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Lamborghini 400GT – was this Paul McCartney’s car? 

Words: Mark Dixon; pictures: Dean Smith

The Beatle definitely owned one and this one happened to be parked on Savile Row while the band performed their last-ever gig on the rooftops above… so we asked the man himself 

His voice is unmistakeable. Older and a little reedier than we remember from all those famous film and TV clips, but still underpinned by that characteristic Scouse twang. Yes, it is definitely him. Sir Paul McCartney, former Beatle, founder of Wings and so much more, has called to talk about the Lamborghini 400GT that he reputedly owned in the late 1960s. 

Reputedly, because it has never conclusively been proven that Paul – he has no time for titles – actually owned or even drove this car. The internet is awash with claims that he did, the rumours based on a few fleeting glimpses of a red 400GT parked outside the Apple Corps office on Savile Row during the Beatles’ famous rooftop gig in January 1969. But he’s never spoken publicly about it. Until now. 

‘I’m not a very technical guy, as any of my roadies will tell you,’ he apologises at the start of our conversation. ‘I’d originally had Aston Martins, a DB5 and 6, and I loved them. After that, I decided I’d get a Lamborghini. I’m not exactly sure when, but it was towards the end of the ’60s. January ’68 [the date our feature car was registered] sounds about right. It was red, I liked it, a flash motor. I went everywhere in it. 

‘My main recollection is of breaking down in Soho, on one of those long streets leading down to Wardour Street. I’m tooling along and she breaks down, conks out… So, I’m on my own, out of the car, pushing it in broad daylight down the street, and I can hear the workmen: “Nice car, Paul! Bit of trouble?” Taking the piss something rotten, you know, but I suppose I deserved it.’ 

The late ’60s were a particularly turbulent time for Paul; he’d achieved massive professional and financial success with the Beatles, but the group was starting to implode. It’s not surprising that cars were hardly foremost in his mind, even though he enjoyed driving and had the money to indulge himself. 

‘The person most fanatical about cars in the Beatles was George – he was really into Formula 1 – but we all loved our cars. I got pinched for speeding in anything I drove – “young and foolish, baby!” – but if you’ve got a sports car, you know, you want to drive it fast; and if you’ve got a long journey and you’re in a hurry, you’re going to speed. I got banned for a year. I was driving from Bath to London, I think, and there was a diversion, but I only knew this one route and cheekily nipped through. Someone must have got my number, and I got a note through my door.’ 

This was far from Paul’s only brush with the law, although he holds no grudges, half a century on. ‘The cops were OK. Once or twice, I would get away with it. I had a little Mini, with blacked-out windows, and they stopped me in that…’ He pauses. ‘As I recall, there was a definite herbal smell coming from the car, but I wound the windows down and the copper looked at me and said “Oh, it’s you; go on, get off!” and he let me go. I must admit, I was panicking there for a second.’ 

The police were less obliging on 30 January 1969, when the Beatles played an unadvertised live gig on the roof of their Apple Corps offices. It was the first time they’d performed in public together since August 1966 – and it would be the last. As bemused spectators gathered in the streets five storeys below, many of them office and shop workers on their lunchbreak, the police became concerned about pedestrian safety and traffic problems. Eventually, they gained access to the roof and stopped the performance after 42 minutes. 

At the time, film director Michael Lindsay- Hogg was working on a documentary about the Beatles, which would be released as Let It Be in 1970, and he had camera crews dotted around the rooftop and on the ground, recording the reactions of passers-by. For a couple of seconds, one camera focuses on a bright red Lamborghini 400GT parked at the kerb, with what appears to be a nattily dressed minder holding the driver’s door ajar. Unfortunately, the image is too tightly cropped to show the registration plate, but it is almost certainly SLF 403F, our feature car’s. 

