Car in the Spotlight: 1968 Lamborghini Islero

Welcome to our regular ‘Car in the Spotlight’ feature, and a big thank you to Iain McFarlane , for providing us at ‘My Car Heaven’ such fascinating insight to buying and owning this exceptional car, his Lamborghini Islero.

Any Lamborghini is many petrolheads dream to own at some point in their life, I know I pine over one day owning a Miura, 350 GT, 400 GT or Diablo. Lamborghini ownership is a pipe dream for many due to the cost of purchase and cost of running and maintaining. So it is always wonderful to get an insight from a Lamborghini owner as to what they love about their car and why they chose that particular brand or car model. Is it as costly to run as one would think? Let’s find out, read on…


A short history on the Lamborghini Islero

The Lamborghini Islero is a grand tourer produced by Lamborghini between 1968 and 1969. The Isero was the replacement for the 400 GT and featured the Lamborghini V12 engine. The car debuted at the 1968 Geneva Auto Show alongside the Lamborghini Espada. While both automobiles featured a 2+2 coupé body style, the Islero was intended to be a more visually conservative alternative to the then-radical Espada, in keeping with the traditional style of the earlier 400 GT. The car’s namesake, Islero, was a Miura bull that killed matador Manuel Rodriguez “Manolete” on August 28, 1947. The Islero had a 325 bhp, 3.9 Litre, 3929 cc Lamborghini V12 engine, as was also used in the 400 GT, Miura, Espada and Jarama. 

Carrozzeria Marazzi was chosen to construct the Islero’s body. This firm was chosen as it was founded by Carlo Marazzi, a former employee of Carrozzeria Touring. Touring had previously produced bodies for the 350 GT and 400 GT. The firm was staffed by former Touring employees, along with Marazzi’s sons Mario and Serafino.  Ferruccio Lamborghini was rumoured to be the true designer of the body, dictating his requirements to Marazzi. The design was essentially a rebody of the 400 GT, with its good outward visibility, roomier interior, and additional soundproofing improving driver and passenger comfort compared to previous models. The Islero’s body and interior suffered from numerous deficiencies in fit and finish, some of which was corrected in the later Islero S.  Lamborghini test driver Bob Wallace stated in an interview that the Islero’s quality issues were due to Carrozzeria Marazzi’s lack of resources and that Marazzi-built cars were never built to the same quality as those built at Touring. 125 Isleros were built.

An updated Islero, dubbed the Islero S or Islero GTS, was released in 1969. There were quite a few styling changes, including engine cooling vents on the front fenders, an enlarged hood scoop (which supplied air to the interior of the car, not the engine), slightly flared fenders, tinted windows, round side-marker lights (instead of teardrops on the original), and a fixed section in the door windows. Various other changes included slightly increased power output, larger brake discs, revised rear suspension and revamped dashboard and interior. 100 examples of the Islero S were built, bringing the production total of the Islero nameplate to 225 cars. Ferruccio Lamborghini himself drove an Islero during that era – as did his brother Edmondo. The car is also famous for its appearance in the Roger Moore thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself and in the Italian short film anthology Vedo nudo.


An Owners viewpoint

“This car is Chassis 6036.  The chassis numbers go up in 3’s, so my car was the 12th built (ginished in March 1968). Apparently this car was personally loaned by Ferrucio to Bridget Bardot (as was told to me by the previous owner). The car was based in Monaco for a while (I have a couple of photos of some guy driving it round in Monaco) – looking into this I have evidence that it was owned by a Luigi Sutera, who could be the singer (as described to me).  Could also be an industrialist, or both. Does anyone know, I’d like to find out and add to the story.”


What do you love the most about your car?

“There are a number of things I love about the Lamborghini Islero GT.  Firstly, it’s an extremely rare car, with only 100 manufactured, and it hails from that halcyon age of the swinging 1960s when Lamborghini was manufacturing cars that reflected his specific requirements as to what, in his opinion, a proper GT car was supposed to be. Notably a white Islero GT was Ferrucio’s run-around car of choice at the time, so I sort of feel that the concept of the car may get closer to his DNA than some of the latter-day models that the company produces. 

