With a history stretching back two centuries, Pirelli has become one of the most recognized automotive brands in the world, its tires synonymous with performance. Founded by 24-year-old engineer Giovanni Battista Pirelli in 1872, his company Pirelli & C in Milan first produced insulated telegraph cable (1879) and underwater telegraph cable (1886) before adding bicycle tires in 1890. Pirelli's first pneumatic (air filled and made with reinforced rubber) passenger car tires came off the production line in 1901, the beginnings of what would become a storied history filled with innovation and success.
A huge part of that success has been achieved through Pirelli's focus on performance and racing tires. Starting with the Superflex Stella Bianca racing tire in 1927, Pirelli rubber was used on the cars of legendary drivers including Tazio Nuvolari, Alberto Ascari, and the great five-time Formula One world champion Juan Manuel Fangio. Pirelli has also had a long, off-and-on association with Formula One racing and in 2011 returned to the series as its sole tire supplier after a 20-year absence.
Pirelli also continued to develop tires for the street, and in the 1950s it turned its full attention to developing its Cinturato radial tire that still soldiers on today after decades of development. It became so focused on the Cinturato that it stopped producing racing tires all together for several decades. But in 1963 it started a relationship that would help transform both Pirelli and the farm tractor maker turned fledgling Italian carmaker it would partner with: Lamborghini.
The early years: 1963-70
The partnership between Pirelli and Lamborghini started with a question. Ferruccio Lamborghini asked Pirelli to equip his first ever car, the 350 GTV, and the rest as they say, is a 50-year history. The car was launched at the Turin Motor Show using Pirelli's Cinturato HS tire (High Speed). The production model, dubbed the 350 GT, also used the Cinturato HS, which was rated at speeds of up to 150 mph. Both the 350 GTV and GT were presented at the Geneva Motor Show, which only helped Pirelli's recognition with other sports and super car companies.
While the launch of Lamborghini's first car was historic, it was the legendary Miura in 1966 that would help set Lamborghini apart, and it would roll on Pirelli's latest Cinturato HS tire: the CN72. Providing a more comfortable and quiet ride, the CN72 design was used on all subsequent Lamborghini models including the Espada, appearing in 1968.
Lamborghini cars not only wore Pirelli tires, but they were also at the center of quite a few ad campaigns for the tire maker. One in particular was the 1970 advertisement for Pirelli original equipment featuring the Miura. The advertisement simply stated "The Miura chose Pirelli Cinturato."
Wanting a revised version of the CN72 for the Miura only a couple of years later, Pirelli developed the Cinturato CN73 in 225/70 VR 15 sizes. Not only was this the next tire in the 'series 70' lineup, but it also signaled a move towards a low profile tire that would be known as the P7 that would later be chosen by Lamborghini to use on its next supercar: the Countach.
The Countach (1974-90) was Lamborghini's answer to one-upping its famous Miura. Introduced at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show as a nameless beauty, it reportedly became Countach after a Piedmontese expression of amazement or wonder, which was said to be uttered by a Lamborghini worker who saw the car the night before it was introduced.
Pirelli, meanwhile, was busy developing a new type of tire, the wide radial (1974), which was requested by the Lancia rally racing team looking for a tire tough enough and with more grip to fit to its Lancia Stratos (most tires at the time were deemed too narrow to offer enough grip). The answer was a wide tire with a short sidewall, but with enough radial structure to support it all.
From 1986-88 Lamborghini produced one of its more unusual vehicles, the LM002 (4x4). This not only marked the beginning of Lamborghini and Pirelli in motorsport (at the 1988 Paris-Dakar Rally), but also helped usher in a new range of Pirelli tires: the Scorpion, which featured the use of Kevlar in the carcass structure and a new run-flat system.
Then in 1988, Pirelli's now famous P Zero ultra-low-profile tire tire helped mark Lamborghini's 25th anniversary as the rubber for the Countach 'Anniversary' edition.
The 1990s brought several significant successes for Pirelli and Lamborghini including: the 1990 arrival of the Diablo, which was fitted with Pirellis. The Diablo also starred in the Pirelli 'Mission Zero' film and was responsible for launching Pirelli's Winter Sottozero II in 2008. In 1994 the Pirelli P Zero range became available for worldwide distribution and a fixture on Lambos to come.
The Murcielago (2002) and the Gallardo (2003) both wore P Zero Rossos, and the new Aventador LP 700-4 Roadster features bespoke P Zero tires. And Lamborghini's 50th anniversary celebration car, the Veneno, features a specially-developed Pirelli tire wearing a similar red stripe used on P Zero Formula One tires.
On the motorsports front, in addition to Formula One, Pirelli is also the exclusive tire supplier of the Super Trofeo Lamborghini Blancpain series and the World Superbike Championship.
Pirelli and Lamborghini: two brands going extremely fast together for 50-years. Here's to another fast 50.