Miura to Murciélago

Dream of sandcastles and kick sand in the face of Ferrari, whose muscle-bound cars were already legends on the raceways, on the roads, in the motoring mags.

This is how Ferruccio Lamborghini chose to begin his journey into sports-car history.

A proud and driven Taurus, Lamborghini paved his own legendary road, creating his own roar in the Po Valley and in lands far beyond Emilia-Romagna. Today, his cars — with names as muscular and sensuous as their bodies and powerplants — pound roads and autobahns and superhighways from Africa to Asia and Arizona. His speedy Miura S, sculpted two decades-plus ago, will still stop people at the front door of any luxury resort in Scottsdale — every bit as much as a womping Murciélago, today’s alpha bull from the Italian carmaker.

“Lamborghini is not just a car,” says Ros De Giaxa, general manager of Motorsports of Scottsdale/Lamborghini of Scottsdale. “Most people who want one, who come into our dealership to buy one, know this. They know they want a Lamborghini and not just some high-performance sports car their brother-in-law has.”

They know that Lamborghini is a life attitude just as much as it is an attitude toward the road. Lamborghini is high-g finesse. It’s confidence, yes, but with a little hubris: cocky pride this side of cardinal sin. Lamborghini is vivacity and joie de vivre. Lamborghini is a ride on a prized bull as much committed to challenging you as you are to controlling and mastering it.

Tractors to Gran Turismo

Born in 1916 in the midst of World War I, Lamborghini began manufacturing tractors after World War II, driving himself to a fortune in this and other businesses before he was 50. Tractor wealthy, he loved speed, nevertheless, acquiring Gran Turismo vehicles such as Ferraris and Maseratis, and shifting them through the roads of the “golden triangle” linking Sant’Agata, Modena and Maranello — magical towns that tingle car aficionados everywhere.

In the often-told story, his friend, Enzo Ferrari, told his neighbor that he only knew how to drive tractors, not masterpieces: Just generating millions of lira a year in income didn’t entitle you a seat at the gearbox of the world’s finest sports car. Money doesn’t convert immediately to moxie or manhood.

Not ready to take a back seat, even to the Master himself, Lamborghini mused atop one of his tractors, then the wily mechanic pulled the parts out and found that he could use some of these on his own sports car. He would eliminate the Ferrari flaws and create a perfect GT tourer — powerful enough for the track, tractable enough for the street. The venture could make money, too: It needn’t be madness, either, yet another tale told about a wealthy man navigated by sound and fury into brick walls.

His friends did think he was mad: Felliniesque, worthy of business circus sideshows. Take on Ferrari? Rather: Retire and drive a Ferrari, his angelic friends counseled at one ear. Cruise with the money in drive; don’t shift yourself to bankruptcy and creditors. But on the right ear, the devilish whisper of entrepreneurship kept on: Create your own super sportscars, cars to inspire awed shudders and shutters in Turin and in Geneva, that would run on the great tracks of the world with the same ferocity as Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar. Show them.

“Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini” began in late 1962 in Sant’Agata Bolognese, not too far from Modena, the birthplace of Ferrari, and Maranello, where his great cars are manufactured. By May the energetic Lamborghini had developed a factory in which the manufacturing facility and the office complex were adjacent. He and his team could develop the prototypes and watch the cars being built, each a mobile Mona Lisa. The creator could tweak them if he needed to.These were just high-torque tractors with tire-squealing horsepower and head-spinning curves like those of Sophia Loren, right?

Vittorio De Sica’s favorite leading lady couldn’t have chosen a better team to prepare a prototype, the one-off 350 GTV for the Turin Auto Show of 1963. For its superb 3.5-litre V-12, he tabbed Giotto Bizzarrini, who had designed for Ferrari; young, inspired engineers Giampaolo Dallara and Giampaolo Stanzani; and, for body design, Franco Scaglione, who had worked for the legendary Carrozzeria Bertone.

With eventual design changes by his Milan-based Carrozzeria Touring, the first production Lamborghini, the 350 GT, a two-seater Berlinetta, was born; you can see one of the 135 built at the Lamborghini Museum in Sant’Agata, recently built by the Audi Group, current owners of the company. Henry Manney III extolled the vehicle in the July 1965 issue of Car magazine, calling it “the most desirable sports car I’ve ever driven.” This was checkered-flag praise: Manney owned one of Enzo’s 250 GTOs.

Lamborghini followed with the four-liter 400 GT and, after this, the 400 GT 2+2 with two rear seats for those who wanted to enjoy the thrill of a great sports vehicle. Everywhere, elite motoring buyers, who spoke Ferrari and Masserati, were beginning to hear, and understand, the throaty, macho Lamborghini message: Production moved to 273 units for the 400 GT.

Miura Magic

Through 1966, more creativity caravaned out of Sant’Agata: prototypes such as the 3500 GTZ, the 350 Spyder, and the Monza 400. Passing them all (inspired by the Ford GT40), was the low-slung Miura, with a mid-rear engine for balanced weight distribution and structural soundness. Lamborghini engineers sat the 4-litre 12-cylinder engine, from the 400 GT, transversely behind the cockpit and drilled the sheet metal chassis to make the new vehicle more lightweight.

Nuccio Bertone, with his new designer Marcello Gandini, created the body for the Bologna-built chassis. It was strong and graceful, powerful but not overally exotic: exactly to Lamborghini’s specifications. The Taurus-born Lamborghini searched for a name befitting his beautiful beast, aggressive but smart, always poised for battle: Miura, the greatest line of fighting bulls, raised near Seville by Don Antonio Miura.