I love the classy, understated, shape, with its long bonnet, glass house interior and clipped boot and high small chrome bumpers.  Most importantly I love the spine tingling, addictive, V12 roar when you can really let it loose on the open road. 

Counter intuitively, I especially enjoy the fact that virtually nobody knows what it is, even in some Lamborghini circles, and it largely goes unnoticed.  However, I do remember a passing father dragging his son up the drive to stand immediately behind it and announce in a hushed and knowledgeable tone, ‘That, son,…is a Jensen Interceptor’, even though it clearly said ‘Lamborghini Islero’ on the boot directly in front of his nose.  Being the mysterious star-car in Roger Moore’s debut film The Man Who Haunted Himself also does nothing for its profile.  He thought he was driving a Maserati…”


When and where did you buy the car?

“I bought it from a member of the Lamborghini club in 2000 after being struck by its pretty shape at the Brooklands Italian Car Day.  He’d brought it along to sell it,  so I obliged him accordingly and took it off his hands.  To be honest it was an impulse buy, as I was young (and foolish) and I knew literally nothing about car mechanics or car maintenance. I couldn’t even get it in the garage when I bought it, so it ended up at my parent’s house for quite some time.”


Why did you buy this car, as opposed to another model or manufacturer?

“I’d became fascinated by Lamborghini since when I was around 12 years old, probably brought on by a packet of Top Trumps that had a red Countach LP400 and a beige Urraco in it. There seemed to be an aura and other-worldly quality about both the cars and the company at the time, which I found really appealing as a youngster.  I just had to have one, and that was that.”


Where did you buy it, and why this method?

“I bought it with cash from a private individual who’d brought it along to Auto Italia back in 2000.  I think he had got to the point where other future financial demands outweighed the benefits of keeping it.”


What attracted you to this model and manufacturer?

“At the time, I’d been vaguely contemplating buying either an Espada, a Jarama or a Urraco, as these were the only Lamborghini ownership entry points in the late 1990s.  This Islero was at Auto Italia for sale at the same time as a lurid green Jarama (named by the eventual owner as ‘Kermit’), but I went for, what I felt was the prettier, Islero.  I still feel that I made the right choice.  I have nothing against the Jarama though, as my friend had one and it was a real hard-driving car.”


What was the purchase price, and what is its current value?

“It was a fair chunk of my annual net income at the time.  Suffice to say it’s cost an inevitable arm and a leg since (repaint, engine rebuild, new exhaust system, servicing, parts etc), but usefully the values have increased to a point where I will always get my investment back, were I to ever sell it.  Current prices seem to vary, depending on condition, somewhere between £250k and £330k.”


How much does it cost to service and tax?

“It’s tax exempt and I use an amazing, specialist, ex Ferrari engineer to service it at my home.  I don’t use the more well-known handful of older Lambo service providers as, location wise, they are a pain to get to (you need a second car to get back to your house, which will inevitably be hundreds of miles away), they cost a fortune and I have unfortunately been let down by one of them in the past.  At the end of the day, despite the rarity and mystique of the car, it’s still just a car and I resent having the honour of being charged over the top simply because it’s ‘a Lamborghini’ (or to quote the guy on Wheeler Dealers when asked to drop the selling price of his Urraco  – “No…. it’s a Lamborjheenee”).

I reckon it costs £1,000 per year in servicing by the engineer I use (I also use independent ‘normal’ specialist garages for specific purposes such as exhaust fabrication, undersealing, tracking, etc.).  The engineer is freelance in that regard, but used to work for the local Ferrari dealership.  Big bills naturally centre on engine rebuilds, resprays, etc.  Most parts have to be reconditioned as they don’t exist (e.g. suspension).  Tyres are from Blockley (205 VR15s), which are a bit cheaper than the Michelins. It’s thirsty, so don’t expect much more than single figure fuel consumption.


What does the car feel like to drive?

“Once it’s warmed up and you let it stretch its legs (initially avoiding second gear) it has a wonderful visceral feel to the whole driving experience.  Due to the highly flexible 4 litre V12 it pulls easily in third gear at very low speeds and, at around 4,000 rpm in fourth, it emits a throaty raw as it hunkers down into the road (fifth gear is left for the motorway).  All round visibility is excellent, as there is glass everywhere, and you are constantly reminded that are you are driving a 1960s Lamborghini because of the wooden steering wheel, the wooden gear knob and the myriad of little charging gold bulls that stare back at you from the centre of the steering wheel and the instrument panel.

