When I first visited the Lamborghini factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese back in 1996, the well-worn buildings gave the place a ragged feel, and with the exception of the always effervescent Valentino Balboni--legendary test-driver since the early Miura days--the employees seemed unsettled. Knowing a bit about the company's difficulties since founder Ferruccio started selling off stock back in 1972, and little to nothing about the Indonesian-Malaysian consortium that then owned the company, I blamed the anxious atmosphere on what I assumed had to be tricky multi-cultural company politics.
Returning in spring 2002, all that is now ancient history. Thanks to the infusion of cash and energy from Audi AG begun back in 1998, Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. has been born anew, and evidence of the rebirth is as dramatic as phoenix feathers risen from the ashes. The new ultra-modern glass-fronted building not only looks like a supercar factory should, it beckons with a collection of exactly those supercars that kept this company alive through the tumultuous decades that followed Ferruccio's farewell.
The collection is artfully arranged on two floors of the pristine new offices, set off by polished wood floors, high ceilings and glowing white walls. On the lower level, two Countach models bracket the most difficult period of Lamborghini history: the first LP400, built back in 1973, and the last of 657 units, a silver beauty built to celebrate the company's 25th anniversary. It was the slow and steady production of the Countach, all built to order, that kept Lamborghini's automotive heritage alive. In fact, while the company was in receivership in 1980, the two largest Italian Lambo distributors actually paid for each new Countach in full, in advance! It was the only way the factory could afford to buy the components needed to build the cars.
While a Countach fan may notice exterior differences, the most dramatic change in these cars was under the hood: that '73 car, as presented on the Paris Auto Show stand, was powered by Lamborghini's 4-liter (actually 3929cc) V12, with 375 hp at 8000 rpm, while the later version had a much bigger displacement V12, at 5167cc. Interestingly, the later, bigger engine reported marginally reduced top speed, 295 km/h down from the 315 km/h (but who cares about 20 kph--12.4 mph--anyway?).
Moving to the other side of the staircase, we come upon one newer and two older Lamborghinis. The newer model is the Diablo Roadster prototype presented to the world at the 1992 Geneva Show. This topless 530-bhp beast is painted an eye-tricking electric green-gold. The two much tamer cars beside it bring back memories of milder times, when Ferruccio Lamborghini's overriding goal was to build the fastest, smoothest and quietest GT car possible--not just two seaters but four-seaters as well. He succeeded in that goal with the Espada, built between 1968 and 1978; a lovely dark blue example sits here. Some 1,220 of these 4-liter, 325-bhp Espadas--the name comes from bullfighting and means master toreador--were built in sleek Bertone bodies that echoed the earlier Miura without copying it.
Beside the Espada is a bright red 1965 350 GT. These cars were Ferruccio Lamborghini's earliest efforts, and this red one wears a pleasingly simple body by Carrozzeria Touring. Lamborghini's first 350, the 1963 GTV, was a chrome-bedecked stunner from then unknown designer Franco Scaglione (he would later design the famous BAT cars for Bertone). You'll find this car in this museum as well, upstairs in its own picture window. The hood wears a metallic rendition of Ferruccio Lamborghini's signature, even though the man was reportedly not thrilled with the car's final design.
Before climbing the stairs to check out that GTV and the other cars above, you might want to examine the group of LM002 frames and its 5167cc V12 engine on display down here. An early production and public relations disaster known as the "Cheetah"--meant to be a superfast vehicle for the U.S. military designed with the Vietnam War in mind--was later transformed into a series of multi-purpose vehicles beginning with LM 001, through the LM 002s and culminating in the 1983 LM 004 luxury SUV. When you think about the luxury SUV market today, you realize just how far ahead of the curve Lamborghini was--in terms of sales, too far ahead! There are also cases of scale models and many photographs lining the lower level walls, along with several engines, including the 3-liter (2996cc) V8 used on the Urraco and the 4-liter (3929cc) V12 from the Miura P400.
More photos await you upstairs, including a large portrait of Ferruccio himself. But it's the cars here that will capture your attention. Opposite the 350 GTV already mentioned is the car that many consider to be Lamborghini's finest, the Miura. This golden version of the P400 4-liter V12 was the creation of the three most influential men in the original Lamborghini organization: Engineers Gianpaolo Dallara and Paolo Stanzani and test driver Bob Wallace, but its body is a masterpiece designed at Bertone by Marcello Gandini or Giorgetto Giugiaro or, most likely, both. Who wouldn't want to take credit for this incredible car, made even better over the next few years in the P400S and in the ultimate version, the P400SV, a bright yellow example of which is here displayed in its own spot-lit section of the museum.
Another Diablo prototype dominates the upstairs collection: It's the bright orange 1998 GT2 prototype, with its 6-liter V12 and 600-bhp engine. Nearby is the last Diablo built, the Special Edition 6.0, in one of its two exclusive colors: Oro Elios (Gold). Arrayed behind it are examples of lesser known Lamborghini production cars: the V8-powered Silhouette, built in only 52 examples between 1976 and 1979; a bright yellow V8 Jalpa (like "Miura," the name comes from a breed of fighting bulls), produced between 1982 and 1988; and a burgundy example of the Jslero (the name of a bull which killed a famous matador; later changed to Islero), a V12-powered 4-liter. Some 125 of these elegant 2+2s were built as replacements for the 400GT.
Finally, against the back wall is a row of four cars that Ferruccio would have been surprised to see. He always swore that he had no interest in producing race cars--his goal was only to build the fastest and best (i.e. the perfect) GT--so these open-wheel racers would be out of place, were it not for the fact that even when Ferruccio ruled, he couldn't stop his own employees from using his wonderful engines in racing machinery. These racers do exactly that, tweaking Lamborghini V12 powerplants to produce upwards of 750 bhp, in bodies by Lola and Lotus and the like. A nearby case features another use of the great Lambo engines: in speedboats. The model here is of the 1998 "Spirit of Norway" which won the 2001 World Championship Time Trial. Several marine engines, produced by the sister company Motori Marini Lamborghini, are also on display.
To visit the factory museum, write or call ahead to make an appointment