The 1966 Geneva Motor Show had its showpiece in this car, an orange version of which Lamborghini took to the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, parked it in front of the Hotel de Paris, and waited for the rumble of the crowd. Playboys and film stars wanted a Miura: It was buff and carnal and sexy, just like their rippling images. Industrialists wanted them because they expressed in metal and horsepower mettle and power. Not expecting to soon be without a country, let alone garage space, the Shah of Persia ordered one, and Miuras made Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin sing, too.

By October 1967, at the Turin show, the question was not whether Lamborghini could do it but how well, how successfully could he re-create the luxury sports-car market and with how many new cars. Another prototype followed, the four-seater Marzal, chosen by Prince Rainier of Monaco, with Princess Grace at his side, to open the Monte Carlo Grand Prix that year.

The 300-hp 2+2 Islero followed in February 1968. Thatyear, too, a much more successful car debuted in Geneva, The Espada, a two-door model front-mounted 2 +2 —with innovations such as a large rear window that hatched the trunk. The S version, starting up in November 1968, was even more powerful, with its 370-horsepower engine and options such as air conditioning and automatic transmission. In 1970 alone, Lamborghini sold 228 Espadas, and, through its entire production run, 1,226 units were delivered — a complete success.

The 2 +2 Jarama debuted at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show; in 1970, the P250 Urraco also appeared — bearing another name of a fighting bull, with a 2.5-litre engine designed by Stanzani, and lines by Bertone. A VIP version of the Espada appeared at this time, too, with luxury appointments such as a bar and a TV. Contemporaneously, New Zealand test driver Bob Wallace helped develop a racing Miura called the Jota, whose aluminum body and upgraded engine produced superb performance even by today’s stopwatch: 440 horsepower at 8,500 rpm with 0–60 in a cheetah-quick 3.6 seconds.

The 385-hp SV Miura, presented at the Geneva Motor Show the following year, was a great performer in the tradition of the original vehicle. But a prototype took even more notice: the LP 500, the eventual V12 “Countach,” with its revolutionary lines and gearbox, which reached the differential through the engine block. Everyone wanted one, even before they went into production. This was the starting line for the ultra-slick, these-cars-openly-express-excess Lamborghinis: more-than-you-need vehicles for those who must have better than best.

New Drivers into the Future

In 1972, Lamborghini sold his majority and minority stakes in the company: Labor unrest made it impossible to continue his old-time, one-on-one relationships with his workers. At the time, the P250 Urraco, the 400 GT Jarama, the 400 GT Espada and the P400 Miura SV were in production. In 1973, the Countach, roughly “holy cow” in Italian, began to appear on the roads: The green version exhibited at the Paris Motor Show can be seen at the Lamborghini Museum.

The oil crisis caused some streamlining, although new vehicles appeared, such as the Bravo and the convertible Silhouette, presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1976; the latter’s high price tag (and competition with the upstart Countach) produced just 54 units.

In 1976, BMW Motorsport of Munich began its collaboration with the still highly regarded, but struggling company — the first in a series of nonItalian involvements and acquisitions. The decade wasn’t all rough roads, though, as the innovative Walter Wolf helped to restyle the already centerstage Countach. The company went into receivership, with the superb Countach spinning enough sales to maintain operations. By 1980, however, many thought Lamborghini had hit the classic brick wall.

Two brothers, Jean-Claude and Patrick Mimran, car lovers and owners of a Senegalese sugar empire, purchased the company in January 1981, producing the 8-cylinder Jalpa and upping the displacement of the Countach 12-cylinder engine to 4.7 litres and 375 horsepower as well as developing a high-performance off-road model. By 1985, the company was producing the monster Quattrovalvole Countach, with four valves per cylinder, generating 455 horses at 7,000 rpm.

In April 1987, Chrysler, recently saved by Italo-American, Lee A. Iacocca, purchased the company. Among its achievements: a prototype Countach, the Evoluzione, made with low-weight materials and a racing engine company, Lamborghini Engineering, established in Modena to build Formula 1 motorplants. These successfully performed for both the Lotus and Larrousse teams on various circuits, but Chrysler’s later lagging enthusiasm proved fatal to continued racing involvement. A 25th-anniversary Silver Anniversary edition of the Countach also appeared: Customers ordered 657 units of the now iconic vehicle.

The new-generation Diablo followed in 1990: Designed by Luigi Marmiroli, this was a digital-age supercar, with 492-horsepower generated by its 5.7-litre V12, in both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel drive configurations. This later version, named the Diablo VT for “Viscous Traction,” premiered at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1993.

Even more surprising was another company sale in January 1994, this time to Indonesian investors, who created a variety of Diablo models: the SV; the VT Roadster with a Porsche Targa-style removable roof; the SE, Jota, Monterey, and Alpine; and, later, racing circuit versions of the Diablo — the SVR and the GTR, the latter with a 6-litre 590-horsepower engine.

The Audi Group of Munich completed its purchase in July 1998, producing the first Murciélago in 2001. Named after the great bull, now with power exceeding 600 horses, this is the stomping company leader. Also appearing was the concept Murciélago, the Barchetta, at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. The current “baby Lamborghini” is the Gallardo, which cries and whimpers with its “wake-the-parents” 500-horsepower 50-valve V10 engine, permanent four-wheel drive and a top speed approaching 200 mph.

Forty years of new roads and innovative automotive paths beginning with one man’s desire for perfection: “From the groundbreaking 350 GT to the ground-thumping Murciélago, Lamborghini has produced cars that define style,” De Giaxa says. “They are models of beauty and brawn so artistically united that their power is graceful and their lines strong. They are instant classics that speak as much about their great pedigree as they do of those fortunate enough to own them and drive them.”