There comes a point where it probably becomes a bit hairy on B roads due to the slim 1960s 205 VR 15s that it rides on, but those speeds wouldn’t be possible in the UK, so I clearly wouldn’t know whether this is the case or not…”


How often do you drive the car?

“Every couple of weeks, but hardly ever in winter, due to the salt.  I enjoy giving it a blast on the motorway in the early evenings when the summer sun is setting.”


Has the car been on any eventful journeys?

“Every journey in it is an event, one way or another.  I used to slavishly do the annual 200-mile pilgrimage to the Auto Italia Festival at Brooklands, but I personally feel the that the event has lost its sparkle a bit over the years, so I don’t bother anymore.”


How do you look after the car?

“It’s kept in a garage at my house.  I clean the Islero myself, but it’s not a job that I particularly relish.  One repeating issue of note is the magnesium wheels, which are a nightmare and require refurbishment after every couple of years as the coating reacts with the magnesium. Finding the right company to do the work is not easy either.”


Is there another classic or supercar that you’d like to buy, and why?

“I have a bright red, a mid-life crisis, Ferrari 348 TS, which is great fun and a whole different driving and owning experience. 

I plan to possibly buy a Huracan later this year, as I want to tick the ‘new’ Lamborghini experience box, for what it’s worth. I’ve now passed mid-life so can no longer be accused of that being the reason for buying one.

My short wish-list also includes a Diablo, as it is one of the last old school Lamborghinis of my era, but the values are now sky-rocketing and I am not sure I really want to take on another ‘classic’ as they always require quite a lot more time to look after than new cars.  Still, never say never.”


What advice do you have for anyone looking to buy this model of car?

“I imagine if anybody really wants to buy an Islero they will probably have deep pockets, have done a lot of homework and will know exactly what they want and where to source it reliably from.  They clearly will not be spoilt for choice as there are so few on the market at any one time. 

I am not sure what the ‘typical’ Islero owner is, as I’ve only ever met 2 other illusive owners, who had completely different life stories and different reasons for owning one.  One was a lovely gentleman whose father (a WW2 Spitfire pilot) had bought one from new when he lived in the Bahamas (the ‘yellow’ one, as I refer to it).  The other was a self-proclaimed Roger Moore fanatic who bought the actual car from the film ‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’ (the ‘silver’ one) and subsequently used it to trade up to buy the orange Roger Moore Aston Martin from ‘The Persuaders’.  Both are the more powerful GTS versions and pop up from time to time in magazines in the UK.

If I were to go back and advise my younger self I would simply say ‘good decision’, and ‘just do it’ as it has been a positive part of my life for 2 decades now.  If somebody had pointed out some of the flaws and drawbacks at the time, I might never have jumped in and bought it.”


How does it compare to newer models?

“It’s classic 1960s, so comes with all the benefits and compromises of being that.  You don’t just jump in it, start it up and tootle into town (it’s not a traffic jam car).  Sometimes it feels that each trip requires as many pre-flight checks as getting a WW2 bomber airborne, but that’s just part of the charm.  Interior wise it’s all wall-to-wall black Connolly leather, a wooden steering wheel and wooden gear knob and that faint smell of real-world engineering and age.”


How is the current market for this car, and how do you see this evolving?

“In 2022 Classic car magazine flagged the Islero as one to watch in 2023 (along with the 348, and the Diablo SV interestingly).  I’m not sure I necessarily agree on the Islero taking off, as there are so few of them in the UK and those that do exist just seem to do the rounds with various dealers (the ‘silver’ one springs to mind).  I’m not sure what market it is competing in either.  Maybe at the bottom end of the original 400GT market at a push?

Unfortunately it’s now probably rare to find somebody that wants to buy one just to enjoy it for what it is, which is a shame as it’s a lovely car to own and drive.  The previous owner said to me that we are just custodians of these vehicles.  He’s right, but I’ve now been a custodian for over 20 years, and as long as I can afford it, I’ll keep it.”


So there you have an owners view on his car, ownership and more. A big thanks to Iain for telling us all about his Lamborghini IsIero.

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