Ferruccio Lamborghini had a lot of nerve. He took on Ferrari at its own game with a succession of ever-wilder V12-powered GTs and supercars and then, as if that wasn’t enough, had a crack at the sports car market that the Ferrari Dino shared with the Porsche 911. And he did it with four seats rather than the usual two, and eight cylinders rather than six. How presumptuous.
And so appeared the Urraco – it means, literally, ‘little bull’ – at the 1970 Turin motor show. Bertone’s resident Lamborghini man Marcello Gandini styled it and Paolo Stanzani (employed originally to assist Miura man Gian Paolo Dallara) engineered it, but it’s fair to say that for most of its life the Urraco was upstaged by the Countach, which Stanzani went on to design. Yet here was a car that should have pleased more of the people more of the time. With a pair of rear perches, it pre-dated Maserati’s rival Merak, and with eight cylinders, it got in on the act ahead of Ferrari’s 308GT4.
Fact is, those early cars weren’t powerful enough. The Urraco was launched with a 2.5-litre V8 – mounted transversely behind the rear seats just like the Miura – itself engineered to be cheaper to build with belt-driven camshafts, within a steel monocoque structure suspended all-round on MacPherson struts. Think of it as the practical alternative to a Miura. The shopping Lamborghini. Only people don’t buy Lamborghinis for the daily grind, and they don’t expect them to be built down to supermarket prices. Furthermore, when Lamborghini hit financial trouble, the Urraco was delayed by two years and barely trickled out of the factory after Ferruccio himself sold out. Sant’Agata, it seemed, had launched a damp squib.
Yet take a look at a Urraco today, drink in the concept-car looks of its Bertone lines, hear the beat of its V8. It’s a far more harmonious-looking car than the 308GT4, even if it lacks the Miura’s beauty and the drama of the Countach. How could it have failed? It actually stuck around long enough in production that it gradually improved, first of all by growing into a 3.0-litre and changing its name as a result from P250 (‘P’ for posteriore, signifying the position of its engine) to P300.
Before he left Lamborghini in 1975, Stanzani developed the V8 into a chain-driven four-cam engine, making it more reliable and much more powerful – far more like Bizzarrini’s V12, in fact. Output increased from 220bhp to 265bhp, a roll-hoop across the back of the cabin improved its rigidity, and the brakes were beefed up to match the newfound brawn. The Urraco had become a proper Lamborghini.
Which one to buy?
There were three main variants of the Urraco, the P200, P250 and P300. The numbers referred to engine size, with the smaller P200 2.0-litre V8 built for the Italian market to avoid exorbitant tax rates. With only 66 built, not many survive and finding one in the UK is unlikely. The P250 improves matters considerably, with more power and torque from its 2.5-litre engine, this was the most common variant, with 520 built.
A more luxurious P250S model came with leather upholstery and electric windows as standard. The driving position is of the short leg, long arm style, meaning taller drivers may find the cockpit a bit snug. A number of P250s were also modified to meet US regulations, and as such received their own model designation, the P111. These cars made 180bhp rather than the European-spec 220bhp and can be distinguished by the different bumpers and taillights.
The P300 is the one to look for though, with its 3.0-litre V8. It still feels quick today, and running costs are no more than one the smaller engined variants. In fact with a change to cam chains and upgrades to both transmission and suspension, they are also the most reliable. Only 190 ever saw light of day though, so finding one may pose a challenge. There were also 55 open topped targa versions of the P300, dubbed the silhouette. These cars did without the rear seats, with this space being used instead to store the roof segment. P300s and Silhouette models featured much improved interiors, being made in-house unlike the P250’s which was put together by Bertone.
There was a one off special edition Urraco called the Rallye or more informally the ‘Bob’ in reference to Bob Wallace who converted this particular Urraco into a stripped out track racer. Other modifications included a six speed gearbox and strengthening of the chassis to cope with the uprated power unit’s 300+ bhp.
A roofless version of the the Urraco came along in 1976, in the form of the much more angularly-styled Silhouette. While it looked significantly different, much of the car’s underpinnings remained unchanged. While the Urraco has much more subtle styling, the Silhouette very much preempted the wide-arched wide-wheeled look of the 1978 Countach LP400S. This is the model to go for if you’re looking for something that stands out a little more. The final evolution of the Urraco-based V8 Lamborghinis, called the Jalpa, came in 1981. Read the full buying guide for the Jalpa here.
Whichever model you choose, a solid service history is essential. While the Urraco may be on the affordable side for a Lamborghini, the maintenance costs are not, so factor this into your purchasing budget.
Performance and specs
Lamborghini Urraco P300
Engine 2996cc, 24-valve DOHC V8
Power 247bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque 202lb ft @ 3750rpm
Top speed 162mph
0-62mph 5.6 seconds
Fuel consumption 20mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Parts and spares are not always easy to come by and can be very pricey. It’s almost always more cost effective to buy a restored or refurbished car rather than attempting to do it yourself. Join your local Lamborghini owners club to get access to information and suppliers, so that sourcing parts and resolving issues are less daunting.
• Original sodium-filled valves are troublesome, so check that your car has had solid ones fitted. This was probably done some time ago, but if there’s no documentation to support a seller’s word, then the you’re risking an eye-watering engine rebuild if an old valve fails.
• Belt drive on P250 models can cause problems, although the P300’s chain driven camshafts are much more reliable. On the belt-driven models, ensure the belt and tensioners have been replaced in the last five years – preferably much more recently. Changing the belt can be done with the engine in the car, although is made considerably easier on a car without air conditioning.
• There are a number of modifications aimed at making these cars more reliable. Polyurethane suspension bushes and metal braided brake lines are two of the big ones, helping to avoid roadside trouble.
• Cooling systems have a number of weak spots, the main one being the aluminium water tubes, which can corrode over time. Replacement parts can be sourced with a bit of effort, or updated with more durable alternatives.
• Engine mount brackets are weak and can break leading to big problems. Replacements are readily available, with many opting to fit much stronger uprated versions.
• Being an old Italian car the electrics can be a constant source of frustration and amusement. Get a specialist to check the wiring and contacts over thoroughly as repairs are expensive.
• Rust is a common problem and areas to check include the wheelarches, where stone chips can wear away the protective coating, as well as in the footwells. A leaking battery left unchecked can also cause havoc, as the acid can strip away the paint and expose the body panels below to the elements.
1973: P250 and more luxurious P250S launched
1974: 247bhp 3-litre V8 P300 introduced, now featuring chain driven cams. Interior, including seats and dashboard much improved. 2.0-litre P200 version introduced for Italian market
1976: P300 gets power upgrade to 257bhp. Urraco Silhouette released as a two-door targa, with rear seats removed to house roof section
1979: Last Urraco rolls off the production line
P200: 66 – Italian market only
P111: 21 – US market only
Silhouette P300: 55
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.urraco.info – Enthusiast website, full of useful information on the Urraco
• www.lamborghiniclub.co.uk – UK-based Lamborghini Owners Club and forum
Summary and prices
While you can probably find a rusty project car for around the £30,000 mark, buying one of these may signal the start of a very expensive restoration. Look for a decent P300 or P250S with a solid service history, with most of the good ones offered between £70,000-£100,000. The best P300 models are pushing £120,000.
Rear seating is best suited for short trips with the kids, although the space also makes for a useful extra luggage compartment. The driving experience is sharp, and it is still great for a Sunday blast. Making a great V8 alternative to the more common ‘70s baby supercars, this Lamborghini will undoubtedly continue to appreciate with time.