(first posted 7/12/2013) Let’s start a list. Name the top 10 cars least likely to be found parked at a Sam’s Club in a small city in the Midwestern U.S. Is everyone done? Let’s compare. Yup, most of you listed a Lamborghini Espada. Yet, here it was, parked among the Chevy Silvarados and Ford Taurii. And in a handicap spot, no less.
On the drive home from the Great Curbside Classic Midwestern Meet-up in Iowa City (here), Mrs. JPC and I were en route home to Indianapolis. It being Mother’s Day, Mrs. JPC wished to continue a longtime tradition of taking her mother some cut flowers for our arrival at her house once back to town. The Mrs. knew that Sam’s Club sells flowers, so a quick check of the smartphone told us that there was a Sam’s location in Champaign, Illinois just off the highway. After finding the store, I dropped her at the door, and then parked nearby to await her flowery return.
I was in a CC kind of mood, and scanned the parking lot, expecting to maybe find a cool old Ford pickup or maybe a ’78 Malibu. What ho, something in an obsolete kind of beige, but what in the world is it? Here was a car that required me to revert to my most elemental car-identification skillset – reading the nameplates. Lamborghini. Espada. Wow.
Those of you in coastal California or Miami or New York City may yawn at the sight of another Lambo. Not this midwestern boy. I once saw what I thought was a Countach on the highway, but have never seen a Lamborghini parked in the wild. And certainly not at a Sam’s Club. I dutifully shot my pictures, still amazed at finding what was surely a rare car. Then, we continued home and I have let these pictures langush ever since, without a single idea for what to say about this car.
The recent photos of the Lamborghini 350GTV captured by reader C107 and written up by Paul Niedermeyer (here) reminded me of the Espada shots moldering away on my hard drive. I had not realized that the first very first Lamborghini came to be as recently as 1963, and my interest in the Espada was rekindled.
Wiki gives us the basics: The car was a four place coupe, which joined the 400GT and the Miura in Lamborghini’s lineup. The car was styled by Marcello Gandini of Bertone, and went on sale as a 1968 model. The Espada shared the Miura’s 4.0 liter V-12 engine (although mounted in front) that was rated at 325 bhp, and was good for a seven second 0-60 time. Oh yes – the word “Espada” translates to sword.
The Espada became the second highest volume model ever sold by Lamborghini, selling 1217 units over its lifetime, which is not an unsurprising volume considering the introductory price of $33,900 in 1968. There were actually three different series: The 1968-70 S1, the 1970-72 S2 and the 1973-78 S3. The easiest way to tell the difference is the dashboard, which is how I place this one as an S2. My initial identification of this car as a 1971 model was pure guess. Calling it the middle year of the S2’s run, I figured that I couldn’t be more than a year off either way. [Update – we heard from the owner of this car, who tells us that it is a 1972.]
In surfing the web to learn a bit about these, I came across a video at Jay Leno’s Garage. Jay reports that one of these was his daily driver for quite a few years. As Italian supercars go, this one is really quite practical and reasonably inexpensive. The entire video can be found here, and is worth a view. It appears that the owner of this car would agree with Jay, given the evidence of long-term use. Anyone who uses a plastic cup holder that hangs from the door top in a Lamborghini is an OK guy in my world.
My research uncovered one other interesting tidbit: the unique hood-nostrils on this car do not feed the six side-draft Weber carburetors, but are instead the sources of air for the cabin heating and ventilation system. Keep this in mind, for next time you are at a concours event where one of these is on display, and you can impress bystanders by citing this little-known fact in your most bored, urbane voice. (“I cahnt believe that my idiot bro-in-law thought those intakes were for the engine. My sistah could have done so much bettah.”)
The styling on the car is really fascinating to contemplate. This is a car that you have to look at for awhile, and from multiple angles before you can come to a conclusion. I am coming to sort of like it, and there is no better view than this rear 3/4, which I find to be quite alluring. The designers could have done some good things with the lines by eliminating the usable back seat or by giving the front seat occupants less room or comfort, but that was not the Espada’s mission. It was never intended to win races, but to be a comfortable, luxurious and fast cocoon for four (rich) adults as they travel across the countryside.
My other favorite feature of this car (OK, other than the 350 bhp V-12 in the S2 cars) is the glass panel under the rear window, which surely served as the inspiration for the much better known version on the later Honda CRX. Who says a Lamborghini can’t be practical? Not only do you have great rear visibility, but raise the hatch glass and you can fit mega packs of toilet tissue and gigantic jars of dill pickles in the cargo area. Then drive home at 130 mph. What a great car.
So, we have a car that is a four place grand tourer that is also a practical hatchback. I suppose that knowing what I now know about the Espada, what more likely supercar to find at a Sam’s club? Especially a beige one. I wonder how many of the 1217 were beige? Perhaps this is the only one, painted then whisked out of its country of origin. Aren’t beige Lamborghinis illegal in Italy? Just like bright red or chrome yellow Chrysler Newports should be illegal here in the U.S.
I suppose this car fits in at Sam’s Club in another way. Jay Leno tells us that people either love the Espada or hate it. There’s a lot of that about Sam’s Club too. (Let’s not all take sides about my Sam’s membership, I will point out that we hold dual citizenship with a Costco membership as well. But try to find a Costco out in the sticks). So there we have it: the most ordinary and practical of Italian supercars in the most ordinary and practical of colors parked at the most ordinary and practical of stores in one of the most ordinary and practical parts of the country. Yet after rolling all of these things together into a single event, we are left with a most unique and extraordinary experience, proving that the meeting of Italian and American can result in a lot more than just pizza.