Lamborghini Sports Cars

The Countach was another milestone for Lamborghini, and it quickly became a coveted fantasy car. See more Lamborghini pictures.

Lamborghini sports cars are to some the “other Italians,” fated to exist in the shadow of glamorous Ferrari. But in this article, you will learn that Lamborghini sports cars had their own identity, and on occasion even influenced Ferrari.

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Legend has it that Ferruccio Lamborghini, a wealthy self-made Italian industrialist, had mechanical trouble with a Ferrari he owned and was rebuffed by Enzo Ferrari himself when he sought to complain. In a pique, Ferruccio decided to start his own damn sports car company.

The first result of that tantrum, the Lamborghini GT 350 of 1964, a debonair two-seat coupe with a magnificent V-12 engine designed by former Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini. The early Lamborghinis showed Ferrari how refined a fast, powerful road car could be, but it was the Lamborghini Miura of 1966 that showed the world how startingly beautiful and technically advanced a midengine road car could be.

Lamborghini redrew the rules and created in the Lamborghini Espada of 1968 a genuine four-seat exotic, and found continued success with the Lamborghini Islero and Lamborghini Jarama -- powerful and plush 1970s grand touring models. It wasn't all smooth sailing, however. Compact supercars like the Lamborghini Urraco and Lamborghini Silhouette of the period were less than successful.

Lamborhini quickly found a way to rebound. This small and often financially challenged automaking offshoot found a way to produce not just one sports car milestone in the Miura, but a second, with the 1974 launch of the Lamborghini Countach. This wildly aggressive midengine rocket ignited an anything-goes era of ultra high performance, once again goosed Ferrari into responding, and became the poster child for the same renegade automotive spirit that drove Ferruccio Lamborghini in the first place.

We'll begin on the next page by exploring the first ever Lamborghini, the 350 GT.

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Lamborghini 350 GT/ 400 GT

Though similar in appearance, the Lamborghini 400 GT, which debuted in 1966, shared no common panels with its predecessor, the Lamborghini 350 GT.
Though similar in appearance, the Lamborghini 400 GT, which debuted in 1966, shared no common panels with its predecessor, the Lamborghini 350 GT.

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.

The interior remained similar across the Lamborghini GT line, with both the 350 and 400 featuring a 3-spoke steering wheel and a formidable instrument panel.

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.

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Lamborghini Islero

Essentially a rebodied Lamborghini 400 GT 2 + 2, the angular Lamborghini Islero was overshadowed by the Lamborghini Espada and its spectacular styling.
Essentially a rebodied Lamborghini 400 GT 2 + 2, the angular Lamborghini Islero was overshadowed by the Lamborghini Espada and its spectacular styling.

Though Lamborghini’s 400 GT 2 + 2 was still a steady seller in 1967, its Touring body was looking dated and the carrozzeria was falling into grave financial difficulties. The obvious solution was to keep the best and discard the rest, which is what Ferruccio Lamborghini did. The result was a rebodied 400 called the Lamborghini Islero, introduced in 1968 just as the first four-seat Lamborghini Espadas were being built (see entry).

Naturally, the original tubular chassis with front-mounted quad-cam V-12 and 100.4-inch wheelbase was retained, but it now wore more contemporary clothes, with hidden headlamps, a glassy notchback greenhouse, and square-cut contours. Ferruccio Lamborghini dictated the general shape, but the styling assignment went to Mario Marazzi, a former Touring employee who’d been associated with Lamborghini for some time and had started his own coachbuilding business in Milan. Though less distinctive than its predecessor, the Lamborghini Islero was at least clean and inoffensive, and its drag coefficient was allegedly quite low despite the blockier lines.

There was progress inside, too, with more rear head- and legroom and standard air conditioning. There was also a new, more restrained instrument panel.

The interior of the Islero featured more headroom than previous models and a more subdued but equally adequate instrument panel.

