A proper motor car
We had travelled to the South of France by public transport, an Air France Caravelle, with an interior decor not unlike a Parisien house of ill-repute, had taken us from London to Marseilles, and then an Avis Rent-a-car, that was pure white and indistinguishable from any other Eurobox at any other European airport, had taken us to our destination in a coastal resort on the Mediterranean. Not surprisingly we were a little jaundiced on arrival and repaired to a friendly bar to revive our flagging spirits with some of the cloudy liquid that pays for the Paul Ricard circuit on the plateau above Bandol. As it was mid-winter there was not much activity outside and we were naturally discussing motoring and the dreary sameness of all the efficient little Eurotxues, no matter whether they were French, Italian, German or even British, not that there were many of “ours” to be seen. Returning to our hotel on foot past a row of square biscuit tins, with not a wedge-shaped one among them, we taxed our knowledge to the full by trying to identify them. While in the middle of this depressing exercise we heard a sound, in fact many sounds, and round the corner came a Lamborghini Countach closely followed by a Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer. As they growled past and disappeared down into the underground car park of our hotel, all we could say was “fantastic” and call in the next bar to drink the health of Ferruccio Lamborghini and Enzo Ferrari. Without those two Italian artisans the world would be a much duller place.
The Countach and the Berlinetta Boxer are the ultimate in cars built by the two factories, the Lamborghini having a four-camshaft four-litre V12 cylinder power unit mounted fore-and-aft just ahead of the rear axle, with the five-speed gearbox forward of the engine, a shaft taking the drive back through the sump to the rear axle. The Ferrari has a four-camshaft 4.4-litre flat-12 cylinder engine, also mounted fore-and-aft just ahead of the rear axle, with its five-speed gearbox under and in unit with the engine. Both cars have low, sleek, smoothly profiled two-seater bodies barely the height of a Mini and personify the high-speed mid-engine coupe and both are in full production. Their theoretical maximum speed is anything up to 180 m.p.h. and they represent the last word in “exotica”. While drinking to the Pope for causing Lamborghini and Ferrari to be brought into our world, we also drank to those fortunate people who are able to spend around £18,000 on such cars, for by their purchase they bring enormous pleasure to mere enthusiastic mortals like us.
Cars of such a price category and limited production numbers cause a problem when a journalist wants to experience them, for spare cars for “demonstration purposes” just do not exist. If you are stamping out Euroboxes by the thousand every day it is no trouble to stamp out a few more and lend them to journalists, or even give them to some, in order that they can write a road-test and hopefully encourage the sales. With cars like Lamborghini and Ferrari, which are built by hand, one at a time, this generosity is not possible. I once asked a man from the Ferrari factory how one got to drive the latest Ferrari. He smiled and said “You buy one.” However, not all Ferraris and Lamborghinis cost £18,000 for they both make “cheaper models” for about half that price, and these can be borrowed.
‘Thanks to Roger Phillips, who handles Lamborghini affairs in Great Britain “from a telephone kiosk on Clapham Common”, I was told, the opportunity arose to borrow a Lamborghini Urraco. Not from a telephone kiosk, but from a large garage busy servicing Alfa Romeos, Mercedes-Benz, Citroen-Maseratis, and naturally Lamborghinis. It was their “demonstrator” model, which had clearly done a pretty hard 12,500 miles and by the look of the engine compartment had not required much attention during that mileage, the ravages of winter road muck being very evident. Before we go into details let me say here and now that the Lamborghini Urraco is a car I could happily live with. I like its conception, its manner of going and its overall character and it exudes everything that I require in a proper motor car.
From the beginnings in 1963 Lamborghini built all his cars round a superb V12 cylinder things like Hand Brake On, Refrigeration Unit Working, Sidelights On, Alternator Charging, Head Lights On, and Indicators Working. Switches for things like lamps, wipers, washers, electric windows and so on were scattered about in all the reasonable places.
The V8 engine is superbly tractable, as I found on an initial drive across the West End of London, and visibility gave no problems whatsoever; with immense “tumble-home” on the side windows and a very wide base to the windscreen with thin screen pillars well back and out of the way, the forward view is truly panoramic with a good view of the road ahead in spite of a low seating position. For a passenger lying back and relaxing the scene is one of continual sky-scapes.
