The life story of a Lamborghini Espada

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by Nigel Boothman |

1973 £10,295 of new Espada arrives in the UK

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The ultimate GT? Publicity shot for Lamborghini’s first production four-seater

The first phase of this car’s life history is mysterious. Lamborghini’s factory records for chassis 9202 say it left the factory on September 7, 1973, bound for Lamborghini importer Portman of London. It was right-hand drive, with gold paint and tan leather. The sale apparently went through on September 17 and the car was registered four days later, probably as ‘XYY 357M’, a London plate correct for the date. It was still on the car when it was sold in 1977.

But who, if anyone, bought it? If the car remained embarrassingly unsold, to be dumped into a general used car dealership, it’s unlikely it would show up in the factory records with a sale date. Yet in 1980, more than two years after its first known owner bought it, it was recorded during a visit to the Lamborghini factory as showing a mere 1843km (1145 miles).

Three other possibilities remain: it was bought and kept almost unused by an owner who passed on no history when selling the car; it was bought and returned by a dissatisfied customer; or it was exported and then re-imported in 1977. The latter possibility would explain an oddity on the car’s V5C, which states the number of previous owners only from October 1977, but not why it retained its 1973 number plate.

1977 Jazzman Chris Barber buys, and crashes, the car

Chris Barber has enjoyed one of the longest and most successful careers in British jazz, and he was right in the middle of it in 1977 when his friend, fellow trombonist and motor sport legend Mike Hailwood, told him of a Lamborghini he might like. He went to view the car, made the deal and had it delivered to his address in Wardour Street, Soho.

‘I bought it for use between tours, for pleasure. Sometimes it ended up being used on tours abroad, but we had to find a lot of expensive parts for it. Luckily we had a few concerts in Italy around that time and the cost of the parts was deducted from the fee the concert organiser paid us, then paid to Lamborghini instead.’

The car was horrendously costly to keep. Barber told a later owner he’d paid £1200 for a major service – enough to buy a nearly-new family runabout in 1977.

Then Barber’s time as a Lamborghini owner came to a dramatic close, ‘I was on the motorway from Germany into Belgium and it was raining. Certain spots were not well drained and I hit a puddle, which sent the car into a slide that ended up on the central reservation.’ Barber walked away, but the car had been badly bent.

1979 Chris Haskins pays £4500 for the wreck

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Chris Haskins’s wife with the Espada on a trip to Sant’Agata to pick up spares

‘I was told about the car by Ernie Prior, an ex-sports car racer who ran a small service garage in Upbrook Mews, Paddington,’ says the car’s next owner, Chris Haskins. ‘Ernie serviced my dad’s Alvises and Chris Barber’s Lambo. The wreck was in a lock-up round the corner. I was smitten, although the car was in a pretty poor state. It was damaged all along the offside, quite low down and on the front corner and bonnet.’

Haskins found an engineer to repair the bodywork, then negotiated a deal with Barber, ‘A figure of £4500 sticks in my mind. I went to his office in Soho with the cash and he released the keys by phone.’

So began a refurbishment costing around £2500 – a fair sum in those days, though it was more than was covered when Haskins sold the car in 1983 for £7000.

Towards the end of the six-month programme of works Haskins and his wife took the car across Europe to collect hard-to-find spares from the Lamborghini factory at Sant’Agata, Bolognese.

‘That was a magnificent drive. We drove from Calais to Ulm in Bavaria in less than seven hours. The Espada was the fastest car I had ever driven and I got a lot of pleasure from thrashing down the autobahnen. I particularly remember how at above 110mph everything came alive and it handled like a dream.’

Haskins bought a private plate to go with the car, ‘LAM 399’, for the 3995cc V12 engine. The plate remained in place long after he decided to sell the Espada – though he struggled to raise interest and finally let it go to a dealer.

1989 A Lancashire dealer sells it for £16,000

Alan Warburton went to look at the by now rather worn Lamborghini at a dealership in Oldham, Lancashire. It was the height of the classic car boom, but despite a few years of rising values the Espada had obviously deteriorated since leaving Haskins’ ownership in 1983. Between then and being bought by Warrington-based Warburton it passed through at least two private owners and probably a number of classic car dealers.

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The car is slowly re-fitted following body and paint work in Alan Warburton’s care

‘I bought it for £16,000 as a project. Fully-restored, cars were valued at £55,000-60,000 then. With my son I embarked on a major restoration, putting more than 1000 hours into the bodywork, the strip-down and the rebuild.’

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Warburton junior can only look on as dad readies himself for more mechanical misery

The duo rechromed the brightwork and bought a plethora of parts for the engine, interior and running gear, and Warburton commissioned a respray by a firm which billed him for 179 hours of labour.