Today, the 400GT is owned by Peter Read, amiable chairman of the Royal Automobile Club’s motoring committee, and it is silver- grey, not red. But SLF 403F, chassis 01150, very definitely started life painted Rosso Alfa with black interior. It was delivered on 7 September 1967 to Mitchell & Britton of London, and registered on 29 January 1968 to the Star Group of Companies, based in Leeds. The Star Group is said to have been at some time a sub-division of EMI, the Beatles’ record company, and, of course, this kind of fudging of ownership was common back in the day, for tax or privacy reasons. ‘It was probably just done through our office,’ confirms Paul. 

Strictly speaking, this car should be described as a 400GT 2+2. The original 400GT was an interim model, basically an up-engined version of the outgoing 350GT, with a 3.9- rather than 3.5-litre V12. However, only 23 of those were built, and the vast majority (224) of 400GTs were 2+2 models, with a slightly higher roofline and lower floorpan. Only four of those 224 were made at the factory with right-hand drive – a further handful are said to have been converted once over in the UK – which is strong circumstantial evidence that the red Lamborghini parked on Savile Row in 1969 is our feature car. 

Rosso Alfa, the proverbial ‘retail red’, does nothing for the 400GT’s shape and so it’s entirely forgivable that a previous owner had the car repainted in its current silver-grey in late 2012. ‘Nine times out of ten, it’s preferable to restore a car in its original colour,’ explains Peter Read, ‘but this is one of the exceptions.’ It’s certainly added to the car’s visual appeal and it hasn’t harmed its monetary value, either. For the purposes of our photoshoot it was insured for £450,000, admittedly after a concours-quality restoration begun by Tom Hartley Jr and finished by Bob Houghton with the assistance of legendary Lamborghini test driver, Valentino Balboni. 

But that’s not simply due to the improved aesthetics. The 400GT 2+2 was launched at the same 1966 Geneva Salon as the Miura, so it was always going to live in the shadow of its more glamorous sibling; only recently have collectors started to reappraise it and its 350GT predecessor, a trend that peaked with an early 350GT being awarded Best of Show at the 2019 Lamborghini Concours at Trieste. Many reckon that Ferruccio’s first production models were indeed far superior to contemporary Ferraris, just as he had intended, and Peter Read is among them. ‘I also own a 250GT Coupé, but I feel the Lamborghini’s quality is just so much better. Classic Ferraris have a great amount of style – but the Lamborghinis are better built.’ 

Let’s find out whether we agree. First impressions are of a car that looks surprisingly old-fashioned for a mid-60s product, not just in its bubble-roof profile but in some of the detailing, too – notably the speedometer and revcounter, which have 1950s-style stubby needles and numerals with a whiff of 1930s Italian Futurism. But the 400GT’s beltline is noticeably long and low, while its squared-off rump and rear wheelarches, plus a rear window that’s shallower than a 350GT’s, give a vaguely ’60s American feel. 

Inside, there’s masses of headroom, and outstanding visibility through that goldfish- bowl of a hardtop. It’s a very individual-feeling car, from the beautifully sculpted alloy door- pull handles to the elongated swan’s-neck pillar for the rear view mirror. The driving position is typically Lamborghini – a large steering wheel, slightly bus-like in the flattened angle it presents, demanding the classic long-arm, short-legs stance – and, as you draw the door closed, you notice the sinuous compound curves of its window frame, dictated by the huge wrap windscreen. For a debut model (the 350GT and 400GT are effectively the same car) it’s an outstandingly confident piece. 

The V12, similar to a Miura’s, fires easily and idles without temperament, something it will continue to do during the stop-start demands of a photoshoot on a searingly hot day. It’s not especially loud and always sounds refined, but as you lean on the throttle it develops a pleasing blare at around 4000rpm that’s overlaid with a turbine-like hum. Its tractable and willing from very low revs, but get it singing and you’ll find there’s enough power to hustle the 400GT along at a decent lick – a quoted 0-60mph time of 7.5sec sounds about right. 

Lamborghini’s in-house-designed five-speed gearbox has a slightly long throw but a positive action, and the brakes are superb. Where the car really shines is in its notably supple and forgiving suspension, an aspect that Ferruccio felt particularly strongly about and one that doubtless explains his personal ownership of six or seven Lancia Aurelias during the 1950s. 

