The Lamborghini 350 GT and 400 GT didn’t start so much with a dream as an irate customer. Heard about the guy so disgruntled with his Ferrari that he decided to build his own? His name was Ferruccio Lamborghini, and in 1962 he was about to start making modern automotive history. So begins the story of the Lamborghini 350GT.
Having owned the best modern Ferraris, Lamborghini decided he could do better than II Commendatore. And having made a considerable fortune in specialized tractors and heating appliances, he certainly had the resources to try.
But Ferruccio didn’t intend to dabble. To him, high-performance cars were serious business. Accordingly, he invested in a brand-new factory at Sant’Agata, not far from Bologna -- or Modena -- in the heart of Italian supercar territory.
Lamborghini knew what he wanted but couldn’t design it himself, so he hired Giotto Bizzarrini, the respected freelance engineer who’d already made his mark at Ferrari and was working on new projects for Iso in Milan. Ferruccio’s dream was a sleek two-seat coupe with as many unique components as possible. In particular, he was determined to build his own engines, looking down on Iso’s use of off-the-shelf Chevrolet power.
Bizzarrini duly ran off a four-cam 60-degree V-12, a design he’d been playing with for some time, and also began laying out a new front-engine chassis with a classic all-independent suspension via double A-arms and coil springs at each corner. Servo-assisted Girling disc brakes would be used all-round. Steering would be ZF worm-and-roller.
In early 1963, Lamborghini hired young Giampaolo Dallara to supervise prototype construction -- and to be president of Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini S.p.A. It was another shrewd choice, for Dallara was not only “ex-Ferrari” but “ex-Maserati,” so his supercar credentials -- and credibility -- were excellent.
The first engine was running by the summer of 1963. It was then mated to a 5-speed ZF gearbox and installed in a prototype called 350 GTV, revealed at the Turin Show that November. Designed by ex-Bertone hand Franco Scaglione and built by Carrozzeria Sargiotto of Turin, it looked rather fussy (despite retractable headlamps), with some apparent inspiration from Aston Martin’s DB4GT Zagato and Jaguar’s E-Type coupe (see entries).
By the time production began in March 1964, Touring of Milan had rounded off the prototype’s angular lower body lines, greatly simplified the tail, and replaced the hidden headlamps and gaping “mouth” intake with exposed, slightly “frogeye” oval lights and a conventional grille. The result premiered at the Geneva show that same month as the 350 GT. Meantime, the V-12 had been given six horizontal Weber carburetors (the GTV had vertical Webers) and finalized at 280 horsepower, and the new factory was ready to produce both engines and the tubular-steel chassis.
Only 13 Lamborghinis were built in ’64, but demand grew rapidly as word got around about the Lamborghini 350 GT’s splendid engine, excellent handling and roadholding, and very high performance (more than 150 mph flat out). Over the next two years, volume swelled to 120 units, all semi-fastback coupes except a handful of Touring-built convertibles and one Zagato-styled special.
In 1966, the Lamborghini 350 GT gained a running mate called the Lamborghini 400 GT. It carried a 4.0-liter V-12, as the label implied, with 320 bhp, enough to boost top speed to near 160 mph. It also featured the first Dallara-designed Lamborghini gearbox and final drive. Ferruccio was serious.
Touring jiggled appearance so that the Lamborghini 400 GT looked little different from the Lamborghini 350 GT but shared no common panels. Providing external identification were a quartet of circular headlamps, a scaled-back rear window, and a fractional increase in roof height for a little more interior room.
As before, a pair of tiny bucket seats lived in back, and brochures optimistically billed this as the 400 GT 2 + 2. Underneath, a single large fuel tank replaced the 350’s pair of smaller ones. Just to confuse matters, there was also an interim 1965/early-’66 350 with the 4.0-liter engine.
In all, these first-generation Lamborghinis represented a very auspicious start for a new marque. As Road & Track warned at the time: “Watch out, Ferrari!” The 350 GT remained in production through 1967, but the 400 GT continued into 1968, when it was replaced by a rebodied version called Islero. Volume was way below Ferrari’s, but Ferruccio had fewer models, and his tally wasn’t bad.
In fact, Lamborghini had come from nowhere incredibly fast to pose a serious new threat to the performance and prestige of the prancing horse. Worse for Maranello, new models were waiting in the wings that would make the threat even more serious. The rampant bull had arrived.