I recently had the chance to spend several hours with a 1985 Lamborghini Jalpa. It was amusing, and delightful, and highly exhilarating, largely because I managed to get through the entire day without requiring the assistance of the local fire department.
This opportunity came about thanks to my newfound friends at LBI Limited, a local car dealership that specializes in an eclectic range of high-end vintage and classic automobiles. Current inventory includes a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, a pristine E30 BMW M3, and a gorgeous 1957 Jaguar XK140 MC. So when they offered me the chance to spend an afternoon with the Jalpa, you can only imagine my response. As I recall, it was something like: "That thing will run for an entire afternoon?"
But the Jalpa did run for an entire afternoon. You'd know this if you followed me on Twitter, because that's where I posted a series of excellent Jalpa-related photographs, including one where it's parked in front of the Philadelphia skyline (which I call "Jalpadelphia") and another where it's parked in front of my Range Rover (which I call "a dream come true for the Triple-A social media team"). These were great images, and I'd like to think they really struck a chord with all four members of the online Lamborghini Jalpa enthusiast community.
But you probably want more than just a few photos of the Jalpa. You probably have questions, and you want answers. Fortunately, there is now a handy online format that facilitates such an interaction. It's called question and answer. Allow me to begin.
Q: What the hell is a Lamborghini Jalpa?
A: Think of the Jalpa as the Gallardo of the 1980s. In other words: at the top of the Lamborghini range, where the Aventador now sits, you had the Countach, which got all the ladies, and stole all the press, and required an aircraft tail number in some U.S. states because its wing is approximately the same size as a garage door. And then, slotting below that, where the Gallardo is, you had the Jalpa.
There are, however, two main differences between the Gallardo and the Jalpa. Number one: the Jalpa has a V8, whereas the Gallardo has a V10. And number two: Jalpa production was limited to 411 total examples, while Gallardo production was limited to 411 special editions.
Q: And what does a Lamborghini Jalpa cost?
A: Back in the '80s, you could pick up a Jalpa for around sixty grand, and a Countach for around a hundred. Things have changed since then: both cars now cost approximately that much in annual maintenance.
Ha ha! I'm just kidding. You will not have to pay that much in annual maintenance, because you won't find anyone who can work on a Jalpa. When your Jalpa breaks, you will do the exact same thing all the other owners do: list it for sale on Craigslist and talk about how this is YOUR CHANCE to own a FUTURE CLASSIC that will DOUBLE IN VALUE in the NEXT YEAR, and also, if you want to come look at it, you should bring a fire extinguisher.
Anyway: you can't really pick up a Countach for less than $150,000 these days, whereas even the nicest Jalpa in the world (defined as: any Jalpa that moves under its own power) won't cost more than $60,000.
Q: How do you say "Jalpa"?
A: No one knows, and the guys at the factory who came up with it all died of cocaine overdoses.
Q: How does the Jalpa drive?
A: You would already know this if you watched the video, because there's one stretch where I do about four gratuitous minutes of exterior shots of the Jalpa on the road, intermingled with complaints about how heavy the steering is.
But let's say you can't watch the video, because you're stuck at work. So here's the deal: the steering is really heavy.
Q: Is that all?
A: No, there's more. Let's start with acceleration: The Jalpa isn't fast. Now, you should know that this is generally true of cars of this era. You get in a Ferrari 308, for instance, and you're all excited because this is a Ferrari, with a gated shifter, and pointy styling, and it's going to be so cool, and then it turns out that its 0-to-60 time is approximately the same as a moving walkway.
The Jalpa also isn't very fast, although you'd never know it if you asked Lamborghini. You know how modern automakers intentionally under-rate their 0-to-60 times in a valiant attempt to be modest? Well, back in the 1980s, Lamborghini had a different strategy: they openly lied to everyone who would listen. They claimed the Jalpa hit 60 mph in just 6 seconds, even though no period magazine was able to make it happen in less than 6.8.
But, of course, nobody blamed Lamborghini for this oversight, because they were Italian, and the Jalpa was cool, and it wasn't like the Americans were exactly putting up any worthwhile competition, given that the Corvette of the day was only making 205 horsepower.
Handling, on the other hand, is pretty good — especially for an older vehicle. It's flat, it's quick, and it takes corners a lot better than you'd expect from a vehicle that came out when consumers were willingly spending their hard-earned cash on the Chevrolet Caprice.
But really: the steering is very heavy. I got the sense, as I steered the car around like a train conductor attempting to leave the tracks and get out on the open road, that if you asked Tom Hanks whether he would rather live on that Cast Away island for a few more years, or steer a Jalpa through the Tail of the Dragon, he would strap on his loincloth before you even finished the sentence.
Here's another good thing about the Jalpa: the sound. Now, I should mention that most Jalpas don't make much of a sound, inasmuch as they've been sitting in a barn since 1994 and they have a family of finches nesting in the number two cylinder. But this one was in pretty good shape, as proven by the fact that it already found a buyer in the few days between when I shot the video and now.
And that meant the engine was working to its full, glorious potential, sounding like it was qualifying for LeMans with every stab of the throttle, even though it actually makes about the same amount of power as a Ford Fusion.
Q: Whoa! It sounds like the Jalpa is an awesome car! Should I buy one?
A: Yes, and you should let me drive it. You should also stock up on finch food.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.