If the car has a flaw, it’s that there’s a certain amount of stiction in the steering around the straightahead position, which demands a little extra effort from arms and shoulders that cumulatively becomes tiring over a long drive. It could be that the steering box has been over-adjusted to take up wear, although it doesn’t feel imprecise or heavy. 

No matter; for a car that can look slightly gawky in comparison to contemporary Ferraris – not to mention the Miura – the 400GT is remarkably, almost surprisingly, accomplished. You can see why Paul McCartney would have been so enamoured with it. But the question remains: did he actually drive this car? 

What clouds the situation is that McCartney bought a new Series II Espada in March 1972 (not in 1975, and not secondhand, as you will read on the internet). Lamborghini Club UK’s technical advisor, Del Hopkins, was working at Lamborghini Concessionaires in Alie Street, London E1, at the time and carried out the PDI (pre-delivery inspection) on that car; in fact, he still has an index card noting that it was McCartney’s. ‘There was a 400GT sitting in the showroom back then, which was said to be McCartney’s old car, and the understanding was that he’d part-exchanged it against the Espada. I remember that its “SLF” registration number was similar to the one on my ’Healey.’ 

Supposedly, the Espada was put up for sale by Paul after – so the internet says – his wife Linda left the handbrake off and it rolled into a pond. However, Paul took a liking to the potential buyer and advised him not to take it, saying: ‘If you want a Lamborghini that’s mint, and has never been in a pond, this isn’t the one.’ 

Paul has absolutely no recollection of that today. ‘Oh my gosh! I think I’ve blocked that story,’ he chuckles when it’s recounted to him. ‘I remember the windscreen [surround] fixings had started to rust, which I thought was a bit of a letdown. Mind you, they get a bit more sunshine in Italy‘It was a long time ago now, and you have me wondering whether I even owned the 400GT,’ he continues. ‘I definitely remember the Espada, and the 400GT sounds likely… but because it was so long ago, I’m not sure. In those days, we didn’t keep accurate records; nowadays we’d know exactly, and my office would have copious notes and tax returns.’ 

There’s a hiatus as he racks his brain for more memories; it’s clear that he really, really wants to help. ‘I think I’ll just have to admit to being a bit vague about it,’ he concludes. ‘Definitely the Espada, maybe the 400.’ 

So the mystery is tantalisingly unsolved. Was this 400GT the car parked five storeys below that fateful rooftop gig in 1969? Who was the sharply dressed guy with one hand on the open driver’s door, the other partially obscuring his face as he leans on the roof? Could it be the Beatles’ personal assistant, Peter Brown? Did he register the car for Paul? 

The chronology of the 400GT’s logbook looks promising, at least. Paul bought his Aston DB5 in September 1964, his DB6 in March 1966, and, as we’ve seen, the 400GT was registered on 29 January 1968. It passed to an Anthony Thorn of Guildford, Surrey, on 6 June 1972, three months after Paul took delivery of his new Espada. (An irrelevant but irresistible aside: Paul still has the Series IIA Land Rover he bought in 1970 when he moved to Scotland with Linda. ‘It’s a great little motor, so I’ve kept it,’ he confirms. ‘It’s on the drive now.’) 

New evidence may yet emerge. Film director Peter Jackson has been working on a Beatles documentary, Get Back, which will include previously unseen footage of the 1969 rooftop concert. Originally scheduled to be released this September, the film’s debut has now been put back to August 2021. Who knows, maybe it will show Paul arriving in the 400GT. One thing’s for sure: we’ll be watching it on DVD and poising a finger over the player’s ‘freeze frame’ button as we do so. 

Factfile – 1967 Lamborghini 400GT 

Engine 3929cc all-alloy V12, DOHC per bank, six Weber 40DCO carburettors Power 320bhp @ 6500rpm Torque 262lb ft @ 4700rpm Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive Steering Worm and roller Suspension Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bars Brakes Discs, servo-assisted Weight 1472kg Top speed 155mph 0-60mph c7.5sec 

This article was originally published in Octane 209, November 2020

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