I have always maintained that a satisfactory car must be as pleasant to drive slowly as it is to drive fast, and the Urraco brought no complaints on its manner of dealing with heavy traffic, being happy to bumble along flexibly at 1,500-2,000 r.p.m., though the initial accelerator pedal movement was a bit heavy and “sticky”. Out on the open road the engine could be really used, and whereas it had been wuffling and rumbling to itself in town, it now woke up with a really exciting growl and the r.p.m. needle was round to 7,500 in a most invigorating fashion. The sound of a “real four-cam V8” working hard was superb, no woolly rumbling like a Chevrolet V8, the Lamborghini engine spun like a dynamo and got smoother and harder as the revs rose, in the manner of such engines as the V6 Maserati, the flat-6 Porsche or the V6 Dino Ferrari. The handbook suggests that 7,500 r.p.m. should be the limit and the red sector starts at that figure to warn you, though it can happily run well beyond this figure with no signs of distress. As mentioned, the gearchange is slow for a car of this calibre and the long lever has to be dealt with firmly and deliberately, but it is not a change of the “impossible” category. It is simply that you do not “snick it down one” for a bend in the road, or “play tunes” down through the gears going into a roundabout like you do with a Porsche or Dino 246 Ferrari. Fortunately the engine characteristics are beautifully mated to the gearbox gear ratios, so that the torque of the engine can more than compensate for being in fourth gear, when you’d really like to be in third gear, but time won’t allow. Between fourth and fifth gears there is a drop of 1,000 r.p.m., but in practice this becomes 2,000 r.p.m. during the time taken to change gear. It must be remembered that we are talking in terms of the ultimate in gearboxes, not bread-and-butter stuff. If you squirt things up to 7,500 r.p.m. in fourth, and that needs very little straight, you are down to 5,500 r.p.m. by the time you are back on the throttle pedal, instead of the theoretical 6,500 r.p.m. However, maximum torque is delivered by the V8 at 5,750 r.p.m. so that you are back to 6,000 r.p.m. in top in no time at all. Within the confines of my “speed track” I saw 7,000 r.p.m. in fifth gear (a calculated 142 m.p.h.) and a bit more space would have surely seen 7,500 r.p.m. in fifth gear.
The question of the maximum speed of the Urraco is purely academic, but opinions vary. The handbook quotes 160 m.p.h., a publicity leaflet quotes 158 m.p.h, in one place and 162 m.p.h. in another, while the Lamborghini Book by Rive Box and Richard Crump, quotes 165 m.p.h. As the car does 20.33 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., 7,500 r.p.m. in top would give 152.36 m.p.h. in theory and anything over 160 m.p.h. would be going beyond the maker’s recommended rev-limit. I think we can safely say that the P300 Urraco would do 150 m.p.h. “on the way to the pub” if it was a fair way from home. Much more important is the fact that the normal cruising gait for the Urraco is anywhere between 80-120 m.p.h., when it wafts along on a small throttle opening, with very little noise and feels as if it would go on doing it all day and every day, there is so little strain being put on the car. Before leaving the straight-line performance, wind noise seems unchanged from 40-140 m.p.h., but most impressive is the “straight-line” running of the Urraco. It is truly impressive and is achieved by excellent overall design and shape, not having to rely on exaggerated castor angles, under-steer geometry, or “gimmicks” like spoilers, air-dams, fins or other aerodynamic devices. As Jaguar’s technicians used to say, “a properly designed car will run straight without any artificial aids or additions.” The Lamborghini Urraco is undoubtedly “a properly designed car”.
Having extended the acceleration and speed of the Urraco, during which the very level ride was appreciated, as were the ventilated disc brakes, its ability to corner was investigated. At all normal times the steering remained very neutral, though under extreme provocation it could be made to under-steer. There was no way the cornering power of the Michelin XWX radial tyres could be utilised to the full on the public highway, but even so enough G-force could be generated to show up a lack of support in the seat backs, both for driver and passenger. If you are going to corner fast you must have your shoulders well supported by the curvature of the scat back, and the Lamborghini seats do not do this. The part you sit on is first class, comfortable and giving good support to the thighs. The high-geared steering has a very nice positive feel about it, with enough feed-back to let you know what the front wheels are doing at all times, and through fast bends you do not consciously turn the wheel, you merely apply a slight pressure to the rim one way or the other, rather like leaning a motorcycle. My personal preference in a car is that it should transmit information to the driver by sounds, pressures, feel and sensitivity, rather than by coloured lights, and the Urraco does just this. Some people might consider the road noises transmitted by the suspension to be high for a car in the £10,000 bracket, but I found such sounds comforting and enjoyable as they were feeding luck road information, and I do not like to be divorced from my surroundings.
