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Love for Lamborghinis Brought This Jalpa Back to Life

A fan of the legendary sports cars made it his mission to rescue this rare 1987 model.


By

A.J. Baime

Derek McCallister, a data center technician from Redmond, Ore., spent four years rebuilding this 1987 Lamborghini Jalpa. Only 410 were ever made.Photo: Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

Derek McCallister, 32, a data center technician from Redmond, Ore., on his 1987 Lamborghini Jalpa, as told to A.J. Baime.

When I was in high school, I became enthralled with Lamborghinis. I swore that someday I would buy one and restore it. I zeroed in on a model called Jalpa [pronounced YAL-pa, and named for a breed of fighting bull]. This was the last V-8-powered car that Lamborghini has sold to date, and one of the last new models launched before Lamborghini was sold to Chrysler in 1987. [The company has announced a new V-8 model—the Urus, the first Lamborghini SUV—will go on sale later this year.]

Four-and-a-half years ago, I found a Jalpa in New York. It was a haggard mess and needed a complete rebuild. Because it is a rare car—only 410 were made—it was not cheap. [New in 1987, the car sold for about $65,000.] When people saw it, they said I was crazy. They said, “There’s no way you can restore that car!” I thought, well, yes I can. Watch me.

Photos: Rescuing a Rare Lamborghini

An Oregon man shows off the 1987 Jalpa that he spent four years rebuilding

Derek McCallister in his 1987 Lamborghini Jalpa. At a young age, he became enthralled with Lambos. ‘To me,’ he says, ‘this was the car that dreams were made of.’Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

The Jalpa, seen here in Redmond, Ore., sits low on its wheels, with its V-8 motor behind the two seats. The body was designed by the famed Italian car design firm Bertone.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

The most famous Lamborghini of the 1980s was the Countach. The Jalpa is a far more obscure model. ‘People see it and they are baffled,’ Mr. McCallister says.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

Look close and you can see the 3.5 badge. While rebuilding the motor, Mr. McCallister bored it out so it is actually slightly over 3.5 liters now.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

The Lamborghini bull logo is part of the company’s lore. Founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s astrological sign was Taurus.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

Critics of Lamborghinis often point out that the rear windows are so small the driver cannot see out the back. Fans say it doesn’t matter: Lamborghinis are so fast, the driver never needs to look behind.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

A view of the interior. Unlike the engine, much of the interior was in decent shape when Mr. McCallister bought this vehicle. Nevertheless, pulling the interior out and restoring it was a time-consuming process.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

Another shot of the interior. Notice the five-speed shifter.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

‘Sometimes I look at the car,’ Mr. McCallister says, ‘and I think: Oh my God, this took four years. And I finished it.’Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

Some detail of the car’s body. Lamborghinis through the years have been known for their angular body design, as seen here.Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

The V-8 was completely rusted out when Mr. McCallister bought the car. Today, he says, ‘the entire engine is completely bespoke from top to bottom.’Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

It was exactly the kind of challenge that made Ferruccio Lamborghini start making cars in the first place. In the 1960s, Lamborghini was a tractor manufacturer outside Bologna, Italy. As the story goes, he bought a Ferrari that he was not happy with. When he complained, Enzo Ferrari, who lived not far away, told him to stick to tractors. So Ferruccio set out to make a better car than Ferrari could. People said, “Hey, you can’t do that.” Ferruccio said, “Yes I can. And I am going to love it.”

I spent four years rebuilding my Jalpa in my single-car garage. The motor needed new pistons and new valves. I bored out the cylinders (to slightly over 3.5 liters) and converted the motor to electronic fuel injection. I interviewed seven machinists before I found one who could repair the cylinder heads. I took apart the interior entirely, cleaned everything and redid the wiring. I finished the job in August.

Now it’s just intoxicating. There are days when I feel like crap and I will get in that car, drive it down the street and listen to the engine, and I feel some of the greatest happiness I have ever known.

People ask how fast it goes. I finished it just before winter hit, so I have not had the chance to stretch its legs. This coming summer I will get it out on Portland International Raceway and see what it can do.

The Lamborghini logo up close.Photo: Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

‘There are days when I feel like crap and I will get in that car, drive it down the street and listen to the engine,’ Mr. McCallister says, ‘and I feel some of the greatest happiness I have ever known.’Photo: Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal

Contact A.J. Baime at Facebook.com/ajbaime.

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