Ferruccio Lamborghini. In those eight syllables lie an Italian enigma, a twisted mystery, a baffling conundrum, a short-sighted visionary and a world-class car nut, and every one of us should be grateful to our gods that this man started a sports car company 40 years ago.

Ferruccio Lamborghini, the man whose surname adorns some of the most brutishly beautiful and fastest sports cars ever built, was born into a family of farmers in a Bolognese village in April 1916, under the sign of Taurus the bull, and smack in the middle of World War I. By the time the next war came along, he was a grown man with inherent and formal technical credentials, a man who left tilling the soil behind for tinkering and technology.

While in the Italian army in Greece, he was in charge of the motor pool in Rhodes, and it was this familiarity with machinery that led to his next move. Once safely home in Italy, he started buying up small, medium and large gasoline and diesel ex-military trucks, stripping them down and turning them into tractors and implements for agricultural production, the first generation of the famous Lamborghini tractors. A born car nut, he actually raced a humble Fiat Topolino in the Mille Miglia in 1948, but that was his first and last race, because his business needed him. From his small shop in tiny Cento, Ferruccio Lamborghini grew his tractor business, and in 1959 he went into the production of furnaces and air conditioning equipment.

About 3 years later came the famous, and probably completely overblown by now, argument that started Lamborghini in the car business. The story goes that Ferruccio, by now rolling in lire, went to Enzo Ferrari and asked him to build him something more robust in the way of a sports car, something with a better clutch than his current Ferrari had. Ferrari apparently said that a production Ferrari should be good enough for a Bolognese peasant like Lamborghini, and the buyer got so upset with the seller he vowed to just go off and use his own facilities to build his own damn sports car.

It didn't take him very long. His first effort, the Lamborghini 350 GTV, designed by Franco Scaglione and built by Sargiotto of Turin, debuted at the Turin Motor Show in October of 1963. He was ably assisted by the V12 engine's designer, Giotto Bizzarini, who went on to build his own cars, and engineer Gianpaolo Dallara, whose company currently builds IRL and other race car chassis. A few months later came the revamped 350 GT, designed and built by Touring, featuring a four-cam V12 engine, a fully synchronized five-speed manual, limited-slip diff, four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes-everything the folks from Maranello had and more.

We're not talking about high-volume production here; Lamborghini wasn't and isn't about that. We're talking about a relative handful of delicious, expensive sports cars for the discriminating few.

The bigger-engined 400 GT followed in 1966, with the entire drivetrain and suspension designed and built by Lamborghini and his boys, body design and production by Touring. They branched out that year with the GT 2+2 four-seater. That same year brought the first fruits of a long association when the Italian freelance designer Marcello Gandini offered up something called the Miura P400 prototype at Geneva, a whole new Lamborghini shape with a transverse 3.9-liter V12 engine. It was the first Marcello Gandini design for Lamborghini, built by Bertone.

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