Rare Ride Icons: Lamborghini’s Front-Engine Grand Touring Coupes (Part IX)
We return to our timeline of front-engined Lamborghini GT coupes, but take a step back in time. Our last entry left us at the end of 1969 when the slow-selling Islero discontinued. Dealers struggled to move all 225 copies of the Islero, comprising 125 regular Isleros and 100 of the upgraded Islero S.
Ferruccio Lamborghini dictated the sober and elegant design of the Islero to Mario Marazzi, after several concepts to replace the old 400GT did not meet the approval of the boss. What Lamborghini was really looking for was a four-seater grand tourer in the purest tradition of grace and pace. The Islero fit most of those qualifications, but was a 2+2 and (as mentioned) nearly impossible to sell. Luckily, there was another front-engine Lamborghini GT that debuted almost at the same time as Islero in 1968. Say hello to Espada.
The Espada was the ultimate distillation of the ridiculous 1967 Marzal concept, as penned by Marcello Gandini at Bertone. While Ferruccio said in its early days that the Marzal was just a fun and affordable PR boost, the design nonetheless had an impact. Behind the scenes, Lamborghini was in talks with Bertone to rework the design into something more down to earth. Ferruccio was passionate about the idea of the four-seater GT, and Gandini was the first person to show him an exciting coupé in this format.
However, the Marzal was not the only concept presented by Bertone in 1967. From stage left, Jaguar and a British editor enter the scene. Around the same time, Lamborghini asked Bertone for a four-seater concept, a man named John Antsey also called the Italian coachbuilder. Antsey was the automatic publisher of the The telegraph of the day in the UK, and he also had a keen interest in a new coupé concept.
Antsey wanted to show what Britain’s (already much in decline) car manufacturing industry could do, so he naturally called Italy. He had already obtained the chassis and running gear of a contemporary Jaguar E-Type from founder Sir William Lyons, but wanted an exotic looking body. The project was not sponsored by Antsey, but rather by the The telegraph of the day who apparently had money to burn.
Nuccio Bertone (son of company founder Giovanni) was managing Bertone at the time and entrusted the design work to one of his youngest employees, Gandini. He drafted an all-new direction for a Jaguar and called it the Pirana. With a long, flowing bonnet, a narrow front end and large quad headlights. The Jaguar jumping cat was featured large in the center of the grille, above a thin bumper strip.
There was a strong lower character line like on the Marzal, but the Pirana was more curved along its leading edge and had a very two-seater window line. The side windows curved upwards immediately aft of the B-pillar. The raised window line led to a huge C-pillar, which framed a large rear windscreen. There were gill detailing to break up the expanse of metal, and the character lines of the body ran upwards at the rear.
Pirana ended with a nearly vertical rear end, the upper half of which was covered with a black faux grille. The lower section had two large Rover SD1 type brake lights, supported by another thin chrome bumper. The tailgate consisted only of the windshield, which provided a high lifting height for all luggage.
Pirana (intentionally spelled by Gandini) debuted at the London Motor Show in October 1967 (seven months after Marzal), and was later shown in Italy and New York. Unlike the Marzal, it lacked ridiculous transparent glass doors and a silver metallic interior. The Pirana was much more grounded in reality. The Marzal was also a mid-engined design, while the Pirana was front-engined.
Although it proudly displays its Jaguar crest, the company is firmly rooted in its traditionalism and is not interested in any modern Italian-style window displays. After all, he was still selling a lot of the E-Type on which the Pirana was based. The Pirana was handed over to the The telegraph of the day immediately after its auto show debut. As it was a newspaper that did not need a concept car, it was sold without delay to an individual.
Around the time it was clear that Jaguar was not going to take the Pirana design back to production, Lamborghini requested a distillation of Marzal. Do you see where this is heading? What Gandini set out to do was take the large overall dimensions of the Marzal and adapt the design of the Pirana to fit. Suddenly, Espada! Save money, save time, everyone is happy.
The front of the Pirana was copied from the Espada with some modifications. Espada used the same open front end, framed by sharp hood and fender edges and had four large lights. The Espada received running lights and turn signals, but these were among the only noticeable changes to the front. The wide, flat hood of the Pirana remained intact, although two funnel-shaped air intakes were added for cooling.
Pirana’s two main character lines were translated on the Espada. The only difference was the upwind window line, which was a little slower because the Espada was a four-seater. It headed up further aft of the B-pillar than the Pirana. Even the wheel arches (sleek rear wheel arches were a Gandini signature) remained the same between Pirana and Espada.
At a glance, it would be easy to confuse the Pirana and the Espada from a rear view. Aside from the aforementioned slower upward swipe towards the side window, the two were nearly identical in their proportions. The Espada’s glass rear hatch was slightly smaller than on the Pirana, to accommodate the Lamborghini’s second row of seats. Other details like the shape of the character lines and how they met at the rear, and the C-pillar vent trims were almost a cut and paste.
The Pirana’s rear grille design was replaced on the Espada with a tinted glass panel, which provided more rear visibility. The rear lights looked less like the Rover lamps when they changed to smaller units of a Fiat nature. And the Pirana’s simple chrome bumper has been slightly reworked into a hoop-like design.
As the Pirana was based on an E-Type, its interior was just as realistic as its exterior. And as such, most of it was transferred to the Espada. The seats of early Espadas were the design shown in the Pirana, as was the steering wheel. The dashboard layout changed slightly and adopted the current look of the center console that Lamborghini used at the time. Both cars used lots of wood trim to signify their GT status. (Note: 1974 Espada shown here.)
Elsewhere inside, the Espada had four large captain’s chairs, with legit adult legroom in the back. The cabin was trimmed in beautiful leather, which was usually beige but later branched out into other colors. Given the generous glass area, the interior was a pleasant, well-lit place. The same couldn’t be said for Espada’s contemporary, the Islero.
Although it ultimately worked out, Marzal and Pirana’s style combination was not without controversy, as somebody in the process was still stuck on the butterfly doors. It was also the first large front-engined car made by Lamborghini, which had some interesting engineering issues. We will come to that next time.
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[Images: Bertone, Lamborghini, seller]