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Lamborghini celebrates the golden anniversary of the Espada and Islero with Italian tour

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Lamborghini Islero S (L) and Espada. Photos courtesy Lamborghini Polo Storico.

For Italian automaker Lamborghini, 1968 was a significant year, marked by the introduction of its first true four-seater, the Espada, as well as the replacement for the 400GT, the Islero. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of both the Espada and Islero, Lamborghini Polo Storico has restored the examples from Lamborghini’s Museum, and will feature the cars during a five-day tour of Italy beginning on September 7.

Based upon the stunning Lamborghini Marzal and Jaguar Pirana concepts, also designed by Marcello Gandini at Carrozzeria Bertone, the Lamborghini Espada was a four-seat grand touring coupe, powered by a front-mounted, 4.0-liter, dual overhead-camshaft V-12 initially producing 325 horsepower. Named for the Spanish word for sword, in reference to a matador’s weapon of choice in the bullring, the Espada made its public debut at the 1968 Geneva Motor Show.

Espadas were built in three series, with Series I cars assembled from 1968-’70, Series II from 1970-’72, and Series III from 1972-’78. The most significant differences between the three were found in the interior, with Gandini’s angular exterior design soldiering on with only minor changes across the car’s decade-long production run. Series II cars received a bump in output, to 350 hp, but Series III cars destined for the United States received a somewhat lower rating, thanks to changes necessary to meet emission standards.

Lamborghini Espada

Lamborghini Espada.

Performance-wise, the Espada delivered impressive numbers for its grand-touring focus, with Road & Track reporting a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 15.0 seconds at 100 mph, and a top speed of 158 mph. The trade-off for this agility, style and practicality was the Espada’s price: In 1969, it carried a sticker price of $21,000, enough to buy a trio of Porsche 911s, or a Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 and a year-old Ford Falcon to serve as a daily driver.

Launched with manual worm- and sector-gear steering and a five-speed manual transmission, power steering became an option for Series II buyers, while in 1974, an automatic transmission – the first ever offered in a Lamborghini – became available as well. Perhaps the most practical car offered by Lamborghini in its day, the Espada proved popular with buyers, with 1,226 examples sold across the three series, making it the most-purchased model from Sant’Agata Bolognese until the Countach.

The Islero – originally the Jslero – was named for a fighting bull from the Miura ranch that fatally gored matador Manuel Laureano Rodriguez Sánchez, known as Manolete, during an August 1947 bullfight. Debuting alongside the Espada at the 1968 Geneva Motor Show, the Islero 2+2 coupe featured styling by Carrozzeria Marazzi, formed by several employees of the then-bankrupt Carrozzeria Touring.

Lamborghini Islero

Lamborghini Islero. Note the absence of fender vents and flares.

Compared to the 400GT it replaced, the Islero retained the same front-engine, rear-drive layout and 100.4-inch wheelbase but featured a wider track to accommodate larger tires. Power came from the same 4.0-liter V-12 found in the Espada, also rated at 325 hp (in early models) and mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Performance, too, was similar, with Autocar clocking the Islero at 7.0 seconds on the run from 0-60 mph and 15.0 seconds (with no trap speed) in the quarter-mile.

According to Lamborghini Polo Storico’s records,  155 Isleros were built before the Islero S was released in 1969. Engine output grew to 350 horsepower (dropping the 0-60 time to 6.1 seconds, according to Sports Car Graphic) and the S models received styling updates, subtly flared fenders, bigger disc brakes, an updated rear suspension and a revised interior. The improvements failed to boost sales (hampered, possibly, by the car’s $20,000 list price on these shores), and just 70 Islero S models were constructed before production ended in 1969.

The 50th anniversary tour begins on Friday, September 7, in Perugia, and spends the first few days in Umbria. The next stop is Assisi, followed by an overnight in the Chianti region of Tuscany on Sunday, September 9. Monday’s highlight is a drive across the Apennines, through the Mugello and over the Futa and Raticosa passes before the day ends with a tour of the Lamborghini factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese. Overall, the tour covers over 650 kilometers (roughly 400 miles), and a limited number of spots are available for classic car owners.

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