With its rather ordinary looks, the Lamborghini Islero paled next to the sensational Lamborghini Espada and sexy Lamborghini Miura but was as hot-blooded as any Latin supercar. Top speed was in the region of 155 mph, with acceleration to match, and there was still the same superb handling and roadholding that had marked the Lamborghini 350/400 GTs.

Considering how overshadowed it was, the Lamborghini Islero sold well. But it would be a short-timer. After an “S” model took over in 1969, with minor trim changes and 20 more horsepower, the Islero was dropped for yet another iteration of Lambo’s small 2 + 2, the Jarama.

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Lamborghini Espada

Evolved from Bertone’s Marzal show car, the Lamborghini Espada was long, low, and somewhat “geometric” inside and out.
Evolved from Bertone’s Marzal show car, the Lamborghini Espada was long, low, and somewhat “geometric” inside and out.

The Lamborghini Espada arrived during a period of success for Lamborghini. Though a mere five years old in 1968, Lamborghini was booming. The Sant’Agata factory was teeming with activity, and Ferruccio Lamborghini was ready to tackle Ferrari on all fronts. His first car had been a front-engine coupe, his second the amazing mid-engine Miura. Now it was time for a full four-seat GT, which arrived that year as the Lamborghini Espada.

The Lamborghini Espada’s distinctive styling was inspired by the Bertone-designed Marzal show car of 1966. The one-off’s all-glass gullwing doors, honeycomb dash and backlight sunshade motif, and rear (not midships) engine positioning were abandoned, but the basic shape was retained. Like the Lamborghini Miura, the Lamborghini Espada was penned by Marcello Gandini.

Also like Miura, the Lamborghini Espada was engineered largely by Giampaolo Dallara, who stuck to the formula established with the 400 GT 2 + 2: front-mounted quad-cam V-12 bolted up to a 5-speed Lamborghini gearbox directly behind, all-independent wishbone coil suspension, four-wheel disc brakes. Automatic transmission was conspicuous by its absence in a car of this type, but Sant’Agata belatedly corrected that with optional 3-speed Chrysler TorqueFlite beginning in 1974.

Despite basic similarities with the Lamborghini 400 GT and its Lamborghini Islero successor (see entry), the Lamborghini Espada went its own way in several respects. Its chassis, for example, was a cheap but strong fabricated pressed-steel platform supplied by Marchesi of Modena. Compared with the 400 GT, the Lamborghini Espada engine was tuned for “only” 325 bhp (DIN), and the entire power package rode 7.9 inches further forward. This and an extra 3.8 inches between wheel centers permitted a larger, four-seat cabin despite a half-inch decrease in overall length. The Lamborghini Espada also spanned wider tracks (by 4.2 inches) and, with its many amenities, was inevitably heavier -- by no less than 1000 pounds.

Again like the Miura, the Espada was a real head-turner, another feather in Bertone’s -- not to mention Lamborghini’s -- cap. A simple nose with circular quad headlamps announced a very wide hood with twin NACA ducts to feed the 4.0-liter V-12’s six twin-throat Weber carburetors. Front fenderlines blended seamlessly into the belt, which curved up at the rear to meet an almost horizontal roofline terminating in a chopped tail with a full-width glass panel below the backlight (presumably to give the driver a better view of those trying to keep pace). Once more, hood and upper fenders formed a forward-hinged unit for easier access to a very full engine bay.

Inside were four bucket seats and decent space aft (so long as the front seats weren’t pushed all the way back). Initially, the Lamborghini Espada presented its driver with a functionally correct, if aesthetically messy, dash with full instrumentation and a wide, downsloped center console housing shifter, various minor switches, and “eyeball” vents (the last borrowed from Ford of England; the indicator stalk came from the Austin Mini). The original three-spoke steering wheel was rather ugly, but nicer ones appeared later.

Featuring a messy but functional instrument panel and a sloping center console, the Espada's interior shows the progress in design Lamborghini is famous for.

Only 37 Lamborghini Espadas were built during 1968, but volume soon rose to a steady, albeit low, level. The Espada made an excellent stablemate for the mid-engine Lamborghini Miura (and, later, the Lamborghini Countach) and its basic chassis would be used for the Jarama (see entry), which replaced the Lamborghini Islero in 1970.

