The Baby Bull
At some point Tony Wates decided that restoring a classic Lamborghini was a good idea. Why go to all the bother and effort? Why not go for something with readily available parts? Because for Tony, the vision of eventually owning a classic Lamborghini had to become a reality. “I’ve just always loved Lamborghini.”
The Urraco is an entirely pure experience. The sound, the smells, the styling and its heritage. These days we expect supercars to slap us across the face with big numbers because after all, they’re expensive. It seems buying, building and owning a classic Urraco isn’t about that. It’s a Lamborghini from the Italian madhouse, but the Urraco doesn’t go overboard, it’s got just the right amount of crazy-versus-charm. There are no bonkers spoilers, but it has got louvres to die for. It’s also got four seats (kind of) and a boot with golf clubs in it. You can push it on the road without fearing for your life. It’s all just right.
Round the side of Tony’s house is a small wooden garage clad in a tasteful shade of Farrow & Ball. ‘Lamborghini’ is written above the door. A collection of rare and beautiful parts are hung on the walls or on shelves. A tidy workbench sits in the corner. This is the Urraco’s home. Most who want to restore a car go for an MG or a Triumph. Restoring an old seventies Lamborghini is just a whole different ball game. So many parts are unavailable or untraceable; many have to be made to order, some have to be scrounged from other models and brands. “[The community] is small to be honest, I know three or four owners. There are some knowledgeable folks in the US, I chat to people on the Vintage Lamborghini Garage (VLG).” Tony explained how even the little plastic bags for the parts with 'Lamborghini' written on them were worth keeping, just for prosperity.
The drive in this car gives a real rush. The dash is wide, the needles on the many dials zip about as you achieve speeds that put hairs on your chest. You sit in the corners of the cabin with your feet angled to the centre. Would it be harsh to say Bertone wasn’t exactly fussed about ergonomics? Tony would disagree. Perhaps the driver gets priority here (and rightly so). Who cares, I’ve never experienced a car more alive than Tony’s Urraco. There is nothing fake about the raw sound that comes out of those four pipes at the back (built by Tony himself). I’m going to coin a phrase without shame that’s commonly used to describe Italian cars: it’s got soul.
This car is the P250 S model with the 2.5L engine. It was launched as the P250, (the ‘P’ bit just meaning “posterior” due to its rear engine) before earning the name Urraco meaning "little bull” after the fighting bull which killed the bullfighter Manolete.
With a top speed of 149mph it’s not really a blistering performance by modern standards but along British roads it’s a recipe for a zesty drive full off noises to make you squeal and giggle. “It’s not super quick, but fast enough, it handles really well and is fabulous on fast A roads.” The V8 delivers 220bhp, a modest number compared to cars these days but it’s power you can work without needing a track. That power does come from a big engine that loves to drink fuel and empty your wallet, but you get a lot of lovely overrun pops and crackles even cruising at 30mph.
We asked Tony what he felt the most undervalued aspect to the car was: “The looks for sure! It's a pretty good engine but not their best. It's one of Bertone’s great designs, it looks fast even standing still. It’s clean as well, no spoilers.” The shape is unlike anything you’ll find on the roads today, certainly a hark back to the seventies when Bertone discovered the use of tracing paper. After the success of the Lamborghini Espada a succession of cars with similar lines emerged, the Urraco being one of them. I’ve heard it said that a good car design should be recognised by three lines. There's no denying the seventies wedge on the Urraco is iconic.
On the way to visit a local garage we passed through the village. The entire street was wooed by the soundtrack of the naturally aspirated thoroughbred burbling and barking it's way past the average family hatchback. Children pointed and shouted “look a Lamborghini!”, camera phones were poised. The car has a remarkable effect. “I get amazing reactions - people stop and stare. I've always let people and kids sit in it. I like to help the future generation of gearheads prosper.” The bold yellow paint zings the eyes as people’s mouths are left open.
To think this car was Lamborghini’s mid-range option lends a fascinating perspective. Here we have an Urraco in the English countryside making quite a scene, would a swapping to a Miura at a much higher price have a proportionately strong effect? It’s a tough call. I certainly wouldn’t bean a Miura down those country lanes quite like Tony drives his Urraco.
The Urraco is a classic Lamborghini in a package that makes it a treat in Britain, but it's extremely rare in right hand drive. Own one and you get the pedigree of a real supercar, uncompromising looks but most of all a driving experience like no other. But these cars aren’t about outpacing the guy in front, they combine the raw mechanical sensation of driving with a gut-wrenching soundtrack while you wear big fat grin on your face. The fact that Tony has worked tirelessly to rebuild this car shows just exactly how much this indulgence is worth. “I can't see that I will sell it any time soon. I still have plenty to do to get it perfect. Above all, I want to drive it.”
Check out Tony's website for more info on his rebuild here.
Words - Tom Aiton // Photography - Tom Duke