The history of Lamborghini – picture special

The history of Lamborghini - picture special

With Lamborghini celebrating its 50th birthday this year, we turn the clocks back on the outrageously flamboyant Italian brand

The Lamborghini Automobili company was the brainchild of Italian founder Ferruccio Lamborghini.

Born in 1916, Ferruccio served as a mechanic in the Italian Royal Air Force during the Second World War before going into business building tractors based on surplus World War II military hardware.

By the mid-1950s, Lamborghini’s tractor company was growing at a rapid rate and by the time he expanded into constructing boilers and air-conditioning systems in 1960, Lamborghini had become one of Italy’s great industrialists.

With increased success brought great wealth, which led Ferruccio to purchase a fleet of sports cars – one of them a Ferrari 250GT. It was this acquisition that spawned the idea for Ferruccio Lamborghini to set up his own car company; in his opinion finding that the Ferrari was too noisy and rough for proper road cars, likening them to repurposed track cars.

Lamborghini designed and built his first car – the 350GTV – in only four months, just in time for an unveiling at the 1963 Turin motor show. Despite the favourable press reviews, the 350GTV was a one-off, with Lamborghini re-working the production model and calling it the 350GT.

Debuting at the 1964 Geneva Auto Show, the 350GT was powered by a de-tuned 270bhp 3.5-litre V12 mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The 350GT could accelerate from 0-62mph in 6.8sec and onto a top speed of 158mph – hugely impressive figures in its day. Only 120 examples were made.

Further revisions to the 350GT created the 400GT in 1965. Italian chassis engineer Gian Paulo Dallara tweaked the V12, increasing its displacement to 3.9 litres and a power hike to 320bhp at 6500rpm.

At the 1966 Geneva auto show, Lamborghini unveiled the 400GT 2+2, a stretched version of the 350GT/400GT that featured 2+2 seating with a revised roofline. Like its predecessors, the 400GT 2+2 was well received by motoring journalists, with revenue from sales of the 2+2 allowing Lamborghini to increase labour at his Sant’Agata factory to 170 employees.

During 1965, Lamborghini’s three top engineers, Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani and New Zealander Bob Wallace put their own time into development of a prototype – named P400 – that they envisioned as a road car with racing pedigree, capable of winning on the track as well as being driven on the road by enthusiasts.

Despite being the antithesis of Ferruccio’s original ‘Grand Touring’ ethos, the company founder allowed his engineers to go ahead, deciding the P400 would be useful as a marketing tool, if nothing more.

A version with bodywork penned by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini debuted at the 1966 Geneva motor show. Lamborghini’s first mid-engined two-seater saw favourable reaction at Geneva with the P400 going into production the following year under a different name, with Lamborghini’s newly created trademark badge taken from the toughest and smartest of fighting bulls – Miura.

Early Miuras were powered by a transversely mounted 350bhp 3.9-litre V12 derived from the 400GT. At the 1968 Turin motor show, the Italian car maker pulled the wraps off the Miura P400S, which showcased newly added power windows, optional air conditioning, bright chrome trim around external windows and power up to 370bhp at 7000rpm. The last and most famous Miura – the P400SV or Miura SV – featured a power hike up to a heady 380bhp. In total, 764 Miuras were made.

In 1968, the replacement for the 400GT arrived in the form of the Lamborghini Islero. Named after a Miura bull which killed famed matador Manuel Rodriguez Manolete, it was essentially a rebody of the 400GT, but was powered by a 325bhp 3.9-litre V12 mated to a five-speed transmission and featured fully independent suspension and disk brakes. Even though Ferruccio Lamborghini believed the car represented a well-developed Gran Turismo product, it failed to attract buyers with only 125 units sold between 1968 and 1969.

The following year, design house Bertone persuaded Lamborghini to allow them to design a brand new four-seater. Crafted by Marcello Gandini, the result was a two-door coupé named the Espada. Again it was propelled by the Raging Bull’s trusty 3.9-litre V12 under the bonnet, which kicked out 325bhp and was the first Lamborghini offered with an optional automatic transmission. A total of 1,217 Espadas were built, making it the most successful Lamborghini model at the time.

