The year 1966 was memorable for the Italian car industry. It was the year that Giorgetto Giugiaro started his own studio, and the year in which Marcello Ghandini, recently employed by Bertone, presented his radical mid-engined Lamborghini Miura at the Geneva Motor Show. But, on a sadder note, the year's end also witnessed the demise of the once great styling house of Touring.
Originally founded in 1926 by Felice Bianchi Anderloni, Touring contributed significantly to the evolution of Italian car coachbuilding. In its post-war revival, the firm basked in the limelight of patronage from quality car makers such as Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Lancia and Maserati, all of which came to it for design studies and models. Such liaisons resulted in the Alfa Romeo 2000 Spyder (1958), Aston Martin DB4 (1958), Lancia Flaminia GT (1958), Maserati 3500GT (1957) and several more significant cars from that era.
In September 1961, Touring came to an agreement with the Rootes Group in England to produce special-bodied versions of its production cars such as the Sunbeam Alpine and Hillman Super Minx. Anderloni's approach to this tie-up with a major car manufacturer was both ambitious and expansionist. The firm had obviously outgrown its small workshops in the town of Ludovico de Breme, and the search began for larger premises. A suitable 30,000-sq-m site was located near Nova Milanese, and the move began.
Installed in its new factory, Touring went from strength to strength, and in 1963 it was approached by tractor manufacturer Ferruchio Lamborghini to work on the car he had presented at the Turin show that year. His first car, the 350GTV, was the work of relatively unknown designer Franco Scaglioni and had received some criticism for its looks. Some people liked it and others hated it. The 350GTV was, in a word, controversial.
Touring was distinguished in this era for continuing its pre-war leitmotif of simple and pure lines which bucked the trend of other designers toward such Transatlantic extravagances as fins and lots of chrome embellishment. Touring's approach to the Lamborghini 350GTV was to keep the Scaglioni style but improve upon it with a purer line. In four months, the redesigned car was ready and was presented at the 1964 Geneva Motor Show where it received a warm welcome.
Thirteen 350GTVs were made in 1964, the first year of production, and to capitalize on the interest stirred up in this car, Touring released a spider version known as the 350GTS. Visual alterations were few-removal of the roof and alterations to the windows and trunk for storage of the top. Two 350GTS models were made in 1965, one of which received great acclaim at that year's Paris Auto Salon.
Still a young company, Lamborghini was going through a period of intense reorganization, and other priorities prevented production of the very attractive 350GTS. Head of that list was producing the best grand touring sports car in the world, and Lamborghini realized the 350GT would have to be improved upon.
Thus, early 1966 saw the unveiling of the 400GT. Lamborghini, in collaboration with Touring, had worked relentlessly on the new car for debut at Geneva. The 60-degree V12 engine had been uprated from 3464cc and 270 bhp to 3929cc and 320 bhp for the 350GT "4-liter" version, and Touring modified the body to include two small rear seats. The basic lines of the two cars were very similar, and a fast-moving 400GT was distinguished by its four round headlamps in place of the oval units on the 350GT. Both cars were made alongside each other. With a claimed top speed of 165 mph, the Lamborghini 400GT was a worthy rival to Ferrari's 275GTB.
The grass was not so green at the house of Touring, however. In the heyday of its renaissance in the late 1950s, the firm's dramatic expansionist ideas had begun to flounder with the fortunes of one of its biggest clients, the Rootes Group. The Italian state had taken control of Touring in 1963, in the process laying off 120 of the 400-strong workforce. But the management continued to think big and poured money into new prototypes. In a sense, when the Lamborghini/Touring liaison was forged, the company was already sailing in troubled waters.
Anderloni had taken a liking to the load-carrying derivatives of sports cars that had been successfully pioneered by the 1954 Corvette Nomad and Aston Martin DB5 Shooting Brake in 1965. He saw this concept as a viable alternative body style for the Lamborghini 400GT and, despite the financial trouble his company was in, pressed ahead with the project.
