Out of the Shad­ows Af­ter years of be­ing out­shone by the Coun­tach, it’s time for the Lam­borgh­ini Sil­hou­ette to be given some lime­light of its own

With just 53 made – only one in this colour – the Lam­borgh­ini Sil­hou­ette for­ever lived in the Coun­tach’s shadow. We plot a mul­ti­tex­tured test route to see if it de­serves a fairer share of the lime­light

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words ROSS ALKUREISHI Pho­tog­ra­phy CHAR­LIE MAGEE

‘I feel like I should be dis­play­ing much larger hair and wear­ing my finest Huggy Bear at­tire’

The car sit­ting out­side Lam­borgh­ini spe­cial­ist Colin Clarke En­gi­neer­ing was Sant’agata’s ef­fort to lure over­weight, com­bover-sport­ing Amer­i­can busi­ness­men – apolo­gies, if you find your­self thus af­flicted – away from the ex­ot­ica pro­duced by Fer­rari, Porsche, Maserati, De To­maso et al. Un­for­tu­nately it wasn’t par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful at do­ing so.

The good news is that the Sil­hou­ette is all mine for the day. By gad, just look at it. Re­splen­dent in Rame Colorado paint and with com­ple­ment­ing Perl­gold five-cylin­der Cam­pag­nolo al­loy wheels – handed down from the Bravo pro­to­type – it could only have es­caped from one decade, and one decade alone. The Seven­ties.

It’s pure Cad­bury’s Caramel Bunny in au­to­mo­tive form. The shape may be fa­mil­iar, yet the name per­haps less so; not sur­pris­ing with only three sold in the UK and just 53 in to­tal, mak­ing it the rarest clas­sic Lambo.

Lift­ing the targa lid off is eas­ier with two, and as we ma­noeu­vre it Colin Clarke ex­plains that this ex­am­ple is well-known to his com­pany – when it was im­ported to the UK in 2010 he re­built the V8 en­gine and un­der­took a full me­chan­i­cal re-com­mis­sion­ing. The cur­rent owner still has the car ser­viced here and my luck’s def­i­nitely in, as he’s been per­suaded that it’s a good idea to let me loose in it.

The roof panel stows sur­pris­ingly neatly be­hind the seats and is se­cured by Vel­cro. There’s plenty of room be­cause, un­like the pre­ced­ing Ur­raco P250 and P300, it doesn’t have the to­ken plus-twos in the back. Mr Clarke shep­herds me into the driver’s seat of the baby Lambo, sens­ing that my eye has been caught by the low-slung der­rière of a sil­ver Miura just vis­i­ble un­der a half-opened shut­ter, and that we’ll lose sev­eral hours if I make it in­side.

The in­te­rior is as glo­ri­ous as the out­side, trimmed as it is in a Bri­tish Ley­land fetishist’s fan­tasy com­bi­na­tion of browns, tans and beiges. In fact I feel de­cid­edly un­der­dressed, as if by the very na­ture of the colour com­bi­na­tions at play I should be dis­play­ing much larger hair and wear­ing my finest Huggy Bear at­tire.

Seat char­ac­ter­is­tics linger some­where be­tween Eames Lounge chair and Le Cor­bus­ier Chaise, but the po­si­tion is marginally less com­pro­mised than other Ital­ian su­per­cars of the era thanks to that de­li­ciously dished small-rim steer­ing wheel. I pump the ac­cel­er­a­tor a cou­ple of times and, keep­ing a lit­tle pres­sure on, turn the key. There’s a low rum­ble as the en­gine catches, which turns to a bari­tone bark as all eight cylin­ders fire – even when start­ing a ju­nior bull, there’s a dis­tinct sense of theatre.

First on the dog­leg gear­box en­gages pos­i­tively with a bit of heft and a metal­lic clack, and I’m off. At low speeds it’s a dis­tinctly manly, phys­i­cal af­fair; the steer­ing is heavy, clutch pedal ditto and gear­box dou­ble-ditto. It’s in­stantly clear that oh boy, does this en­gine like to rev, and even af­ter this short dis­tance the clack-roar, gear-throt­tle rou­tine is be­com­ing dev­il­ishly com­fort­ing.

Af­ter a cou­ple of miles it’s clear that the car is en­gen­der­ing two types of at­ten­tion: the dropped-jaw ‘what the hell is that?’ va­ri­ety, caused by its strik­ing looks and pe­riod-colour combo; and the ‘how dare he!’ kind elicited by Hy­acinth Bucket types in re­sponse to the mul­ti­tude stac­cato bangs and pops on the over­run. Un­for­tu­nately for pro­po­nents of the sub­ur­ban tran­quil­ity, it’s not a car that en­cour­ages re­straint in the driver.

