Twelve Cylinders, Four Seats, And One Exceptional Raging Bull: The Lamborghini Espada
Photography by Andrea Casano
In the course of my already fulfilling but still budding career working with classic cars, I’ve had the chance to shoot and even experience firsthand some of the best in the world; I work hard, but I consider myself a lucky guy. In hyper literal terms, my job is to click buttons on cameras and computers, but in a figurative sense it’s to melt the ice that separates enthusiasts like you and me from the cars that we pine for. It’s not a bad gig.
The Lamborghini Espada is one such—excuse the cliché—dream machine. Blessed with the exceptional brand of avant-garde that only someone like Marcello Gandini could conjure out of sheetmetal, the four-seater, V12-powered grand tourer has only become more beautiful with age. A masterful blend of practicality and maximalism, the Espada has remained one of the most unique products from a manufacturer with few peers itself.
Thanks to my friend Paolo Russo and Ruote da Sogno, last summer I had the chance to spend a day with this gorgeous bull. Thanks to the virus, we could not spend our time shooting all across the Emilia-Romagna region, but we made the best of the enforced isolation and used the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine on a fantastic green walnut farm, absorbing the essence of pared-back living as the sunset played across the red paintwork.
The Espada is still the only four-seater produced by the Sant’Agata Bolognese-based manufacturer that isn’t an SUV (the LM002 and the decidedly less-cool Urus being the only other Lamborghinis with rear seats in general), and in my opinion it’s one of the sleekest people-carriers of any make. Measuring less than four feet tall, the low-slung multiple-ass hauler was aimed at clientele who needed the best of multiple worlds with as little compromise as possible, and the sales success of the Espada over the course of the model’s decade-long production period proved that the Espada rose to the occasion.
In fact the Espada was the best-selling Lamborghini before the Countach, and one of the more profitable cars per unit for the manufacturer. Still, this is relative to the realm of highly exclusive vehicles, and only a reported 1,227 units were built, including the prototype. The origin of the Lamborghini Espada was arguably in 1967, when before the start of the Monaco Formula 1 GP, Prince Rainier III, accompanied by his wife, Princess Grace Kelly, completed the traditional lap of the city circuit aboard a singular Lamborghini.
This unusual gran turismo, longer than normal and characterized by taut lines and massive glass surfaces was the Lamborghini Marzal, a four-seat prototype commissioned by Ferruccio Lamborghini for the Geneva Motor Show from Nuccio Bertone, who entrusted the task to the young maestro Marcello Gandini. The result was a four-seater with a strong wedge-shaped profile, expansive gullwing doors made up of two large windows split by a thin belt line, a sharply tapered nose with rectangular headlights, and a transversely mounted inline-six behind the passenger compartment.
The reception to the Marzal was enough for Ferruccio Lamborghini to give the green light to a production version based on the chassis of the 400 GT and powered by the company’s ubiquitous V12, which found its way up to the front in the Espada.
With some aesthetic changes and a layout informed by another Gandini-penned concept, the Bertone Pirana, the Espada team succeeded in “civilizing” the futuristic lines of the Marzal while still ensuring a totally unique presence on the road. Unlike Lamborghini’s supercars of the era, the Espada was quite habitable without sacrificing its beautiful profile. The gullwing doors from the Marzal were ditched in favor of two traditional ones, and while the tightly drawn lines were retained, the end result was ultimately larger in nearly every dimension.
Despite its relative heft and size, the Espada is still a performer deserving of the raging bull badge on its nose. The 3929cc power plant is part of the iconic and long-running first-generation Lamborghini V12 architecture designed by Giotto Bizzarrini in the 1960s and further developed by Paolo Stanzani, which in the Espada is fed by six Weber dual-body carbs and produced 350hp by the third and final series of Espada production.
Many components of the Espada were directly shared with, or slightly modified from, existing Lamborghini models—mainly the 400 GT 2+2, and also some parts from the Miura’s design, like the gorgeous Campagnolo magnesium wheels on some Espadas—but the car’s interior was like no other.
Spacious, airy, and trimmed with supple leather, soft carpet, and elegant woodwork, the luxurious cabin was a far cry from the sweaty back-inducing saunas of Lamborghini’s more cramped offerings. “The four individual seats provided adequate comfort for Lamborghini’s wealthy customers who demanded comfort in addition to performance,” Paolo says. “The front seats are comfortable yet still very enveloping, and behind them there is not a sad little toddler-sized bench but real single seats—if you’re not an exceptionally tall person you can travel quite comfortably in the rear with the air-condition wafting over you.”
The Espada finally went out of production in 1978, and it has yet to have a successor. After Ferruccio Lamborghini sold the company to Georges-Henri Rossetti in the early 1970s, the company faced some financial difficulties that resulted in a declaration of bankruptcy in the same year that the Espada was retired from the model lineup. The prevailing marketing strategy from that point was to “confine” the Lamborghini brand to the field of extreme super cars, leaving no capacity for the more luxury-focused Espada and its GT ilk.
It would not be until the company’s model lineup expansion and launch of the controversial Urus SUV that the raging bull appeared on a vehicle with more than two seats, but as is obvious to any true enthusiast of the marque, the Urus is far from an adequate replacement for the suave Espada—not that it’s trying to be, but it would have been much better to see the Reventón-esque Estoque concept take up the mantle of the marque’s people-mover. For now the Espada remains something of an anomaly in Lamborghini’s history, and a supremely elegant example of how to blend functionality, beauty, and performance into an automobile.