The wheelbase of the 400GT was 2.55m (100.39 in.) long. To achieve the visual proportions desired, and because of the deletion of the rear seat, the wheelbase was shortened to 2.45m (96.46 in.), which also made the car more agile on the road. This was logical, because Zagato's 1965 London Motor Show 3500GTZ prototype was based on the 350GT and used this dimension. It had thus already been proven to work well with the weight distribution and suspension settings of the car.
The new Touring car was christened "Flying Star" after a previous Turin Show car from the firm. The original "Flying Star" took its bow at Turin in 1931, a body style shown in duplicate, based on both Alfa Romeo 1750GS and Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8 chassis. The 1966 Lamborghini-based car was thus officially titled "Flying Star II" and was one of the purest expressions yet of the Touring house style. Seen in side elevation, "Flying Star II" was a simple and elegant form whose hood and roof profile could more or less be drawn with three sweeps of a drawing pen. This was Touring at its best.
The front of the car came in for some unique treatment. The snout was extended downwards and the headlamps tucked behind huge glass covers of very elaborate compound curves. The silver-painted hand-formed aluminum coachwork shared no panels with the 400GT. Where the latter has rounded flanks, the Flying Star is fairly slab-sided and has a profiled rebate from the top of the front wheel arches, along the sills and up to the top of the rear arches.
The roofline slopes down in a gentle sweeping curve to the rear so that the tailgate, with its huge glass panel, is steeply raked. When open, this reveals a relatively shallow opening-not as practical as might be hoped for on a car supposed to carry luggage for two on a cross-continental journey. As if to emphasize this, the floor of the load area aft of the seats slopes upward to the rear to achieve a smooth line over the rear axle and fuel tank. Capacious inside the Flying Star II is not!
At its Turin Show debut in 1966, the car wore Borrani wire wheels and had a less than elegant exposed, round fuel-filler cap just behind the driver's door handle. It was not long before a set of Miura-style alloys was substituted, and much later in the car's life, when it was living with a French owner, the filler cap was reworked to be hidden away behind a proper flush-fitting flap.
If the outward appearance of the Flying Star II bore little resemblance to the Lamborghini 400GT, the interior was less dissimilar. The Lamborghini instruments were placed in exactly the same relationship to each other, but instead of the 300km/h speedometer, oil-pressure gauge and 8000-rpm rev counter being slightly recessed, they were brought out to sit flush with the instrument panel and given a binnacle to shield them from reflections.
The opposite was done with the bank of minor gauges on the center console. Instead of being shaded by a lip, the console was increased in depth and the instruments brought out flush with the leather-clad console. The round carpet-covered transmission tunnel of the 400GT was hidden under a larger squared-off console with lockable oddments compartment that integrated into the dashboard in form and material. Other distinctive differences were the leather-bound rather than wood-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel, dashtop-mounted air vents and rearview mirror. This was necessary because of the falling rear roofline that would have cut off the view of the normal roof lining-mounted rearview mirror.
Driving any classic Italian car from the 1960s is a treat, an early Lamborghini even more so because of the wonderful V12 engine installed in the long prow between you and the open road. Turn the ignition key and the electric fuel pump starts to rattle off like a machine gun. It is much louder than in a 400GT; the luggage space in the back acts as an echo chamber, amplifying the sound. Apply two firm prods on the throttle to prime the six Weber 40DCOEs nestled in the 60-degree vee of the engine, and turn the small, old-fashioned key to its furthest extreme. After a brief mechanical whirr, the pre-engaged starter kicks the 320 horses out of their peaceful slumber. The bark from the four ANSA tailpipes grabs your attention next, but before you are totally distracted, you realize that the throttle needs careful fettling to keep the cold engine from dying. Tap dancing on the throttle and then steady pressure is the technique required. No more than 2000 rpm on a cold engine, but this gentle persuasion is necessary for a couple of minutes. Then, as the cavallini get used to flexing their stiff muscles again, the big V12 settles down to a purposeful idle.