Why re­sist? Let’s see what this thing can do. I poo­tle down through the lush green out­skirts of Chor­ley­wood and pretty soon I’m on a launch pad to the M25. With a top speed of 162mph I’d be re­miss not to get it out into a higher-ve­loc­ity en­vi­ron­ment.

The ex­haust note is hard-edged and sonorous, and bat­tles glo­ri­ously with the throaty quar­tet of We­ber car­bu­ret­tors lo­cated just be­hind your head – if the sound of a 308 GTB is heav­enly, the Sil­hou­ette’s in­hab­its the un­der­world. But it’s clear we have a prob­lem. The V8 is such a lusty spin­ner that it’s still pulling right up to the 7500rpm red­line, and if I don’t curb my en­thu­si­asm it’d be easy to cause con­sid­er­able dam­age – to pow­er­plant or driv­ing li­cence, take your pick.

The lay­out of the in­stru­ments in the dash­board doesn’t aid mat­ters – the most im­por­tant sec­tion of the rev counter re­mains hid­den be­hind the steer­ing wheel. It’s a case of de­vel­op­ing feel for the en­gine revs, or a Pavlo­vian re­flex whereby an in­stinc­tive head nod ac­com­pa­nies the tail end of any pro­longed ac­cel­er­a­tion.

Stop­ping power is ex­cel­lent, with ven­ti­lated ATE discs all round and a twin-cir­cuit servo sys­tem that en­sures there’s no dis­crep­ancy in the bal­ance of per­for­mance. And now that we’re up to tem­per­a­ture, the ef­fort re­quired for chang­ing gears has eased from gar­gan­tuan to merely Pop­eye – with fourth to fifth be­ing a par­tic­u­lar com­edy choice. But then you only re­ally se­lect that when you re­quire a breather.

I head west on the M40, set­tling into mid­dle-lane cruiser mode. I swear the looks on the faces of pas­sen­gers in pass­ing cars are get­ting wilder by the mo­ment. But it’s not some­thing that I’m go­ing to spend too long con­tem­plat­ing, be­cause the temp­ta­tion to

‘Such is its trac­tion that once it “goes”, no lasso big enough yet ex­ists to rein this lit­tle bull back in’

drop a cog and oblit­er­ate sur­round­ing traf­fic is al­ways there. I’m in dam­age-pre­ven­tion mode, re­mem­ber.

That’s enough mo­tor­way for now, although the A404 south doesn’t re­sult in any less hec­tic driv­ing ap­proach. At Burchett’s Green round­about I cir­cum­vent Tem­ple Golf Club and head to­wards the cen­tre of Hen­ley-on-thames. De­spite the adren­a­line-pound­ing drive and ex­pected straight-line per­for­mance so far, the sur­prise is how tractable and well-be­haved the Lambo is in town. Yes, the lack of as­sis­tance en­sures it’s hard graft, but it’s per­fectly live-with-able, es­pe­cially given the pos­i­tive trade-off in feel.

Once parked up on the river­front, I nip across to The Choco­late Theatre Café for a take­away dou­ble espresso. The re­turn trip gives me my first op­por­tu­nity to ap­pre­ci­ate the sheer ex­panse of rub­ber at the Sil­hou­ette’s rear. I’d mo­men­tar­ily for­got­ten that chas­sis wizards Gi­ampaolo Dal­lara and Franco Baral­dini had de­signed the car around Pirelli’s brand-new P7 tyre, in hefty 195/50 front and mon­strous 285/40 rear 15-inch flavours, giv­ing Ber­tone – un­der the guid­ance of Gan­dini at the time – cer­tain styling pre­req­ui­sites. Th­ese ne­ces­si­tated the defin­ing squared-off whee­larches and pro­vided the Sil­hou­ette with that strik­ing back end – paint this thing black, and you’d al­most have the pro­to­type for Bat­man’s Bat­mo­bile in the The Dark Knight.

It’s not only cof­fee that’s brought me to this wa­ter­side spot. I pull out my copy of a 1976 pro­mo­tional flyer pro­duced by the then-sole UK Lam­borgh­ini im­porter, Ber­linetta Italia of Whyte­leafe. It’s a lit­tle gen­tler in im­agery, even if there are def­i­nite soft-core un­der­tones. In the pho­to­graph is a Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach LP400 in the same lo­ca­tion as our Sil­hou­ette, with a for­lorn, de­mure Princess Di type on one side and two ‘okay-yah’ row­ing gents on the other. It’s cer­tainly a strange ren­dezvous; per­haps they were try­ing to em­pha­sise the clash of cul­tures.

