Words by Iain Tyrrell
When I was twelve, I was in the bathroom of the family home. It was a beautiful summer’s day and the window was open. We lived by a road junction, and then I heard my first V12 – a glorious sound like I had never heard before. I clambered to open the window and saw a blue Lamborghini Espada. I was hooked from that moment on the V12 sound.
Following some time at a Rolls-Royce and Bentley workshop, I started my own repair shop at the age of 21 in 1984. The business was called Tyrrell Engineering. An Espada owner called me about three years after that (around 1987) and said he’d heard of my work and wanted his car prepped for sale, as he was suffering from ill health. I realised very soon that it was the same car. Very shortly after I picked up the car from his garage (he wasn’t there), we struck a deal over the phone. I arranged finance and then he died in hospital during the process. I paid his widow the money and bought my “dream” Espada from a man I never met!
Fast forward twenty years to 2004, when I set up my current business, Cheshire Classic Cars. I’m first and foremost a mechanic and restorer with a business doing that as well as selling choice classic cars. My speciality remains engine tuning, particularly of classic sports cars which need a lot more fine adjustment to get them running sweetly then modern electronically managed engines. I’m a musician also, and for me tuning a fine engine is like tuning a musical instrument. I consider myself very blessed to be doing something I enjoy and am so passionate about. Although there are fifteen of us in the business now, I still get my hands in an engine when I have the chance.
My story of discovering the actual Italian Job Miura is now widely in the public domain, I’ve made a video of me “Tuning the Italian Job Miura” which is now on YouTube. This specific Miura is the arguably the most iconic V12 Lamborghini of all time. I’ve also made a version of the famous song “On Days Like These” which plays during the fateful first scene where a Miura hurtles down a hillside. The song is available for download on iTunes and Amazon with my royalties going to charity.
I’m a very lucky man – we have five Miuras, four Espadas and three Countaches at Cheshire Classic Cars at the moment. I like to think I know my way around a classic V12 Lamborghini. I’ll run through some of my specific knowledge about owning and running a Miura. The earlier “light chassis” Miuras are barely adequate in terms of structural rigidity. Marchesi (who made the Miura chassis before Bertone skinned it), upped the metal thickness from 0.9mm to 1mm at build no. 125 to try and overcome this. I would strongly recommend putting some gusset plates and other strengthening into Miuras generally and these in particular – it will more than reap dividends in handling. This is exacerbated on these early cars when bigger wheels are fitted putting more pressure on the chassis.
Oil changes are crucial. There are advantages and disadvantages to the “split-sump” set-up installed on the last SV’s. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t do this conversion. The fuel system is a known weakness on Miuras – it is known for causing fires! This is due to the needle valves/floats in the carburettors not being properly set-up and maintained. Another potential cause is a stronger than standard fuel pump being fitted, which is very easy to do as the period correct and new stronger pumps are visually identical. A recirculatory bleed back to the fuel tank is a good modification but it is not the answer.
The Miura is an ergonomic nightmare for anyone over 5’9”. Bob Wallace was the Lamborghini test driver who developed the Miura. He was 6’2” tall, but cars were expected to be smaller and much more “intimate” back then (read cramped).
The key is in the setting-up of the Miura to drive properly. A good one is a challenge but highly rewarding and invigorating, a bad one is like an unmanageable Alsatian on a lead!
Starting a Miura is not as simple as turning the key and letting it warm up, far from it! From cold you turn the ignition on, wait for the fuel pump to slow down (if it doesn’t, the carbs are overfilling and you’re on your way to a fire!) pump the throttle three times then start the engine and play with the throttle to keep it running. If it doesn’t catch repeat, including pumping the throttle three times. Warm up at 1,500rpm. DO NOT leave the engine to idle from cold on its own – it will run at 500-600rpm which will kill the internals. There is a different procedure for starting a Miura when it is hot. You turn the key to crank the engine and gently hold the throttle down to help it catch. Don’t pump the throttle like when it is cold. If it’s really well tuned, it may well catch without any throttle like a modern car – a little party trick and measure of the mechanical condition of the car.
A well sorted Miura is a delight in the right conditions on the right road. The Miura is far from unique in this respect – all classic supercars are the same to a greater or lesser degree. When on song the V12 sounds glorious, and the whine of the transfer geartrain only adds to the mix. The controls are generally heavy, particularly the unservoed brakes and the gear change which goes through the engine.
To say the Miura inspires confidence is not really the case. One is always aware that it is a small bull that is not totally obedient. If set-up properly it will go where you point it, but we mustn’t forget this was cutting-edge at the time – how many other mid-engined 350 bhp cars were on the road in 1967? Lamborghini didn’t have the unlimited budget and resources that Henry Ford II threw at the GT40 (to spite Ferrari). By comparison, the DeTomaso Mangusta was far more unruly in fast cornering than the Miura. Lamborghini had to strike a compromise with the steering geometry on the Miura due to various factors (light front end, lessen bump steer, avoid tramlining), so there isn’t as much castor or self-centring as one would expect.
I particularly like the slats on the doors, it was very difficult and technically challenging to make them, and I’m glad they went the extra mile – a case of the stylists winning over the accountants! I also love the instrument binnacles and complete dash design, it was very sci-fi at the time.
The Miura is a work of passion and art first and foremost; whether one owns one now, aspires to or dreams, it still brings a smile every time. It’s still a crowd puller today, people quite often walk past modern hypercars to look at one, particularly in the bright colours most were made in. This is why prices are now so high, you could buy two or more new supercars for the price of a Miura. Is the Miura going to drop in value? I don’t think so. Lamborghini were the underdog for decades compared to Ferrari, partly because of fear of the unknown. Very few people could work on Miuras properly, which gave them an unfair reputation for unreliability. As the landmark car it was (styling, engineering, raw charisma), fifty years on the Miura has come of age. I’m planning to take part in both the 50th.Miura Anniversary and Centenary of Ferrucio Lamborghini’s birth rallies in Italy this year. A Ferrari Daytona is another favourite of mine; I’ve had some epic drives in them over the years (I first worked on one in 1987). It was a rival to the Miura but so different in character, more restrained and conventional but no less potent in performance. That’s the car I’d have next to the Miura in my dream garage.