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.
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.