LAMBORGHINI JALPA 350
by Roberto Giordanelli
Roberto Giordanelli tries out Lamborghini's 'small' supercar.
It's 1981. The French have just abolished the use of the guillotine. The British are rioting in Southall, Brixton, Manchester, Reading, Hull and Toxteth. The Italian government falls, having discovered Masons and corruption (hard to believe). A Turk shoots the Pope. The Americans shoot down some Libyan jets and the Swiss count their money.
JLA12384 The Swiss also stage the 1981 Geneva Motor Show and the Lamborghini Jalpa 350 ia launched. Its lineage can be traced back via the Silhouette to the Uracco 300 and Uracco 250. Together with Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche, Lamborghini jumped on to the bandwagon of producing small Supercars. For serious Supercars, size matters. Trying to create a new market segment was never going to be easy. With the possible exception of the curvaceous Ferrari 246 GT, none of the small Supercars will go down as special in motoring history, although the Bertone designed Jalpa wasn't at all bad.
Jalpa owner - Steve Roest, who together with Paul De Turris own Fiat Specialists DTR European Sports Cars, arrived at our test facility with this freshly restored (60 miles ago) and extremely rare righthand-drive example. A 1988 Jalpa, it is one of the last of the 410 cars built between 1982 and 1988 and is not for sale. Luckily, this Lamborghini fell into the right hands. Subject of a complete restoration at DTR's works, Andrew Warboys rebuilt the engine, with Steve Dyson responsible for the body. Prior to its restoration, the heroic previous owner used it as everday transport clocking up to 93,000 miles - a fine testimony to the Jalpa Targa Spider and Lamborghini engineering.
In typical Lamborghini fashion the chassis is created from steel tubes with steel inner and outer panels resulting in a very strong if somewhat heavy structure. The transversely midmounted 3.5-litre SOHC alloy V8 produces all the right noises as well as 255bhp at 7,000rpm. It may only have one camshaft per bank but it has a wide power band and delivers its 255bhp superbly. This compares with 190bhp for the Maserati Merak, 175bhp for the Ferrari 246 GT and 242bhp for the Ferrari 308 GT4. With a dry weight of 1,510kg, the Jalpa manages the 0-60mph dash in 6.8 seconds. Top speed is 155mph. Baggage can be stored in the reasonably sized rear boot or in the space behind the seats which accomodates the stowed roof panels. Air conditioning came as standard.
Styling is certainly striking but without winning any prizes. 'Solidarity" won the 1981 "Striking Prize" in Warsaw. Again, typical of the period, the wheels do not quite fill the big heavy arches. It looks dramatic enough but what's it like to drive? Well the top comes off and stows in the space behind the two seats. You sit low between big strong sills in the slim magnolia leather seats. The interior is original and unrestored. Unlikely many supercars of the period, sitting position is very good with the black leather Nardi steering wheel at the right angle. The interior is typical of the period with square pods and angular trim. Speedo and rev-counter are dead ahead with the oil pressure gauge between them and other instruments off to the centre. The accuracy of the two big dials needs thinking about as they imply a 5th gear ratio giving 36mph/1,000rpm. Given 155mph top speed and max power at 7,00rpm, my calculator reckons 22mph per 1,000rpm would be more like it. The gear lever sprouts through a metal 5-speed dog-leg 1st gear gate and falls nicely to hand. Visibility is good fore and aft, but poor for the rear three-quarter area. Nevertheless, practicality is ther. The roof comes off easily. There is a reasonable boot behind the engine so touring is quite feasible as long as your wallet can cope with 17mpg. You could always get advice from Mrs. Thatcher's friend - economist Milton Friedman who had just published his latest book.
With 4 twin-choke 42 DCNF Webers atop the V8, starting the Jalpa from cold just requires two or three prods of the long-travelling throttle pedal and bingo - the deep note of a Lamborghini V8 echos through the trees. The Jalpa is an open road car. Manoeuvring is both tricky and difficult. Rear three-quarter vision apart, there is no power steering. Even with 4.25 turns lock-to-lock parking the car is tedious. Only at very high speed does the low geared steering feel right. On the open road all is forgiven, the controls lighten up and you can begine to enjoy your exclusive car. Throttle action is long and slightly stiff - a common Jalpa criticism. With hard use the brakes are borderline. On the plus side there is a high level of grip. excellent wet whether traction, and neutral handling. You can feel the low polar moment of inertia especially on left/right/left chicanes (some people call them roundabouts). Combine this handling with a very impressive torque spread from the V8 (maximum torque 310lbsft at 3,300rpm) and you have a highly effictive sportscar. The tacho is yellow-lined at 7,000rpm and red at 7,500. You don't really need to screan the V8 round to these revs; with max torque way down at 3,300rpm any up-change after 5,000rpm will supply the necessary shove in the back. Noise levels are good considering the proximity to the V8, and wind noise is also not bad considering the frameless door glass.
While the Jalpa is not one of the machines that made the 'Bull' world-famous, it shouldn't be forgotten. When Lamborghini engineer Giulio Alfieri enlarged the V8 to 3.5-litres he knew that size counted. That's what made the 1981 Lamborghini V8 torquier than the period Ferrari V8 and the Maserati V6. While the Jalpa is not the fastest Lamborghini made, it is easy to drive and I can see how the previous lucky owner managed to clock up 93,000 miles in his 1988 Jalpa. You know what else happened in 1988? Yes, that's right - Kylie Minogue released 'I Should Be So Lucky".
Lamborghini Jalpa 350
Type SOHC Alloy V8
Bore/Stroke 86mm x 75mm
Fuel System Twin 40 DCOE carbs
Max Power 255bhp at 7,000rpm
Max Torque 310lbsft at 3,300rpm
Gearbox 5 speed + reverse
Front/Rear MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar
Top Speed 155 mph
0-60 mph 6.8 sec.