In fact, the Lamborghini Espada was advanced enough to last a full decade with only detail alterations. Series II models arrived in early 1970 with the aforementioned nicer steering wheel, plus a cleaner dash, revised grille, vented brakes, and 25 more horsepower. Two years later, Jarama S-type alloy wheels were specified. The Series III bowed at Turin in late ’72 showing another minor grille rework and steering wheel, as well as a redesigned “cockpit” instrument panel with inward-curved center section. Toward the end of the run, Lamborghini claimed 365 bhp.

Though production tailed off rapidly in the aftermath of the first Energy Crisis, the last Lamborghini Espada wasn’t built until 1978. Significantly, Lamborghini has yet to field a direct replacement, perhaps because it would be tough to top this exotic Latin flyer. Collectors, take heed.

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Lamborghini Jarama 400 GT/400 GTS

Essentially a short-wheelbase Lamborghini Espada, the Lamborghini Jarama was squat and angular in the early-Seventies idiom.
Essentially a short-wheelbase Lamborghini Espada, the Lamborghini Jarama was squat and angular in the early-Seventies idiom.

By 1970, Lamborghini had forged a lineup it hoped would cover the entire supercar market and was ready to proceed with second-generation models. The Lamborghini Jarama, introduced at that year’s Geneva show in March, can thus be considered a “Mark II” Islero, though it isn’t quite as simple as that.

At the time, Lamborghini’s most modern front-engine chassis belonged to the Espada, which dated from 1968, though as with the smaller Islero and mid-engine Miura, its basic suspension and engine engineering went back to 1963. American safety and emissions rules dictated replacing the Islero. As Giampaolo Dallara had left Sant’Agata, the task fell to his former assistant and new chief engineer Paolo Stanzani, who decided that a new body on a shortened Lamborghini Espada chassis would do the trick.

Accordingly, Stanzani removed 10.7 inches from the Lamborghini Espada’s wheelbase but left everything else intact, though the steering was geared somewhat lower. Bertone’s Marcello Gandini again looked after styling, and body construction was farmed out to Marazzi (who’d both designed and built the Lamborghini Islero’s bodywork).

The result was a more distinctive yet still very angular small 2 + 2, with husky wheelarch flares, Espada-style twin NACA ducts in the hood, and an unusual face with four “eyes” partly concealed by electrically operated “eyelids.” Wearing the Lamborghini Espada’s wide tracks, the Jarama was broad-shouldered, if a little stubby, on its sectioned chassis. Unfortunately, it was a lot heavier than the Lamborghini Islero, though its claimed 162-mph top speed was the same.

Detail finish on early Lamborghini Jaramas was criticized as poor, but it improved somewhat with time. After three years, the design itself improved, the original 400 GT giving way to the 400 GTS. Changes comprised a modest power increase, a thin but wide hood scoop, air exhaust vents in the upper front-fender sides, and redone wheels. Along the way, the Jarama also picked up some Espada modifications, including availability of optional Chrysler TorqueFlite automatic transmission beginning in 1974.

The rear of the Lamborghini Jarama shows off the wheelbase which, while still wide, shaved almost 11 inches off the Lamborghini Espada,  on which it was based.

Nevertheless, this Lamborghini was generally judged a letdown compared to earlier models. Said Road & Track in its 1972 test: “Certainly the Jarama is a capable, fast car and an exciting one to look at, but it fails in enough details [ergonomics, noise control, ride, low-speed driveability] that it’s only marginally interesting as a total package.

The Lamborghini factory has had its problems in the last year or so, with Italian labor unrest and the pains of trying to meet changing American safety and emission rules taking their toll on production, quality and profits...The company has changed hands recently, a Swiss firm now holding over 50 percent of capital...Let’s hope Lamborghini not only continues but gets some of the present problems solved.”

Sant’Agata would, but not before things became a lot worse.