Never mind; I’ve placed the car al­most per­fectly with Hen­ley bridge as a back­drop and have my snap for pos­ter­ity, so time to get out of here. There are no re­gatta shenani­gans to­day but you never know when one of those chaps may hap­pen along and com­mis­sion a pair of trousers based on the Lambo’s paint­work.

Head­ing north, I’ve passed back un­der the M40 in no time and find my­self tick­ling the Chilterns. I can’t help ex­pect­ing this fat-tyred su­per­car to strug­gle on nar­row coun­try lanes. Not a chance. This is no later Coun­tach or Di­ablo, cars that could seem like down­right overkill up here in the glo­ri­ous wind­ing coun­try­side. Where a V12 feels like it’s barely tick­ing over at 70mph, the quad-cam V8 is won­drously flex­i­ble and gives you the choice to ei­ther work the revs hard in the lower gears, or keep it in third and let the torque take the strain. As a fan of free-revving Ital­ian four-pots I take the for­mer op­tion and it rises au­rally to the challenge, both Ansa tailpipes singing har­mo­niously from my cho­sen hymn sheet.

Charge into cor­ners and the level of grip is prodi­gious; epic, even. The steer­ing – heavy ini­tially, be­com­ing lighter at speed – is spot-on un­der th­ese con­di­tions, re­spond­ing in­stantly. To­day, I’m far from the car’s lim­its so it’s neu­tral through cor­ners; pe­riod road tests sug­gest it to be a fairly be­nign and con­trol­lable beast, but such is the level of trac­tion gen­er­ated that when it goes, I’ll bet it doesn’t half go. At that point, no lasso big enough yet ex­ists to rein this lit­tle bull back in.

All the in­gre­di­ents are cer­tainly there; bru­tal looks (the 308 GTB is def­i­nitely pret­tier, but can’t match the Sil­hou­ette’s pres­ence) sonorous en­gine, tena­cious road­hold­ing and the first use of those mon­strous tyres. So why did it fail?

Lam­borgh­ini swung pen­du­lously from fi­nan­cial cri­sis to fis­cal calamity in the late Seven­ties; the Ur­raco project had over-ex­tended its re­sources and sales didn’t meet ex­pec­ta­tions. Fac­tor in fo­ment in the work­place – Com­mu­nist Party unions, worker un­rest and fre­quent strikes – and the fact that the 3.0-litre V8 failed to meet Cal­i­for­nia emis­sions reg­u­la­tions, and the Sil­hou­ette was left to die a nat­u­ral death when the com­pany en­tered bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings. If not still­born, the baby Lambo was def­i­nitely in its in­fancy.

Which is a shame, as it’s a morethan-ca­pa­ble ju­nior su­per­car, and the longer I spend in its com­pany the more I like it. Thanks to the Ur­raco’s ex­ist­ing rigid plat­form chas­sis, whip­ping the top off hasn’t overly af­fected the struc­ture even though the body wasn’t strength­ened. And de­spite my en­thu­si­as­tic use of speed, there’s been very lit­tle wind buf­fet­ing.

At Ald­bury I stop for a can of re­fresh­ment, and even the post­mas­ter of this quaint vil­lage can’t re­sist com­ing out for a quick look. Then it’s off up to Iv­inghoe Bea­con Na­tional Trust car park to take in the view, and de­vour my car­bon­ated wares.

As I’m do­ing so, I be­come aware of a car skid­ding to a halt and then re­vers­ing. It parks up and the oc­cu­pants come walk­ing over. The gent has an al­most fever­ish look in his eyes – much as Colin Clarke must have seen in my own just a few hours ear­lier. ‘Oh man, I thought it was a Lo­tus, but it’s not – it’s a bloomin’ Lambo. I just caught the front end.’ De­spite be­ing ret­i­cent at first, at his wife’s com­mand he stands next to the car and has his pic­ture taken, be­fore get­ting in it for the same. There then fol­lows one of

the most bizarre con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had in a while, in which the lassie ex­plains she’s the cousin of lat­est singing young thruster Jack Sa­voretti and we en­ter in­for­mal dis­cus­sions to have the Sil­hou­ette in­cluded in his next music video. It’s just that kind of clas­sic car.

The re­main­der of the trip back to Colin Clarke’s is a lazy, re­laxed drive, punc­tu­ated by a quick stop to fuel up – it seems the heavy right foot does come at a price. While do­ing so, I re­ceive three com­ments of ‘nice car, has it bro­ken down?’ to which I with­draw from un­der the bonnet and re­ply, ex­plain­ing the fuel filler lo­ca­tion.

