The hits keep coming from Paris as the McLaren P1 concept has finally made its official debut, and aims to threaten hypercars the world over like the Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari Enzo and even the...
Only a handful of sports cars qualify as exotic, or warrant the supercar designation. Lamborghini is one of them. Like Ferrari, its Italian competitor, Lamborghini has issued a long line of unforgettable machines. Ferrari may be better known to the general public, but for those who savor finely-tuned, carefully-honed top-end sports cars, Lamborghini stands atop the same exquisite pedestal.
Before entering the automobile business, Ferruccio Lamborghini had been a successful manufacturer of tractors and heating appliances. Before setting to work on a car in 1962, he’d owned several Ferraris, and believed he could turn out a better high-performance automobile.
To get started, Lamborghini bought a new factory at Sant’Agata, Italy, a short distance from both Bologna and Modena–Ferrari’s headquarters. He called the company Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. Ferruccio hired a former Ferrari engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini, to design his first car. Development of a prototype during 1963 was supervised by Giampaolo Dallara, also from Ferrari.
Lamborghini wanted a dramatically-styled sports car with superlative handling. He also wanted it to contain an engine of his own, so he assigned Bizzarrini to create a four-cam V-12. A prototype 350 GTV appeared at the Turin (Italy) auto show in November 1963. By the time the production car debuted at the Geneva (Switzerland) show in March 1964, the name had been changed to 350 GT.
A 400 GT soon followed, with a bigger engine. Lamborghini eschewed numeric designations for subsequent models, starting with a luscious mid-engined Miura, ready to establish a foundation for future supercars. When the Espada coupe debuted in 1968, it had four actual seats rather than a snug 2+2 configuration. After a brief appearance by an Islero model, the Jarama came alive in 1970. So did a mid-engined Urraco, with a V-8 engine rather than a V-12.
Lamborghini’s attraction at the 1976 Geneva show was a Targa-roofed Silhouette, which soon faded away. What didn’t quickly disappear was the Countach–the car that helped make Lamborghini famous around the world. Nothing on the road looked remotely like the wildly flamboyant Countach, laden with ducts and air intakes, flaunting sharp angles along its body. Few automobiles have ever been as eye-catching, if bizarre.
Except for engine changes, the Countach lasted until 1990 when its successor, the Diablo, emerged. Meanwhile, during the 1980s, Lamborghini launched the Jalpa with a mid-mounted V-8. Oddly, Lamborghini also entered the premium SUV market with a monstrous-looking, virtually tank-like LM002, packing the Countach’s V-12 engine. Meanwhile, in 1987, Chrysler Corporation purchased the Lamborghini operation.
Powered by a mid-mounted 5.7-liter V-12, the 1990 Diablo had four-wheel drive and scissors-type doors, like the Countach before it. Yet overall, it displayed a more shapely appearance, and lasted into the 21st century. With the Diablo, Lamborghini developed its first convertible, too.
Another ownership change came in 1998, when Volkswagen/Audi took over the Lamborghini organization. Next member of the Lambo lineup was the Murcielago, with a V-12 engine, on sale during 2002. At the 2003 Geneva show, Lamborghini revealed a smaller Gallardo model with a mid-mounted V-10 and all-wheel drive. Cheaper than a Murcielago, the Gallardo was the first Lambo developed under Audi’s stewardship. In fact, bodies and engines came from Audi AG in Germany. The Gallardo could have a new E-gear transmission with no clutch and a Reverse selector button. A Gallardo Spyder appeared at the 2005 Frankfurt show, with conventional (non-scissors) doors and a fabric roof that stowed in the engine compartment.
Lamborghini and its competitors continue to build superlative, distinctive sports cars. Next up: the 2012 Aventador LP-700, unleashing a 700-horsepower V-12 and said to have the highest power-to-weight ratio of any car in its class–though that class doesn’t include many true rivals.