At night the headlamps rise up from their recesses in the nose of the car, operated by electric motors, and should one of them fail to rise it is a simple matter to stop and reach down through the radiator hatch and wind the offending lamp up by hand, there being a small wheel on the back of the lamp for this purpose. On main beam the lights were excellent, but on dip they were a bit drastic, though adequate for a 50 m.p.h. speed limit! In day time, when the headlamps are concealed, the two spot lamps below the radiator are operated by the steering column stalk for use for “flashing”. While the instrument lighting is controlled by a rheostat the panel of “idiot lights” shines brightly and unabashed, being impossible to drive sensibly behind. Rather than remove the fuses we found it easier to cover the panel up with an old sock! You wonder if anyone at Lamborghini ever drives at night. The rearward vision through the slatted engine cover is more than adequate, though at night a wavy surface can give you the effect that the car behind is flashing its headlights as the angle of the slats changes with the pitch of the car. With the rear window being virtually a vertical glass partition between the engine compartment and the rear seats, it keeps nice and clean and, unlike some cars with this arrangement, there are no disturbing reflections in the windscreen at night. Three-quarter rear vision is good on the Urraco, because the rear window is not taken to the full width of Abe car, so that the side windows can extend back beyond the engine bulkhead, giving a good view “over the shoulder”.
The interior seating is called z plus 2, but in reality it is a two-seater with space behind the seats and rather than upholster a pair of rear seats that look alright with the front seats in an undrivable forward position, I would prefer a padded shelf in the rear on which someone could crouch for a “lift up the road”. We did manage to cram a large man and an Airedale dog in the back on one occasion and on another got two slim adults in the back, but it was all on short-term “demonstration runs”. I would rather have this space than nothing at all, because so often with a car like this there is a “can I come too” third or even fourth person and it would be a shame to forego anyone the chance of a ride in such a nice car. The only person we could not accommodate, without cutting the roof off, was a friend who is abnormally tall and large with it. But then he thinks we are all sub-normal and if he had a car to fit him I would be unable to drive it. The interior decor of the Urraco is a sort of imitation suede, which is restful to the eye, but was showing signs of becoming a bit dowdy with hard use, like an old suede jacket or suede shoes. In some details the finish of the Urraco was not very good, the aluminium instrument panel looking very home-made, for example, and the under-shielding round the engine was poor, allowing veritable fountains of road muck to funnel up behind the engine, while some of the metal edges around the engine compartment were a bit rough.
One annoying feature of the Urraco was that the petrol filler was in the engine compartment, necessitating lifting the slatted engine hatch and propping it up with the steel rod provided, before you could unscrew the filler cap. The tankage was very good, holding 18 gallons, and while no accurate checks were made of fuel consumption it seemed to strain the pocket at about the same rate as a 4.2-litre E-type Jaguar, around 16-18 m.p.g. Having filled the tank the heavy steel engine hatch is then dropped shut with the most shattering “clang”, which is very unbecoming for such an exotic-looking car. If there happens to be anyone sitting in the car they will either die of fright or have split eardrums. The first time it happened my passenger thought the whole petrol station had fallen down! Apart from a small glove compartment in front of the passenger there is a bit of a lack of “stowage room” inside the car for odds and ends, but behind the engine is a very deep and surprisingly spacious luggage compartment. It is lined with carpet and the lid is self— propping by a small hydraulic strut, and with the car being so low overall it is a very convenient boot to dip into. The body design of the Urraco is by Bertone and it is one that I find pleasing from all aspects, notably from above, when the “tumble-home” and panoramic windscreen can be appreciated, and also the view of the rear. From behind it really is a wicked-looking thing that makes you say “Coo-er”. – D.S.J.
Footnote: The Lamborghini Urraco P300 costs £10,596 including all taxes, with extra for Air Conditioning, Electric Tinted Windows and Leather interior. These would raise the price to £11,270. The 2 1/2 litre P250 version is approximateiy £1000 less. Both models, as are the other Lamborghini models, are with right hand steering. The sole importers are Berlinetta Italia Ltd.P.O. Box 6, Sutton. Surrey, while Stephen Victor Ltd, Old Town, Clapham, London S.W.4 is the main service depot, there being eight others throughout the country, in like Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and High Wicombe