‘Then Lorenzini Auto Sports in Manchester handed me a bill for £5000 for 100 hours of mechanical service work and engine tuning. It included rebuilding the carburettors because the butterflies had been melted by fire damage.’

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The Warburtons’ involved restoration was cursed by a market crash and soaring interest rates

While this dramatic expenditure was turning the tired Lambo into a 91-point concours car, the bank was trying to foreclose on a loan taken out to buy the car as interest rates rose to 15.4 per cent. Classic car values collapsed and Warburton was forced to dump the Espada in the early Nineties for a crushing combination of £13,500 plus a rough Jaguar E-type project – a far cry from the £60,000 forecast for the finished car, had it been completed.

‘It took me 12 years to recover financially from that. But it was happening to everyone. I met a man who lost £1m on the sale of two Bentleys.’

1997 The Espada stars in a Classic Cars road test

Warburton sold the car to a dealer in Winsford, Cheshire. It ended up in Jersey, possibly after being seen in Cheshire by a local family who operated a classic car dealership and auction house in the Channel Islands.

How many owners it passed through before returning to the mainland isn’t clear, but we know for sure it came back in 1996 after being bought by Lamborghini specialist Colin Clarke, ‘It still had its

LAM 399 plate, which was the reason I bought it because I thought I could make a bit on the plate.

However, then the brakes failed on the M1 one morning and I nursed it from Brent Cross to Park Royal using the handbrake. Just fixing the brakes meant that all my profit was gone.’

He sold the car to Peter Rees of Wire Wheels 4U, who allowed the car to be driven for a feature in the July 1997 issue of Classic Cars magazine.

It was Rees who rediscovered that Barber had been a previous owner, ‘I found a German bill in the history file addressed to Chris Barber and something made me check it against the DLVA records – sure enough, the first owner they had a record of was Donald Christopher Barber.’

Rees bought the car with the intention of selling it on, and managed to do so with a considerable profit.

1997 Espada is divorced from special numberplate

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LAM 399 stayed with the car until 1997, when it was sold to a dealer

Ant Hawkes saw Rees’s advert in Classic Cars magazine, though by now Rees had sold the LAM 399 number plate back to Colin Clarke. ‘I went to see the Espada in East Grinstead; I liked the car and I bought it.’ But after that, early signs were not good.

‘It failed the first MoT because the sills were almost non-existent behind the paint. So I had panels made up and fitted them. After that I got it back on the road and used it quite a lot, replacing fuel pipes and sundry electrical components as I went along.’

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The car, as bought by Ant Hawkes in 1997, looked deceptively good despite disappearing sills

As chairman of Lamborghini Club UK, Hawkes took the Espada to various club events including some laps of Goodwood, which it tackled with entertaining alacrity.

But the work kept piling up, ‘I took it into the garage as a winter project over 2001-02 to re-do the suspension and brakes all round. It was a pretty involved job but the car was back on the road in the spring.’

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Ex-chairman of the Lamborghini Club UK, Ant Hawkes, added the Espada to his fleet in 1997

However, Hawkes was using the Espada less and less as other cars entered his life. ‘At one point I had five Lamborghinis. Work needed doing, and the work I was being paid for always took priority, so in 2004 I took the Espada off the road.’

2014 Work resumes as a golden future beckons

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Ant Hawkes has restored Espadas before, so he has no fear ©Laurens Parsons

Today Hawkes has thinned out his collection to a mere brace of Espadas, one of them almost at the end of a complex restoration. He plans to finish it to a high standard and then put it on the market to fund a final push on Chris Barber’s old car. ‘Espadas have gone up in value so much in the past few years that for the first time in my life I might be able to sell one without losing money. It would allow me to do justice to the rest of the job without being restricted by funds. But I won’t sell it when it’s finished – this one’s a keeper.’

The car’s history, specification, colour and right-hand-drive status make it a car that Hawkes can still be inspired by, and just as well, as there is a fair bit left to do.

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Tan leather seats are originals; new doors have yet to be fitted ©Laurens Parsons

‘Since it came off the road I’ve found another pair of doors, which need to be shaped to fit; the originals were too sad to use. I’ve also rebuilt the back axle, the steering, re-wired the car and had the gearbox rebuilt. I’ve still got to clean and recolour the trim, decide on a full repaint or otherwise and rebuild the engine. It doesn’t run very well and overheats, but I hope to get away with new bearing shells and a hone to go with the new pistons I have. I’ve done one before, so it’s not a problem.’

After four decades it sounds like this golden wallet-muncher has finally found a permanent home. Let’s hope Ant Hawkes gets to reap the rewards of his efforts without any further unwanted drama.

Thanks to Lynne Bull of the Lamborghini Club, lamborghiniclub.co.uk

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