In 1970, the Jarama was unveiled at that year’s Geneva motor show. Another Marcello Gandini-designed car, the Jarama was built on a shortened platform as the Espada and was available in two flavours – a 350bhp GT (1970-1973) and 365bhp GTS (1973-1976), both with the familiar 3929cc V12 unit shoehorned in the nose.

Also in 1970, Lamborghini pulled the wraps off its 2+2 mid-engined Urraco coupé at that year’s Turin auto show. The first model leaving the production line in 1973, the Urraco was a more affordable alternative to the contemporary Ferrari Dino and Maserati Merak.

Three versions were available – the entry-level P200 with a 180bhp 2.0-litre V8, P250 powered by a 217bhp 2.5-litre V8 and the range-topping 3.0-litre V8 P300 kicking out 247bhp. Top speeds ranged from 134mph to 162mph. From 1972 until 1979, 791 examples rolled off the production line

With the 1973 oil crisis taking a sledgehammer to sales of high performance cars, Lamborghini hit hard times and Ferruccio sold 51 per cent of his company to long-time friend and Swiss businessman Georges-Henri Rossetti for $600,000.

A year later Ferruccio Lamborghini sold his remaining 49 per cent stake in Lamborghini Automobili to Rene Leimer, a friend of Georges-Henri Rossetti. Having severed all connections with the cars and tractors that bore his name, Lamborghini retired to an estate in the province of Perugia in central Italy, where he would remain until his death.

In 1974 the Italian car manufacturer unleashed the eye-popping Lamborghini Countach. Yet another Marcello Gandini design, the Countach was initially powered by the traditional 3929cc Lamborghini engine kicking out 370bhp, which remained until 1982 when the Countach LP500S was launched. Equipped with a 4.8-litre V12 providing the fireworks, yet with the same power output of 370bhp, torque was up to 308lb ft at 4500rpm.

Three years later, the engine was improved again – bored and stroked to 5.2 litres and given four valves per cylinder (quattrovalvole in Italian), this edition badged 5000QV. Power was now up to 449bhp with 0-62mph taken care of in 4.9sec and onto a top speed of 183mph. A 25th anniversary Countach was launched in 1988 named to celebrate the company’s 25th birthday. Mechanically, it was very similar to the 5000QV but sported much-changed styling.

Carrying on where the Urraco left off, the Lamborghini Jalpa was launched in 1981. Being much less expensive than the Countach and still designed by Bertone, the Jalpa was powered by a 3.5-litre V8 pumping out 255bhp at 7000rpm and covering the 0-60mph dash in 6.0sec. In 1988, after falling sales, new owners Chrysler pulled the plug on Jalpa production.

In 1986, Lamborghini took a punt – launching their first four-wheel-drive vehicle – the hefty LM002 SUV. Dubbed the “Rambo Lambo”, its aggressive styling and powerful engine made it a success for the Italian car maker. Equipped with a 290-litre fuel tank and a 5.2-litre V12 from the Countach, production ceased in 1993 with 328 examples made.

In January 1990, the Diablo was launched. Once again penned by Marcello Gandini, the Diablo was powered by a mid-mounted 5.7-litre 48-valve V12 producing 492bhp, accelerating the car from 0-62mph in 4.5sec and not letting up until 202mph.

The Diablo VT was introduced in 1993, with the addition of four-wheel drive. The special-edition Diablo SE30 followed in 1994 to commemorate Lamborghini’s 30th anniversary giving the SE30 a power hike to 523bhp. A facelifted Diablo arrived in 1999 after Audi AG took over the reins of Lamborghini the previous year, culminating in the VT 6.0 which pumped out a hefty 550bhp.

Lamborghini’s new German parent company played an important role in the creation of the Diablo’s replacement – the Murciélago. The new flagship car being styled by Lamborghini’s head of design, Belgian Luc Donckerwolke, the first-generation 6.2-litre V12 produced 572bhp which was mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.


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