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Lamborghini Urraco P250/P300/P200

The front profile of the Urraco shows off its distinctive grille and its louveredback window, a signature of designer Marcello Gandini.
The front profile of the Urraco shows off its distinctive grille and its louveredback window, a signature of designer Marcello Gandini.

When Ferruccio Lamborghini was quizzed about his ambitions in the mid-1960s, he’d invariably reply: “To build a small car.” Not small like a Fiat, you understand, and not cheap. Rather, a compact supercar. Ferruccio finally realized this dream in 1970 with the mid-engine Lamborghini Urraco, a sort of half-pint Lamborghini Miura that represented a major gamble for his tiny company.

Whereas production Lamborghinis had heretofore been powered by 60-degree quad-cam V-12s, the Lamborghini Urraco had a small 90-degree V-8 with only one camshaft per cylinder bank, plus an equally new transaxle and bodywork.

In short, this was Sant’Agata’s reply to the Dino 246 GT and Porsche 911. Thanks to Italian pride, however, the Lamborghini would one-up the “budget” Ferrari, with 2 + 2 instead of two-seat accommodation, a V-8 instead of a V-6, and Bertone rather than Pininfarina styling.

Of course, the German car, produced in much higher volume by a much larger company, could -- and did -- way outsell the Italians. But the Urraco was further handicapped by a two-year delay in customer deliveries, which reflected -- and likely aggravated -- Sant’ Agata’s mounting problems that would come to a head by decade’s end.

As “son of Miura,” the Lamborghini Urraco used a fabricated pressed-steel chassis with welded-on bodyshell and mounted its engine/transmission package transversely behind the cockpit, ahead of the rear wheels. The usual all-disc brakes and all-independent suspension were on hand, but the latter used MacPherson-strut instead of double-wishbone geometry.

Developed under chief engineer Paolo Stanzani, the new single-cam V-8 was less sophisticated than the Lamborghini V-12, though it did have cogged-belt cam drive. The initial 2.5-liter version was the same size as Ferrari’s then-current Dino V-6 but delivered 30 more horsepower.

Named for a breed of fighting bull, the Urraco was yet another new Lambo designed by Marcello Gandini. He apparently made little effort to disguise the mid-engine layout, with a short hood and a longish wheelbase on a compact 167.3-inch-long structure. His favored “signature” -- a louvered engine bay/rear window area -- was in evidence, along with a pointy front bearing hidden headlamps.

A steeply raked windshield and a fastback cabin sitting relatively far forward gave the Lamborghini Urraco a definite “mound” profile. The overall effect was low and squat, aggressive, unmistakable.

The Urraco's interior was aesthetically pleasing, yet buyers shied away from its poor ergonomic layout.

The Lamborghini Urraco might have given the Dino a good sales fight were it not for several problems. Despite fine performance (up to 143 mph) and real exoticar character, some buyers didn’t see it as a “real” Lamborghini. And there were inherent design flaws: poor outward vision, patchwork ergonomics, an odd driving position, mediocre refinement.

Worse, a good bit of initial interest undoubtedly evaporated during the long delay in getting cars to customers. Even then, the Lamborghini Urraco didn’t seem fully developed somehow. Quality and reliability problems surfaced early, and were publicized as much as the increasing financial and labor problems that prompted rumors of Lamborghini’s imminent demise. With all this, a good many buyers likely shied away from the Lamborghini Urraco.

Hoping to recover, Lamborghini brought a pair of improved Urracos to the 1974 Turin show. The big news was the P300, carrying a stroked, 3.0-liter V-8 with new twincam heads designed to counter the power-sapping effects of required U.S. smog gear and establish the Lamborghini Urraco as a genuine Lamborghini.

Output rose to 265 bhp (up from a 180-bhp low in U.S. form) and so did performance, though “crash” bumpers and other weight-adding safety equipment cut into both. Even so, driveability remained a problem, and none of the car’s other faults were really remedied. The other newcomer was a downmarket 2.0-liter version, the P200, a single-cam “tax break” special for domestic consumption only.

