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.

Two years later, both the Jslero 400 GT executive model and the bizarrely flattened but roomy and beautiful Espada four-seater V12 sports cars, by Gandini for Bertone production, were introduced. The unibody-construction Espada went on to become one of the most popular designs in the company's short history. The Jslero proved to be a target for the Italian automotive media, and Lamborghini changed it substantially the following year, with flared wheelwells, hot air exhaust vents in the fenders, fixed vent windows, more power, a tuned-up interior, a tweaked suspension and a new name, Jslero GTS.

The first year of the critical '70s saw a new and improved Miura sports car, the P400S, with a heavier steel body, ventilated disc brakes, revised suspension geometry, and a new engine with bigger carburetors, new cylinder heads and higher-lift camshafts. That same year, Lamborghini offered the brand new Jarama, designed by Bertone and built by Marazzi, built on a completely new unibody floorpan derived from the old Espada. A P400 SV version of the Miura by Bertone followed in 1971, with new front and rear suspension, and bigger tires and wheels that required pushed-out fender flares.

But there was one more card to play in 1971, when designer Marcello Gandini and engineer Paolo Stanzani collaborated on a new car for the Geneva motor show: the completely outrageous LP500, also known as the Countach. Nothing like it had ever been seen before, and its aggressive flying-wedge shape captivated the imaginations of millions of fans around the world. The show prototype was updated continuously for more than two seasons until the production car's design would be settled, and the car went into series production in 1974.

The Countach reigned for 25 years as the most coveted sports car in the world. It posed in advertising of all kinds, all over the world, for more than 2 decades, because it said quick, fast, aerodynamic, modern, angry and hard to get. Its scissor doors, 3.9-liter V12 and 43-in. overall height simply muscled Ferrari's, and everyone else's, sports cars out of the limelight and into the shade.

But Ferruccio Lamborghini was in trouble. With the GTs, the Miura, the Espada, the Jslero and the Countach prototype behind him, only disaster lay ahead. Sales were down, there was a recession going on, and rumors of worldwide crude oil shortages raged through the summer. After only 9 years in the sports car business, in order to stay in business, Lamborghini had to sell control of his company in 1972 to a Swiss banker, Georges-Henri Rossetti. It would be the first of many, many financial entanglements to follow.

The Urraco V8 sports car came in 1974, coincident with the sale of the remaining 49% of the company to Rossetti's partner, Rene Leimer. These two were the first pair of owners who steered the company toward the tube, unwilling to invest in what they already owned, and unwilling to pay the bills for materials they had already bought.

The company introduced the Silhouette V8, based on the Urraco, at Geneva in 1976. Only 52 were built. The company went into receivership in 1977 after the new owners tried to branch out into military vehicles and tried to do a sports car deal with BMW, a deal that didn't work out. A handful of managers and a factory full of employees kept the place going for more than 2 years until the Bologna business court sold the company in 1980 to the Mimran brothers, a pair of car-crazy Swiss food tycoons. First thing they did was try to put the company into the SUV business in 1981 with the huge LM 001, a five-door sport-ute powered by a rear-mounted Countach 5.7-liter V12 engine or, in some cases, a 5.9-liter Chrysler V8.

They had a busy year in 1982 with the introduction of the new 375-bhp 5.0-liter Countach LP500S, the Jalpa two-seater with its transverse midship 5.0-liter V8, and the LM 002 sport utility. This time, the engine was mounted conventionally in the front, but the big, ugly LM 002 didn't sell in any significant way.

The Countach was the mainstay of the company, getting annual improvements and tune-ups here and there, and a new 5.0-liter four-valve V12 in 1985.

In 1987, the company was sold by the Mimran family to a large American company, Chrysler, which would later do deals with American Motors, de Tomaso and Maserati, and get itself into enough financial trouble to be taken over by DaimlerBenz. But initially, it was thought, Chrysler had enough money and management skills to take the tiny sports-car maker to a higher plane. Lamborghini produced a special 25th Anniversary edition of the Countach in 1988, and on May 7, 1990, it built the last of 1,997 Countaches at Sant'Agata Bolognese.

Chrysler and its ego-heavy executives, including the King of Ego, Lee Iacocca, did a deal with French racer and rallyist Gerard Larrousse for Lamborghini to become the engine supplier for a new Formula One 3.5-liter V12 exclusively for Larrousse. Three years went by with not a single good result. Lamborghini also ramped up its commitment to huge 8- and 9.3-liter marine V12 racing engines, where the results came quicker and better.

