Touring Italy In A Pack Of Lamborghinis Is The Best Way To Celebrate An Automotive Birthday
Photography by Rosario Liberti
1968 was a year of revolt in Italy, and it came along with a newly transformed economy inspired by distaste for traditional societal structures and the international protests organized against such things. The country had recently increased its industrialization, and a new type of culture began to develop as well. At the same time, in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Lamborghini introduced two brand new models: its first-ever four-seater, the Espada (“sword” in Spanish), and the evolution of its 2+2 model, the Islero—named after the Miura bull which killed the famous Spanish matador Manolete, in 1947.
A couple of weeks ago, the House of Sant’Agata Bolognese celebrated the 50th anniversary of these two iconic tourers with a dynamic driving event that brought the group through Umbria, Tuscany, and Emilia-Romagna. Leaving on a quiet Saturday morning from the historic center of Perugia on the first day, a colorful and surreal convoy made up of twenty carefully selected and very well maintained beauties celebrating their birthday.
We headed off toward the charming city of Orvieto and medieval Assisi. On day two, still blessed by the sun, our group of cars reached the astonishing lunar landscapes of Crete Senesi and the always peaceful Chianti countryside before stretching their V12 legs on the Futa and Raticosa passes through the Appennino mountains, finishing the tour at Lamborghini Polo Storico after almost 800km of sublime driving. As you might expect, all the classics were escorted by a half-dozen Huracàn, Aventador, and Urus models.
Rosario and I had been lucky enough to drive two cars in the tour, provided by the Lamborghini Museum for the event: one was a first-series 1968 Islero in Rosso Amaranto, the other a 1976 third-series Espada in Blu Notte. On both Espada and Islero, the wheels are classic Campagnolo alloys on knock-off hubs, the same design seen on the legendary Miura.
The Islero was designed by Mario Marazzi at Carrozzeria Marazzi since Carrozzeria Touring, the company that Lamborghini had relied on in the past was bankrupt at the time. Carlo Marazzi, the founder, was an old employee at Touring, so Ferruccio’s choice was nothing but logical; company going under? Just hire the same people under a different name; similarly, the Islero’s design was essentially a re-body of the 400GT. You can definitely feel that the Islero comes from the ‘60s: its tricky steering wheel brings you a light and fantastically non-precise GT driving experience (not everything needs to be hyper-precise to be enjoyable) and its “relaxed commendatore” driving position makes the cabin an overall very pleasant place to be, especially considering your right foot is connected to the front-mounted V12. It revs happily and freely to 6,500, and it feels exactly like you’d hope a ‘60s grand tourer would. Yes, Roger Moore drove an Islero in the 1970 British psychological thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself, but we’d rather remember the car driven by a stunning Sylva Koscina in I See Naked, a 1969 Italian comedy film directed by Dino Risi—this one feels more fitting to the car.
The Espada was one of Gandini’s more avant garde road car designs while at Bertone, and the car claims a connection to another of the young designer’s masterpiece that directly inspired the Espada: the one-off Bertone concept and show car called the Lamborghini Marzal. Presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1967, this car presented a lower, wider, and heavier future for the company. The Espada ditched the transparent doors and the interior lost the original aluminum-trimmed and airplane-inspired design, but the production car is still a striking shape. A deft triumph of proportions and form, the two-door four-seat layout has arguably never looked better than the way it’s pulled off in an Espada. Blending coupe and shooting brake shapes, the car is at once stately and svelte, a car that managed (and still does) to look unique without resorting to looking bizarre.
Though every example of the Espada and Islero was worthy of attention on the tour, there were a few that stood out for their particular history, deserving a special mention at the end of the tour by Stefano Domenicali, Chairman and CEO of Lamborghini.
One such award went to the car owned for the longest time period by a single owner: a 1973 Espada Series Three, purchased as a used car in January 1977 by its two English owners. For years it has been the family’s only car, used as a daily commuter that takes the children to school. Pretty cool bus, I’d say. The award for the car driven the furthest to attend the tour went to a very rare second-series Espada, one of only 12 cars produced with a VIP treatment—the Norwegian crew in that car made the round trip from Oslo, traveling a total of 6,000km.
The recognition for the most “faithful” to Sant’Agata went to a 1968 Islero S owned by an English collector, one of the very few examples equipped as a right-hand drive car as in total, only 70 Islero S models were produced. Driven every year from England to the factory for servicing, it was purchased brand new in 1969 and then passed down to the owner’s son 25 years ago.
Despite the long route and the challenging roads traveled, in addition to the drive to reach central Italy, all the cars that entered finished the tour and arrived at the Sant’Agata Bolognese factory’s Polo Storico in excellent conditions, a further demonstration that these vintage V12s can, if taken care of, last for a lifetime of memory-making drives, whether they’re school routes or cruising through Europe.