With fewer than 780 examples in six years, the Lamborghini Urraco was not the success it could have been or that Lamborghini needed. When production ended in early 1979, Ferruccio Lamborghini had long since sold out, leaving his company to flounder in a sea of rumors and reorganizations that almost sank it.

But all would not be lost. The Lamborghini Urraco’s basic design would survive in the short­lived Lamborghini Silhouette and the more successful Lamborghini Jalpa, both of which would help keep Lamborghini afloat.

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Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini invented the modern supercar with the Miura. It debuted twice, first in 1965 as a bare chassis that sent rich enthusiasts for their wallets, then in 1966 with a body by Bertone stylist Marcello Gandini that electrified the motoring world.
Lamborghini invented the modern supercar with the Miura. It debuted twice, first in 1965 as a bare chassis that sent rich enthusiasts for their wallets, then in 1966 with a body by Bertone stylist Marcello Gandini that electrified the motoring world.

Great sports cars are enveloped by legend, and so it is with the Lamborghini Miura, the world’s first mid-engine supercar, a sensuous wonder whose daring design embarrassed even Ferrari.

Ferruccio Lamborghini’s plunge into the auto business is itself the material of myth. Born to farmers, he was a self-made industrialist (tractors, heating systems), and a lover of fast cars. It’s said that when Enzo Ferrari refused to personally attend to his complaint about a sick Ferrari, the ego-charged Ferruccio vowed to create his own exotic. That first Lamborghini, built from 1964 to ’68, was a front-engine V-12 coupe, a comfortable swift gran turismo that suited Ferruccio’s middle-age style.

When his talented engineers, led by 24-year-old Giampaolo Dallara, got Lamborghini to OK something racier, the result stole the show at the 1965 Turin exhibition. It was just a bare chassis, but was so spectacular in its racing-derived layout and so breathtaking in its use of a transverse-mounted V-12 engine, that tradition says a beaming Ferruccio collected deposits from buyers who didn’t know the machine had no body and no name.

Enter Marcello Gandini, 25, a brilliant Bertone stylist who fashioned a lean, low two-seater -- a young-man’s exotic -- that blew the lid off the ’66 Geneva show. It was designated P400: P for posteriore, or aft-mounted engine, and 400 in reference to the V-12’s displacement. Lamborghini, however, looked to his Taurus birth sign and to the ferocious fighting bulls of Don Eduardo Miura and christened the thing Miura (MYUR-ah).

A side-mounted engine allowed the Miura's cabin to be more spacious, though the sheer size of the engine made the interior a hot, noisy place.

This was no GT in the original Lamborghini mold, but a cramped, fatiguing, poor-shifting, hothouse of a 350-hp supercar. Yet its enthralling acceleration, race-worthy cornering, howling top speed, and of course its styling, overwhelmed everything. Many flaws, including the most serious -- nose lift at high speed -- diminished as the Lamborghini Miura evolved through the 370-hp P400S of 1969 to the 385-hp SV of 1971. That last was the best. It wisely retained the look of the original and, like every Lamborghini Miura, was legend made real.

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Lamborghini Countach

Lamborghini’s follow-up to the Miura took the mid-engine supercar to its carnivorous extreme. It was called Countach, an Italian slang that roughly translatesto “That’s it.” It turned out to be Lamborghini’s biggest seller ever. See more pictures of Lamborghini sports cars.

With the Lamborghini Countach, lightning struck twice. Fortunate is the automaker that fields one unprecedented design; at the 1971 Geneva motor show, tiny Lamborghini unveiled its second. The Miura’s successor had science-fiction looks and otherworldly performance. By the time it went into production in 1974, motoring’s outer limits had a new address: the Lamborghini Countach.

Its wheelbase was shorter than the Lamborghini Miura’s and instead of a unitized central steel shell, the Lamborghini Countach had a welded-tube chassis supporting a non-stressed aluminum skin. Styling was again the work of Marcello Gandini, but where his Miura was all luscious curves, this new car took the wedge profile to its extreme. Asymmetric rear-wheel arches, “scissor” opening doors, and immodest vents and scoops iced the fearless package. “The Countach,” said Britain’s Car magazine, “breathes naked aggression from every pore.”

