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Retro test: 1968 Lamborghini 400 GT Islero S

 

by Robert Puyal

 

 

The 350 and 400 GT, the first Lamborghinis, were not that remarkable, with their oval eyes. The Miura, in 1968, cooly imposed its angelic lines and its design upset all the prevailing wisdom of the time. In 1968, the Islero would disappoint the new fans of the marque: it reengineered very few technical aspects of the 400 GT and its lines were pure, simple and unornamented.

 

Beautiful? For you to judge. In comparison to the vote that welcomed the Miura, or the Marzal prototype of 1967, the reactions were quite lukewarm. They have been that way since. None, though, judged the lines of the Islero as lacking interesting qualities. Today, it is exotic because of age, but collectors refuse to have anything to do with it: too modern, with its clean lines and alloy rims inherited from the Miura that replaced spoked wheels. No content...

 

For its design, Lamborghini would have been happy to call on Touring, who had already assembled the 400 GT after having revised the initial design of Scaglione and Bertone. Except that Touring was in bankruptcy. The way led to Carozzeria Marazzi, a small facility that recovered some Touring personnel. A continuation with a change of name, in essence.

 

Appropriate to the name Miura, the one you know, which is a breed of fighting bulls, the new firm's emblem shows a bull charging, head tilted, ready to gore all who pass, including the Cavallino that imprudently rears up. With the name "Islero", there is a degree of the brutality of these beasts, because it is the name of a particular Miura bull, who is remembered because, in 1947, it killed the celebrated matador Manolete. I leave you to appreciate the doubtful taste of this homage.

 

The ambience on board is dominated by two feelings: first of all, the grand brightness and magnificent visibility in all directions that can be enjoyed by both driver and passenger (forgot to mention the back, the "+2" is particularly hypocritical here). Mario Marazzi had designed the openings to be large, and one of the rare stylistic effects that he authorized was the grand height of the rear window, fooling the eye with the vertical de-icing resistor lines, then a luxury. The second great pleasure, the ability to be comfortably seated in an Lamborghini -- in the Miura, Countach and Diablo we miss this precious sensation. The steering wheel of the Islero is placed a bit to the right, but one's feet are comfortable, and the left front wheel does not encroach to the clutch pedal.

 

Contact (as they say). Listen for the pump clicks. Wait a few seconds for the twelve carbs to fill up. A quick stroke of the starter (a discreet sound), without touching the accelerator, and a very slight sound, nearly electric, is heard: it is the V-12 idling. To assure that it is properly started, one taps the toe of the right pedal; it is now enough! The twelve cylinders reveal an indiscreet roar. If one accelerates purposefully, it is true music. For cornering, so as not to lose the back end, it is better to coast; the flexibility is enough. However, pulling from low speed has never been the strength of a V12. This engine is no exception, but on the other hand, its climb to speed is close to the best, similar to that of the only competition then, the Ferrari 330 GT, in the tree-stump pulling delivery.

 

Like it is in the case of the 400 GT, its predecessor, the suspension is altogether well though out. Not only does the geometry (simple and quite race-like: the four wheels are independently suspended via dual A-arms) insulate the driver from surprises and the twisting of the rigid rear axle, but the compromise between the requirements of comfort and those of good handling is almost modern. But this effectiveness is not on par with contemporary cars. Do not forget that a simple modern touring car handles better than the Islero, aided by the wide tires that today are the rule. With the Islero, lifting the throttle is accompanied by some hesitation, and vigorous braking is counseled against without a firm hold on the steering wheel. Direction changes are slow, with four turns, lock to lock. Better to not count when quickly countersteering during a skid. But the one time that the driver has taken the measure of the possibilities, taken the intrinsic quality of the car's general balance, and the healthy way it settles on the suspension, the Islero runs fast. And above all, it takes its speed with ease.

 

If you truly have a choice, opt for an S. Not so much for the extra 30 horsepower, always a bit theoretical with an old car, but for the rear suspension, taken from the Espada and less subject to deformations than the previous design. And so, have a good drive. It is the thread of miles that the Islero likes, over a distance, if possible, where one can avail oneself of high speed away from the congestion in which we have engulfed ourselves.

 

Caught out by the Miura, that magnificent monster of the road, and the Espada, with its charismatic true 2+2 elegance, the Islero has not known success. Too bad, because it is lighter and more effective than the latter and, certainly, more easy to live with than the excessive Miura. Such is better for those who today appreciate its discretion: after all, for a personality rich in talents, if with a modest appearance, it is deserving of more.

 

Buying an Islero: The most difficult thing is finding one. Then, it is simple to make an offer. Contrary to certain other Italian GTs, the prices are stupidly reasonable: from 150000-200000FF (US$20-30000) for a car of 320 to 350 (S version) horsepower, it is a gift. A beautiful Islero S was recently advertised in Paris, asking 240000FF. To assure oneself the best chance of good brakes, always justified, it is essential to use the best clamps for both the disks and brake lines. Here one will need to use a professional to purge the brakes. The advice from us, based on our experience, is that you must regularly maintain this beast. In addition to the brakes, there are the twelve carburaters that need tuning.

 

Photo captions:

Next to the exuburance of the Miura, the Islero took, during the 60s, the difficult role of "the sensible Lamborghini". It is also a GT of the highest class.

 

The transmission is pleasant, conditionally upon practise of double declutching and heel-and-toe downshifting ... The driving position is correct! Under the hood, the eternal V12, here in the 4 L carburated version: 350 horses. It is this that is the sole reason to spring for this beauty.

 

The driving experience of the Islero gives a sense of liveliness, effectiveness and it is remarkably suitable for long distances. Watch out all the same: such power in an old fashioned chassis is like having strong alcohol -- savor with moderation.

 

Long, low-slung, and compact, the Islero has no gaudy lines. But who buys it? Watch out, a return to favor may result in a rapid rise in price...

 

 

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Specifications

Years of Production: 1968/1969

Number constructed: 125/100

Motor

Type: 60 degree V12

Material: Alloy

Displacement: 3929 cu cm

Bore/Stroke: 82mm x 62mm

Carburation: 6 Weber 40 DCOE

Max Horsepower: 320@6500rpm/350@7700rpm

Max Torque: 38.5mkg@5000rpm/40mkg@5500rpm

Weight

Advertised: 1460kg

Measured: 1483kg

Power/weight: 4.4kg/horsepower

Performance (circa 1968)

Max Speed: 251kph

400m: 15s

1km: 27.2s

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