And in 1990, Lamborghini replaced the Countach with another Marcello Gandini design, the fabulous Diablo, the first production sports car capable of speeds in excess of 200 mph. The Diablo roadster followed in 1992, coincident with the end of the big, heavy, ugly LM 002 SUV. The next year, Lamborghini added palpably to the wonderfulness of the Diablo with its Variable Traction or VT version, using a computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system. A handful of 30th anniversary editions were built.

Ferruccio Lamborghini died on February 20, 1993, having produced only a few thousand very special cars in his lifetime but setting the tone, with the Countach and the Diablo, for four decades of sports car development. After his car company went out of control, he built a winery, a golf course, a golf cart production company and a small car museum, and his son Tonino did his best to use and market the name on other other goods, but Ferruccio never built another car.

With financial problems of its own to deal with, Chrysler got out from under Lamborghini in January 1994, by selling it to a company in Indonesia, a country not widely known for its automotive expertise. The company, MegaTech, with participation by the reigning Suharto family of thieves and thugs, stumbled around for 4 years, trying to run an Italian company on a leash 10,000-miles long. They even hired Mike Kimberly of Jaguar and Lotus fame to help them out, but Kimberly resigned in late 1996.

During this period, Lamborghini introduced the 525-bhp Diablo Sport Veloce or SV, and produced a small fleet of Diablo SVR spec racers for a worldwide race series. Lamborghini won the world offshore boat racing championship again and again with its huge marine racing engines.

On July 24, 1998, the company was sold by the Indonesians at MegaTech to Audi, which, at the direction of VWAG ber-meister Ferdinand Piech, immediately reorganized the board, the company, the factory and the product plan. The car company, the marine engine company and a third entity for licensing and merchandising the Lamborghini name, were created in January of 1999. The new Diablo, with variable valve timing, 530-bhp, huge new ventilated ABS brakes, and other improvements, debuted in Paris.

With a serious, well-funded German owner in place, Lamborghini introduced the Diablo GT at Geneva in 1999, a near-race car with carbon-fiber body parts, and a new 575-bhp 6.0-liter V12. At the end of the year, a GTR race-only version, with 590 bhp, a full rollcage, fuel cell and onboard fire system, was introduced.

Three years ago, in 2000, the production Diablo got the tuned-up 6.0-liter engine, a whole new interior design, a carbon-fiber body, and wider front and rear tracks, modifications that would take the fabulous car to the end of its life. The reinvigorated company showed the world both its new headquarters complex and the all-new in-house-designed Murcilago sports car in September of 2001, closing the book on the low-slung, lightning quick Diablo. With 6.2 liters of V12 and 580 bhp on tap, the new car is capable of speeds in excess of 205 mph.

In February 2002, the company took a small fleet of Murcilagos to the Nardo circuit in Italy to attempt some new FIA world records, and came away with three: 189.543 mph for one hour, 198.853 mph over 100km, and 198.996 mph for 100 miles, all at the hands of brave 26-year-old factory test driver Giorgio Sanna, staggering performances from an absolutely stock production sports car.

The delicious Murcilago roadster prototype followed quickly at the Detroit Show in 2003, coincident with the appointment of Audi's Dr. Werner Mischke as chairman of the company, and at Geneva, the long-gestating baby Lamborghini project finally came to fruition in the form and shape of the stunningly beautiful new Gallardo (ga-yard-oh). The production Gallardo will be lightweight, with a 5-liter, 500-bhp V10 with a six-speed manumatic transmission and paddle shifters and conventional opening doors.

This year will see the completion of the Lamborghini Registry, an attempt to gather data on every surviving car since the beginning in 1963, and of the new Lamborghini Design Center under the direction of Audi design boss Walter de'Silva and new Lamborghini design boss, 37-year-old Luc Donckerwolke, neither of whom has an Italian surname, both of whom know how to design dazzling automobiles.

Automobili Lamborghini S.P.A. has only built about 10,000 cars over a tumultuous 40-year span in business, with six different owners, but the cars, every single one of them, are testament to a particular kind of design genius and engineering boldness that comes only rarely to the automobile business. Ferruccio Lamborghini, Marcello Gandini and all of their collaborators down through the years have put the mark very, very high.

  • Page
  • 1
  • /
  • 2
  • /
  • 3
  • /
  • 4
  • /
  • 5
  • /
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!