly a period charm to it today, but build quality leaves a lot be desired.
Despite the add-ons, the Jalpa’s relatively compact dimensions and well-judged proportions mean that it isn’t quite as attention-seeking as the larger Countach – this more subtle styling theme has continued among ‘baby’ Lamborghinis ever since.
The transverse mid-mounted V8 is a development of the unit first fitted to the Urraco, though capacity increased from the original 2.5 litres to 3.5 courtesy of an increased stroke. Producing 255bhp, the Jalpa was outperformed by similarly powerful but lighter rivals like the Ferrari 308, though it was still claimed to reach a top speed of around 150mph. To this day, the Jalpa is the last V8-powered car Lamborghini has produced.
On the road, many drivers will find the Jalpa a much easier car to live with than the larger Countach. All round visibility is much better, the engine is a little more tractable at low speeds, and – though still something of a workout – the major controls are lighter. Disc brakes are fitted all round and the MacPherson strut setup helps to provide a flat, stable stance through the corners.
The leather trimmed interior is a lovely place to sit, and was fairly well-equipped for the time: air conditioning, a cassette player and an electrically-adjustable driver’s door mirror were all standard. While it was perhaps not finished to a great standard, the Jalpa compared favourably to the Ferrari 308 in terms of ergonomics. All Jalpas featured a targa roof, the operation of which is straightforward, and is surprisingly leak free under normal use!
And what does Jalpa actually mean? Like most Lamborghinis, the name comes from bullfighting folklore, being taken from a fierce Mexican bull breed.
Which Jalpa to buy?
This baby Lambo was not a commercial success, with around 410 Jalpas were sold in the car’s eight-year life. Just 35 of those were right-hand drive models. There was one cosmetic upgrade to the Jalpa during production: in 1984 the revised rear replaced the square tail lights with round units, while all exterior parts finished in plastic (the engine cover, the bumpers and air vents) became body-coloured instead of black.
Modifications to the Jalpa on the aftermarket are rare, though some owners have added a Countach-style rear wing while others have fitted the telephone dial-style alloys from the Silhouette.
The Jalpa was never considered to be as desirable as the original Uracco, but find a well sorted example today, and there’s certainly a 1980s charm that gives the targa-top a character of its own. To say that the Jalpa wasn't a dynamic masterpiece is pehaps a little misleading, but when it was new could wind down a country lane with pace, fluidity and flexibility to make it an effective machine. .
Performance and specs
||255bhp @ 7000rpm
||235lb ft @ 3250rpm
|Price when new
Dimensions and weight
• As with any hand-built car, there can be issues with build quality. Be sure to check that all the interior trim fits as it should, and that each switch and dial on the dashboard works properly. The car was notoriously badly built, and spares are often difficult to locate.
• Rust isn’t the nightmare it can be with some cars of this age, though it’s worth taking a good look around the wheel arch extensions. Water can collect inside the arch, which can cause corrosion. Restoration is an expensive prospect, as body panels usually need to be fabricated
• Be sure to check for a comprehensive history. The Jalpa needs regular attention to ensure smooth, reliable running. As they are among the cheapest used Lamborghini models, some owners may have skimped on important maintenance.
• Without modification, the brakes will suffer from fade. Cooling is the key, which is why many owners have attempted to fit ducts that direct air to the front calipers.
• Check the condition of the engine mounts. These were considered a little flimsy in the Urraco, but the Jalpa’s extra torque increases the chances of fatigue further. The mounts will eventually fail.
• Any blue smoke from the exhaust on sharp throttle applications is a sign that the valve seals are worn, and the guides and seats will need replacement. A small amount of oil burning is normal however.
• Despite the reputation, engines are generally quite reliable and feature a timing chain unlike the earlier Uracco unit.
March 1981: Jalpa revealed at the Geneva Motor Show. Intended to replace Silhouette, and sit beneath the Countach in the Lamborghini range
March 1984: Styling revised with changes to the tail lights and body trim
July 1988: Jalpa production ends, with 410 units sold
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.lamborghiniclub.co.uk – Big UK owners club
• www.lamborghiniregistry.com – a wide-ranging Lamborghini forum, which includes a section dedicated to the Jalpa
• www.jalpa.ch – a site run by a Jalpa owner, which contains info on maintenance, documentation and sales
• www.colinclarkeengineering.co.uk – classic Italian supercar specialist based in Hertfordshire
Summary and prices
The Jalpa has remained relatively overlooked until recently, but thanks to both its rarity and the ever skyrocketing values of the larger Countach it’s desirability – and therefore values – have increased rapidly. Finding one (especially a right-hand drive example) will require patience, but expect to find the cleanest cars with only a couple of thousand genuine miles on the clock advertised for well over £120,000. Slightly more well-worn examples are likely to hover around the £70,000 mark, while you might just be able to find a rough runner from around £30,000.
Words: Alex Ingram