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Gary McGillivray’s 1971 Lamborghini Espada won awards at two concours events this year.
Gary McGillivray’s 1971 Lamborghini Espada won awards at two concours events this year.

Classic Car: 1971 Lamborghini Espada

Happiness is a Lamborghini's unholy howl Add to ...

A number of things about his bull’s-blood-red 1971 Lamborghini Espada spread a happy grin over Gary McGillivray’s face, but two stand out – the unholy howl its V-12 makes while inhaling through its six, twin-choke Weber carbs, and the little blue Italian cigarette-tax sticker affixed to its pop-out lighter.

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However, ask him how it made out this year at Amelia Island and St. John’s, two of North America’s triple-crown of Concours d’Elegance events, and his enthusiasm for his exotically-styled, Rosso Barchetta, stainless steel trimmed Italian grand tourer bubbles over.

And well it might, after the car earned trophies following invites to Amelia Island in the spring and St. John’s a couple of weeks ago, helping in the process, to add a little more lustre to the Lamborghini marque’s celebration of its 50th anniversary.

“If anything absolutely stands out about this car for me, it’s the motor,” says McGillivray. “The Lamborghini V-12 of this era, with its four chain-driven cams and six Webers makes, without question, the best noise of any exotic motor. At 6,000 rpm, you don’t hear the exhaust, all you hear are those (intake) trumpets up front, and they’re screaming. At low revs, you hear the cam-chains, and the exhaust, and the mix is a fascinating sound. Once you get it in your system it infects you.”

McGillivray grew up with American iron, but became an Italian car fan after seeing his first Ferrari as a teenager, after which he says, “muscle cars ceased to exist for me.” Lamborghini’s aural-infection got its hooks into him in the 1980s after a Ferrari-owning friend urged him to visit the Meadowbrook concours in Michigan (now the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s), an event the construction project manager, who lives in Mississauga, has missed only once since.

In 1992, his then three-year-old son tagged along, and McGillivray recalls telling him, after taking his picture standing beside Ralph Lauren’s Alfa-Romeo 8C 2900, “I will be back here at some point in my life, and I will have a 12-cylinder Italian car, and I will win an award, and drive up to the podium to collect it.”

McGillivray related that story over the microphone from the podium at St. John’s, while collecting his bronze and marble Lion award in the Postwar Sports after 1961 class. “It was a complete tick of the bucket list,” he says. “And what a phenomenal event, 370 of the finest cars, 12,000 spectators in one day, it was mind boggling.”

And the tax sticker?

“It makes me giggle,” says McGillivray (while doing just that) of the little blue bit of paper stuck to the Espada’s lighter, a detail that just might have appealed to the judges’ sense of whimsy as well. It’s an exact reproduction of the stamp used to indicate tax had been paid on packs of cigarettes, and which Italy’s revenue rapacious “esattore delle tasse” evidently felt should be extended to devices car makers provided to light them as well.

After making those vows to his son, McGillivray became “completely and totally determined, I needed, not wanted but needed, to have a 12-cylinder Italian car with carburettors.”

Four years ago he set out to make that happen, contemplating first a 1980s, four-seater Ferrari 400 and then the “outrageous looking” Espada, which he describes as the Uma Thurman of supercars. “If you take any one piece, separately, and look at it, it’s really not all that attractive, but put it all together and. ...”

The Espada’s proportions may have looked a little “wacky” to McGillivray, but examples of this popular model were available, selling in his price range, and had that critically important V-12 sound-maker under their hoods.

Tractor-maker Ferrucio Lamborghini created his car company in 1963 (it’s now owned by Audi), setting up shop in Sant’Agata Bolognese to build fast and luxurious Grand Touring cars to rival those of Enzo Ferrari. The first was the 350GT, which debuted in 1964, and it was followed by the 400GT, 400GT 2+2, mid-engined Miura and the Islero.

In 1968, along came the Espada (Spanish for the sword bullfighters use), the company’s first full four-seater. Its 3.9-litre, 325 hp, four-cam V-12 – that gave it a top speed of 155 mph – was mounted up front, ahead of a leather-trimmed cabin that four people, if the pair in the back weren’t too tall, could actually fit into. And it was wrapped in dramatic, love-it or hate-it bodywork penned by Bertone stylist Marcello Gandini. Its flight-deck-long hood was fronted by quad headlights, and its swept-back windshield blended into a roofline extended to an unlikely length by a picture-window-sized backlight.

Enough buyers fitted into the “love-it” category that the original was followed in 1970 by the series two (with power up to 350 hp), and series three of 1973. In all, 1,217 were built before production ended in 1978, making it the best-selling Lamborghini until the Countach.

And they didn’t go cheap. McGillivray says in 1971 a Rolls-Royce sold for £12,000 ($19,380) in Britain, while an Espada went for £14,000. “The Rolls was the price of a house. The Lamborghini a house with a two-car garage.”

McGillivray found his Espada in 2009 in San Diego, where it had been parked in a garage for 19 years. After spending a considerable amount to make it roadworthy, it was shipped to Mississauga, but on the way home from being certified blew a head gasket. That sparked a four-year restoration that resulted in the car’s rebirth in concours-winning condition.

But the Espada is no over-primped trailer-queen. During that time McGillivray put 13,000 km on its odometer, often in company with the 14 members of the “club with no rules,” a.k.a. the Cognac Car Club. “We all like to drink cognac, and sit in garages and talk about cars,” says McGillivray of the group that, between them, owns some 40 cars.

It’s a safe bet much of the cognac-fueled chatter at its next gathering will be about McGillivray’s award-winning Espada.

Back in 1971

  • Peter Lougheed’s Conservatives end a 36-year run by the Social Credit party in Alberta. Quebec is buried under 42 centimetres of snow, and the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.
  • Led Zeppelin releases its fourth album, an untitled effort most often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. It goes on to sell 23 million copies. Montreux Casino burns down during a Frank Zappa concert, commemorated by Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.
  • Heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier beats Muhammad Ali, Richard Petty wins the Daytona 500, and Al Unser Sr. the Indy 500. The Intel 4004, the first commercial cpu-on-a-chip is launched.
  • Greenpeace is founded, and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., opens.

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