A couple of minutes later, the lumpiness has gone. The tach needle flicks restlessly, typical of early electronic units. Clutch down. It is not too heavy considering the power and torque it has to transmit, but it is still on the heavy side of medium weighted, as is the throttle. But, as they are close in weight, the overall balance is fine.
First gear. The lever is not butter-smooth in its action, but it is very positive. There should be no problems with gear selection. As is my normal habit, I try the brake pedal before moving off. Click, click. Interesting; you can hear the hydraulics at work behind your head, again a function of the on-board echo chamber!
The worm and roller steering is heavy at parking speeds but becomes beautifully weighted and responsive on the move, even if it is a touch vague about the straightahead. The 4.0-liter engine has lots of low-down grunt despite the fact the peak torque of 276 lb-ft does not arrive until 4500 rpm. Bore and stroke are 82.0 x 62.0mm, which means this engine is an oversquare revver. Although the redline on the tach starts 1000 rpm higher, the 320 horses all stand up to be counted at 6000 rpm.
The engine and gearbox oils are warmed through now, and the car can be given its head. Whether in front of you or behind your head, a Lamborghini V12 makes a very special noise. It sounds different from a Ferrari V12 and most certainly different from a BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes unit. It is a combination of induction, timing chain and exhaust noises, and it is one of the most intoxicating man-made sounds ever. Like any good music, it is orchestrated and rises and falls, reaching a crescendo just before each gear change. Except that the conductor holds a steering wheel rather than a baton, and the beat is dictated by the rise and fall of the ground, the radius of curves on the road and the length of the straights.
On the move the controls become lighter, more fluid, more logical. If things are too light, they lack feel and feedback; if a car is too easy to drive, the driver's reward is less. Or less deserved? The Flying Star II provides both reward and entertainment.
It also rides well. Using unequal length double wishbone coil suspension at each corner of its tubular chassis, the well-considered spring and damper rates produce a ride that is taut but comfortable. The 215/70VR15 Michelin XWX tires were state of the art in the 1960s and were fitted to anything that could do more than 130 mph. By today's standards, their grip is feeble, but their tall sidewalls give a ride today's low-profile tires struggle to approach. Thus, it is best to drive the car by the book. Slow in, fast out. You use the flexible nature of the big engine to sling the car down the straights once past the apex of a bend. Driven this way, this venerable Lamborghini and others of its ilk give of their best.
At the 1966 Turin Motor Show, Touring had two cars on its stand-a Fiat 124 Cabriolet and the Flying Star II. Within months, it was apparent the effort had been too great for the firm's finances, and the once buoyant styling house went down with all hands.
Flying Star II's first owner was Jacque Quoivez, brother of famous French author Franoise Sagan. Then it was sold to VPM Voitures, the French Lamborghini importer which had been looking after the car. In 1970, Chancerelle, the French food store entrepreneur, bought it. He used the car extensively, and when he sold it in the late 1970s, the car had covered 170,000km.
During his ownership, servicing of the car had been taken over by Ciclet Automobile in Bagneux, a Parisian suburb. This firm, owned by the ex-foreman of VPM Voitures, rebuilt the motor and the car was sent back to the factory in Italy in 1979 for total restoration.
When Chancerelle eventually felt he was too old for such an extrovert automobile, Flying Star II found itself back at Ciclet, this time for sale. By now, it was the late 1980s and the investment potential of rare automobiles was rising. After three or four short tenures with different owners, Flying Star II ended up as the cherished possession of London-based property magnate and car enthusiast Ash Tandon. It was sold on again in the early 1990s and has had a couple more owners since.
As classic cars go, Flying Star II is significant not just as a coach-built Lamborghini show car, but also because it marked the end of two eras. For Lamborghini, it was the last of the early front-engined cars before the mid-engined Miura took center stage; the end of the beginning. For the famous Italian styling house of Touring, though, it was the last car it ever built; the Flying Star II was its swan song.