• Vas Comblas

The 1981-'89 Jalpa Was Lamborghini's Baby Bull Before the Huracán

Updated: Mar 18

Shared by Vas Comblas.

It packed three-quarters of the outrageous Countach’s visual punch, along with two-thirds of that flagship model’s cylinders, for three-fifths the price. The Lamborghini Jalpa—which recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its debut—represented the ultimate expression of the small series of highly distinctive V-8-powered grand touring sports cars that proved unique in the Italian firm’s canon. The hand-built exotic, priced new at the equivalent of $146,000 in today’s dollars, would be a rare sight on American roads, but its legacy inspired the top-selling Gallardo and its replacement, today’s V-10-powered Huracán.

Automobili Lamborghini had debuted its approachably priced Urraco coupe in the early 1970s. Ensconcing a mid-mounted 2.5/3.0-liter V-8, 2+2 seating, and usable rear luggage space in Bertone coachwork, it set a pattern directly followed by the Dino 308 GT4. As the 308 family expanded to include Ferrari’s Pininfarina-penned two-seat GTS, the Urraco was joined by the two-seat, removable roof-panel Silhouette that shared its transverse engine. That short-lived (just 53 built from 1976-’79) intermediary would birth the Jalpa.

Said to be named for a breed of Spanish fighting bulls, this model had a complex production line: its sheetmetal substructure was formed in Modena, the painted all-steel body originated at Carrozzeria Bertone in Turin (where its lines were penned under Marc Deschamps), and the driveline was assembled and installed in-house at Sant’Agata Bolognese. The low, angular body sported a contrasting-paint engine cover (from 1984 on, it was painted body color) that wrapped over sail panel air intakes, as well as a sharper nose with a more prominent chin spoiler. Angular, molded-in wheel arches recalling those on the shock-and-awe Countach received steroidal enhancement, and a fresh, modern-style instrument panel improved cabin ergonomics.

While it shared a 96.5-inch wheelbase with the V-12 model, this junior supercar was 3 inches longer and 13.1 inches narrower. The reinforcements that stiffened the pop-top Jalpa gave the U.S.-spec car a 3,305-pound curb weight that was dutifully handled by its fully independent, MacPherson/Chapman strut suspension and internally vented disc brakes. The rack-and-pinion steering system used "armstrong" power to turn the 205/55 front tires on 16 x 7.5-inch Campagnolo alloys; thanks to favorable 41:59 front/rear weight distribution, the 225/50s out back followed obediently unless provoked.

But in its quad-cam heart, the Jalpa promoted hooliganism. That all-aluminum 3.5-liter V-8, topped with four double-barrel Weber 42 DCNF carburetors, was capable of 7,500 rpm and thrilling noises. It sent 250 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque the rear wheels through a close-ratio five-speed gearbox with a properly Italian open shift gate, and unfettered, the best examples could push the car above 150 mph.

Ultimately, 420 Jalpas were built, with around 100 believed to have come Stateside. The next Lamborghini to count eight cylinders under its hood would be the current twin-turbocharged, 190-mph Urus SUV, but that’s a mutant bull of an entirely different breed.

SPECIFICATIONS Engine: 3,485-cc (213-cu.in.) DOHC 90-degree V-8

Horsepower: 250 @ 7,000 rpm

Torque: 235 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Suspension: Struts, A-arms/trailing links, coil springs, anti-roll bars

Brakes: Power-assisted four-wheel disc

Curb weight: 3,305 pounds

Top speed: 151 mph

Reference: Mark J. McCourt from February 2022 issue of Hemmings Motor News