In practice, the shovel nose killed any hint of high-speed lift, and the scoops fed radiators logically located in the rear flanks. The Miura’s transverse V-12 was cleverly rotated to face rearward. This put the shift linkage under the driver’s hand for smoother action and rearranging the drivetrain mass for safer cornering and better containment of heat and noise. The Lamborghini Countach (COON-tahsh) was even quicker and handled better than the Lamborghini Miura, but it was an automobile that demanded real commitment.

Lifting the doors was a chore, and getting in or out required sliding over broad sills that harbored the fuel tanks. Footwells were narrow and angled, the windscreen acted as a greenhouse, only part of the side glass opened, and visibility was awful. But few contemporaries were as fast, and none was as wanton. This car, wrote journalist Pete Lyons, “treats velocity with the same casual contempt it does society.”

The Countach's muscular V12 engine is similar to its Miura counterpart, though it was cleverly rotated rearward for smoother shifting and cornering.

The original Lamborghini Countach LP 400 was followed by the LP 400 S (235 built, 1978-82), which added fiberglass wheelarches and fatter tires. The V-12 grew to 4.8 liters for the LP 5000 S (323 built, 1982-85); it had the same 375 hp as the first two versions but more torque. The LP 5000 QV (610 built, 1985-88) had 5.2 liters and up to 455 hp from Quattrovalvole, or four-valve, heads.

Fuel injection in ’86 made the Countach U.S. smog-legal for the first time since the ’70s, but the car carried ugly federal bumpers. Chrysler bought Lamborghini from interim Swiss owners in 1987 and oversaw the release of the final Lamborghini Countach, the 455-hp Anniversary Edition. With 650 built from 1988 to 90, this was the most popular, most refined, and possibly the fastest Lamborghini Countach: 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds and 183 mph all out.

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Lamborghini Silhouette

The Silhouette debuted as a redesigned Urraco, with notable differences. The idea was to make a more buyer-friendly car to combat Lamborghini's flagging sales.
The Silhouette debuted as a redesigned Urraco, with notable differences. The idea was to make a more buyer-friendly car to combat Lamborghini's flagging sales.

Lamborghini’s fortunes were waning in the mid-Seventies. The Urraco had been a costly business, and the firm wasn’t doing enough business of any kind to even consider a replacement. But perhaps the Lamborghini Urraco could be redeveloped at low cost into something more saleable. Sant’ Agata requested Bertone to do just that, and the result premiered at the 1976 Geneva show as the Lamborghini Silhouette.

Though recognizably Urraco, the Lamborghini Silhouette was obviously different. Most noticeable was the new targa-style configuration, making this Lamborghini’s first open production model. A change from 2 + 2 to two-seat accommodation was less apparent. Completing Bertone’s restyle were flat-top wheelarches, a squared-off nose, and a deeper front spoiler incorporating an oil-cooler duct and front-brake air scoops, all set off by 15-inch-diameter “five-hole” magnesium wheels (first seen on the 1974 Bravo show car) wearing Pirelli’s new state-of-the-art P7 high-performance tires. A roll cage was built into the rear roof “hoop” area for strength, and the roofline recontoured from fastback to “tunnelback.” A new, more ergonomic dash was featured inside. The lift-off roof section could be easily stored behind the seats.

Underneath lurked the Lamborghini Urraco’s familiar unit body/chassis structure as used in the P300 model, suitably strengthened to go topless. The driveline was the same too, with horsepower from the quad-cam V-8 pegged at 265 in both European and American form.

With all this, the Lamborghini Silhouette was as fast as a 3.0-liter Lamborghini Urraco and had the same excellent road manners. And with the bonus of open-air fun, it should have sold very well indeed.

But it didn’t, and the reasons weren’t hard to find. First, the Lamborghini Silhouette inherited not only some of the Lamborghini Urraco’s design faults but its reputation for indifferent workmanship and suspect reliability. Second, it ran into the same buyer wariness, as Lamborghini’s financial and management problems hadn’t abated.

