It is not difficult to imagine the disdain with which Enzo Ferrari received the news that local tractor maker Ferruccio Lamborghini intended to build a supercar to rival his own superb Ferrari grand touring cars. But then again, Lamborghini was not a man easily dismissed. A wealthy industrialist, legend has it that he was turned down by Ferrari for a special car and became so incensed that he resolved to build his own. And so he did – his first effort, the 350GT, was a technical tour de force, with a tubular chassis, Superleggera coachwork by Touring of Milan, and a magnificent twin-cam V12 engine, with major design work by Giotto Bizzarrini, one of the Ferrari staff who left after the infamous “palace revolt” at Ferrari. As good as the 350GT and its 2+2 successor the 400GT were, however, their styling was graceful but conventional, and they were not an overwhelming commercial success.
The Miura, first shown as a bare chassis in 1965 at Turin, changed all that. Widely regarded as a landmark design penned by Bertone’s brilliant chief designer Marcello Gandini, the car looked the part of a supercar. Its specifications were no less dramatic, with a mid-mounted transverse V12 engine providing near ideal weight distribution. At the time, only race cars offered such exotic engineering – not surprising, as none other than Paolo Stanzini, chief engineer of the legendary Maserati Tipo 61 “Birdcage” sports racing car, designed the chassis. Deliveries began in 1967 and continued through the final model, the Miura SV, in 1973.
Meanwhile, the future of Lamborghini was unveiled at the 1971 Geneva Auto Show with the first public display of the new Countach, believed to be so named after a loosely translated and rather risqué Piedmontese expression of disbelief. Outrageous and seemingly otherworldly even by today’s jaded standards, the car’s dramatic styling with its trademark scissor doors and low, angular, wedge-shaped body left all onlookers speechless.
The production car, designated the LP400 in recognition of its somewhat downsized yet ever potent four-liter V12 powerplant, was presented for public viewing at the 1973 Geneva motor show. While the LP 400 closely resembled the LP500 prototype, there were some differences. At the insistence of development driver and engineer Bob Wallace, the chassis, produced by longtime Lamborghini supplier Marchesi, was redesigned, and the bodywork was now constructed of lightweight aluminum. To achieve further weight reductions, special glass was procured from Belgium’s Gleverbel, and magnesium was substituted for heavier metals as well. To reduce the tendency of the LP500 to overheat, production cars incorporated additional air boxes to feed cooler air to the relocated radiators, while aerospace-type NACA air ducts were added to the sides of the car to further aid cooling.
Other notable changes marked the LP400, including the addition of a pair of small side windows, a revised taillight design, and the use of Stewart-Warner instrumentation to monitor the car’s vital systems. A Fichtel & Sachs aluminum clutch, as used in the mighty Porsche 917 race cars, as well as a pair of six-plug Marelli distributors, were specified for the LP400 as well, rounding out the development of the production Countach. Testing and development work continued, with the 1973 Geneva show car used as the testing “mule”. In the meantime, many orders awaited fulfillment and series production began slowly, with customer deliveries commencing in 1974. However, just 150 examples of the LP400 were built before the introduction of the LP400S in 1978, making these early examples, with their remarkably clean styling and purity of purpose, highly coveted and sought-after by astute collectors and marque enthusiasts today.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August 2009 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.
375 bhp, 3,929 cc V12 engine with dual overhead camshafts per cylinder bank, six Weber dual-choke carburetors, five-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with unequal-length A-arms, coil springs and anti-roll bar, independent rear suspension with upper lateral links, lower A-arms, upper and lower trailing arms, dual coil springs and anti-roll bar, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 96.5".
Source: RM Auctions Photo Credit: Copyright Harvey Smith