Dur­ing that time I no­ticed a cu­rios­ity that has my mind buzzing for the last ten min­utes. Colin ap­pears out­side just as I pull up at my des­ti­na­tion. Be­fore I for­get and en­ter into the joys of the car, I shut the en­gine off, pop the bonnet and ask him if he can ex­plain. ‘What, the space-saver spare wheel?’ he asks. I nod af­fir­ma­tively.

I un­strap it and hold it up against the Cam­pag­no­los. ‘The car’s on 15-inch wheels, the Coun­tach was on 14s at the time, Jarama and Es­pada 15s,’ I say. ‘So why is there an 18-inch spare un­der the bonnet? It looks like it wouldn’t even fit un­der the whee­larches?’

Wrong wheel is his con­sid­ered opin­ion, be­fore he dis­ap­pears in­side for a cou­ple of min­utes. ‘Nope, it’s the same as mine. Lam­borgh­ini in the Seven­ties, what can you say?’

It’s a state­ment of ac­cep­tance from a man who knows th­ese cars in­side out, and knows their strengths and weak­nesses. Funds were tight for so many years that many de­sign and build el­e­ments can seem prim­i­tive, laugh­able even, for cars that in so many other ways were so com­plex.

‘We’re ap­proached and asked if it can be bor­rowed for a music video – it’s just that kind of car’

‘The clien­tele has def­i­nitely changed now,’ he states, as he fi­nally shows me round his un­der­stated work­shop. ‘It used to be pre­dom­i­nantly en­thu­si­asts, but now it’s closer to 50-50 with in­vestors. A lot of our cus­tomers have owned their cars since they were worth sev­eral thou­sand pounds, and they’re worth more than their house now; so if some­one of­fers you the money, then to some it’s a no-brainer… you cash in.’

That change is mir­rored in the bal­ance of work, which now veers more heav­ily to the restora­tion side. ‘Pre­vi­ously, you’d be fix­ing cars to keep them on the road. If your en­gine went bang, it cost much more than the car was worth to fix it. Now the value is in them, own­ers will get the prob­lem fixed, but when they’re re­stored to this stan­dard they dis­ap­pear back into col­lec­tions so you don’t see them for a cou­ple of years.’

The sil­ver Miura and green Miura SV draw the eye, but tucked away in a cor­ner is an Islero restora­tion project, a car Colin holds in par­tic­u­larly high es­teem. ‘I don’t know why, but ev­ery Islero we’ve ever re­stored has just felt that lit­tle bit bet­ter than other mod­els.’ How­ever, at the minute, pride of place goes to a re­stored 1956 Lam­borgh­ini DL 30 trac­tor. ‘I saw it on ebay and thought I must have it. It was in Som­er­set and was rusty and hor­ri­ble, but we did it bit-by-bit. It didn’t take too long – there’s not much to it.’ On tak­ing the leak­ing en­gine apart Colin’s first con­cern was where he was go­ing to get parts for it, but in­cred­i­bly he found that the crank seal sizes were the same as those on an Es­pada. ‘It’s my mono­posto Lam­borgh­ini.’

He puts a lot of the process of fix­ing th­ese cars down to in­tu­ition. As I take my leave it’s clear that he’s still putting this hard­earned in­tu­ition to good use, as to­day’s Sil­hou­ette drive demon­strates.

Ul­ti­mately Lam­borgh­ini pulled funds to fo­cus on the Coun­tach S, BMW M1 and Chee­tah/lm off-road projects, en­sur­ing the Sil­hou­ette’s rar­ity. It would re-ap­pear slightly re­vised un­der the Jalpa name a cou­ple of years af­ter the Mim­ran broth­ers’ 1980 buy­out, but for me it’d have to be the wide­hipped, P7-tyred orig­i­nal ev­ery time.

It may not have made it to its tar­get market, but nev­er­the­less – over­weight, wrap­around-haired Amer­i­can busi­ness­men types, I can only salute you.

Can you help? If you know any of the car’s his­tory from when it was sold new in Ger­many in De­cem­ber 1977 – the only one made in Rame Colorado – please get in touch via clas­sic.cars@bauer­me­dia.co.uk

It lives in the shad­ows of the Coun­tach V12, but the Sil­hou­ette’s V8 de­serves day­light

Colin reck­ons he’s worked on 75 Mi­uras on to­tal – in­clud­ing the Shah of Iran’s

Ross recre­ates a rather cu­ri­ous Seven­ties scene

Mar­que spe­cial­ist Colin proudly shows Ross his ‘mono­posto Lam­borgh­ini’

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