The interior of the Silhouette featured a more ergonomic dash than the Uracco, and enough room behind the seats for the lift-off roof.

A third reason stemmed from the second. Lamborghini in these years was simply in no position to certify cars for the market where they would have sold best: America. In fact, except for gray-market imports, Sant’ Agata would be absent from the U.S. scene from 1977 through 1982.

So to no one’s great surprise, the Lamborghini Silhouette vanished after just two years and a mere 54 examples. Only a few came Stateside.

But today’s defeat often contains the seeds of tomorrow’s success, and so it is here. After some very lean years in the economic slowdown of the early Eighties, Lamborghini managed yet another evolution of its small mid-engine V-8 GT, the Jalpa. Together with continuing demand for the low-volume Lamborghini Countach, it kept Sant’ Agata solvent until real salvation arrived in 1987 with a complete takeover by the reborn Chrysler Corporation.

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Lamborghini Diablo

Compared to the Lamborghini Countach, the Lamborghini Diablo is longer, wider, heavier, stronger, and safer. Its basic design is the work of Marcello Gandini, who also did the Lamborghini Miura and Lamborghini Countach.
Compared to the Lamborghini Countach, the Lamborghini Diablo is longer, wider, heavier, stronger, and safer. Its basic design is the work of Marcello Gandini, who also did the Lamborghini Miura and Lamborghini Countach.

The Diablo was Lamborghini’s follow-up to the Countach -- a hyper exotic for a changed world. No longer could a supercar get by merely on irrational styling and unfettered performance. It had to satisfy safety and emissions standards, even offer a measure of refinement. The Lamborghini Diablo provided all this and more.

In balancing these demands, the Lamborghini Diablo came closer to fulfilling founder Ferruccio’s dream of a do-everything GT than any other midships Lamborghini. That’s not to suggest this car is tame. It’s named, after all, for both a fighting bull and the devil himself. “In the grand and romantic tradition of the Italian Supercar,” said Motor Trend, “the Diablo is a thundering, fuel-sucking exercise in excess.”

Larger, wider, heavier, and more aerodynamic than the Lamborghini Countach, the Lamborghini Diablo’s 202-mph top speed made it the planet’s fastest car upon its unveiling in 1990. The basic design, by Marcello Gandini of Miura and Countach fame, retained such Countach elements as asymmetric rear-wheel cutouts and scissor doors, but had a fresh cab-forward silhouette and dramatic plunging A-pillars.

This was the first Lamborghini developed under Chrysler, which furnished computer-design expertise and also softened the lines of Gandini’s original styling. The body was a new mix of steel, aluminum, and composite panels. The space-frame chassis was evolved from the Lamborghini Countach’s, but was stronger and exceeded worldwide crash standards.

The Lamborghini Diablo's 48-valve 5.7-liter V-12 has 492 hp, but some editions have had 525.The Roadster also employs a permanently engaged all-wheel-drive system to help keep this cocky spirit under control.

Lamborghini again mounted a 48-valve V-12 longitudinally and “backward,” but now it had 5.7 liters, was computer managed, and made 485 hp. Debuting in 1990 at $220,000, the Lamborghini Diablo was engineered from the start for four-wheel drive, and in 1993 came the 492-hp, $239,000 VT model. Its Visco Traction system sent 15 percent of the power to the front wheels when the rears slipped.

In 1994, off came the VT hardware, plus 386 lbs of other “amenities,” for the 30th Anniversary Special Edition Diablo, a $257,000, 525-hp, 206-mph demon. As an encore, Lamborghini in 1996 delivered the world’s fastest four-wheel-drive convertible, the VT roadster with a removable carbon-fiber roof panel.

In 1994, Chrysler sold out to MegaTech Ltd., an Indonesian firm that seems intent on keeping Lamborghini vital. There’s a planned successor to the Lamborghini Diablo, so the raging bull will continue aboard a mid-engine supercar, the breed Lamborghini originated and insists on perpetuating.

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