The Lamborghini Countach
When the prototype Countach first appeared, on the Bertone stand at the Geneva Motor show in March, it would have been so easy to have admired its stunning looks and remarkable engineering specifications and then immediately dismiss it as simply another skin-deep beauty, cynically cobbled together by a specialist manufacturer and flame boyant stylist. It looked sensational but it surely never progress beyond being another non-runninf, impossible-to-build showstopper?
Anyone who did dismiss the LP500 so peremptorily would have been making grave mistake.
The Countach's spiritual forerunner
True enough, Lamborghini as a car company were barely eight years old; and tru enough, on their own stand at Geneva in 1971 they already had one of the most sensational production cars in the world. That was the Miura, introduced just five years earlier and shown here for the first time in what would turn out to be its final and most potent form the 385bhp SV. Ironically, it was the Countach which killed the Miura.
Maybe the Countach prototype should have given cynics pause ror thought. After all, Lamborghini had made quite a habit of launching new caes into the public gaze in Geneva. In 1964 the giant Palexpo halls had seen the debut of their very first production car, the 350GT; in 1967 they unveiled the Marzal; in 1968 it was the Islero and the Espada; in 1970 the Jarama. Of those, only the glass sided, six-cylinder Marzal failed to make the transition into production.
And the Miura (in effect only the second distinct model lamborghini had built, and the Countach's spiritual forerunner) had also started its life as a production car in the same show hall in Geneva, in 1966. Only a few months earlier, at the Turin show in November 1965, the Miua had been seen as even more of a show car than the Countach was in 1971. It appeared first as nothing more than an unclothed rollimg chasis with a revolutionary transverse mid-engine layout. Anyone who thought it had any future purpose at all naturally assumed that it was the thin end of the racing wedge for Lamborghini.
It wasn't, and just those few months later Miura appeared again. But this time spectacularly clothed by Bertone as a roadgoing mid-engined two-seater which made any other contemporary production car looks primitive. That, remember, was 1966 and the Miura's supercar contemporaries were front engined cars like the Ferrari 330GT 2+2 and the 275GTB/4. It was two years before Ferrari introduced the Daytona, a sensational car in its own right, but technically from a previous generation, stilll with the front engine layout and square-rigged conventionality. It was a year befor Ferrari would wheel out the first roadgoing mid engined Dino, and this was seven years ahead of their larger, mid engined Boxer. If the Miura had a real contemporary cousin, it was not any road car but the Le Mans winning Ford GT40 racer.
1971: LAMBORGHINI, BERTONE
and their futuristic supercar
In 1971, Lamborghini and Bertone were doing it all over again with this incredible device called the Countach, another mid engined two-seater supercar, but this time with styling so futuristic, and technical solutions so brilliant, that it made even Miura seem almost ordinary. It was so typically Lamborghini to produce a car like Countach just as the vultures were gathering to pick clean the bones of what they saw as dying company; but there was to be no. ' I told you so' fate for what many still regarder as an upstart among the old guard even though times in the early 1970s were desperately bad at Sant' Agata.
In many ways, the prototype Countach reflected exactly what it was that had helped Lamborghini succeed: it showed a genuinely fresh way of thinking, a sense of adventure, and above all the open mindness of a young company - not yet stifled by old guard tradition but still with everything to prove. As the Countach appeard on the Bertone stand at Geneva in March 1971 (as the LP500), it was recognizably the Countach of today, even though virtually every aspect has changed dramatically in the years since. And in its bright yellow paintwork and with very little adornment, it was not just a non-running mock up (as so many cars are), but a complete, drivable vehicle. It had been hastily completed just days before, and actually driven at least part of the way from Sant' Agata to the show by test driver Bob Wallace. A very different car from the Miura, it shared thr engines, two-seater sport configuration, but that was about all. The big difference under the futuristic skin was revealed by the type number: LP500.
DALLARA AND THE MIURA
Refining the transverse mounted engine
The Miura had been launched as the TP400,
where 400 stood for the V12 engine's 4-litre
(244Cu. in.) capacity and where TP signiied the
engine position: Transversale Posteriore, or rear,
transverse mounted. At the time, that had been a
typically, brave and unfettered engineering decision by Giampaolo Dallara, the young engineer
who designed the Miura. Not only had he admired the racing GT40 for its whole concept, but he had
also been deeply impressed by Alec Issigonis's slightly more humble Mini. The Mini was still only
a few years old (launched in 1959) and the idea of a transverse engine with its gearbox and final drive in the sump was still quite revolutionary. In the Mini's case, Issigonis had conceived the
layout to allow him to build a compact, front- wheel-drive saloon. Dallara saw no reason why
that should not be equally practicable with a rear-drive sports car. With the open-mindedness of the great engineer, he apparentiy saw no insurmount able difference between the original Mini's layout with a mass-produced four-cylinder, 37bhp pushrod, single-carburettor engine, and the
Miura's thoroughbred, four-cam, six twin-choke carburettored 350bhp V12.
It worked, up to a point, but the Miura did have its problems.The transverse layout kept the length of the car to not only reasonable but also absolutely beautiful proportions. The effect of 350bhp and 8000rpm churming the heavyweight gear cluster directly in the sump, though, had predictably deleterious effects on the lubricating oil; that meant that the
Miura had to be looked after very carefully indeed if it were to enjoy any kind of longevity. The gear
linkage too was problematical with this layout, and routine access was a nightmare. Aside from that, the Miura did have some problems with high speed directional stability because of the relationship between its tail-heavy weight distribution and nose-light aerodynamic properties. They were especially manifest in a tendency for the front end to try to lift at very high speeds.
It was a great car, but it was flawed.
The whole concept of the Countach, or more
properly the LP500 as it was known at that stage,
was to extend the Miura's ethos as the state-of
the-art roadgoing sports car, and to make it more
refined and more usable.
Throwing down the gauntlet to Ferrari
Ferruccio Lamborghini wanted the Countac 1unique; a car with near racing performance (both
in speed and handling) but also with true grandtouring ambience. He wanted it to outperform any conceivable rival - and that really meant Ferrari but he also wanted it to be the sort of car any
wealthy, discriminating enthusiast could drive over long distances with a high degree of comfort, practicality and dependability. In short, he wanted it to be everything he had always wanted all his
cars to be from the moment he decided to attack his great Maranello rival, but in this case he
wanted it to be so to. At the same time as he wanted it to be the ultimate degree, ultimate prestige car, though, he didn 't want it simply to be a flippant status symbol. He was very serious about the Countach's worth, and he was not about to compromise its engineering simply to make a rich man's toy.
LP500: THE NEW CONCEPT
Developing the longitudinally mounted engine
The problem of accommodating the long V12
Engine, its gearbox, and final drive, in the middle of A two-seater car, had not gone away since Dallara
Adopted the transverse engine, gears-in-sump Solution: but Dallara himself had left the company in August 1968, frustrated by Lamborghini's continuing refusal to go racing, and the appointment
of a new chief engineer. The new chief engineer was Paolo Stanzani, originally Dallara's assistant, and Stanzani had thought of a new and perhaps even more elegant solution to the mid-engined problem. What he did with the layout is really the heart of the Countach; he tumed the big V12 engine through 90°, to run along the length of the chassis rather than being mounted across it. That was not unusual, several cars nowhad this 'mid-engined' configuration, where the engine and gearbox were behind the driver but ahead of the rear axle line; it had even been done with V12 engines in racing cars.
Conventionally', though, the engine was placed at the front of the assembly, driving back through the gearbox and a final drive located behind it. With smaller engines that was reasonably workable, but with something the size of the Lamborghini V12 it would have pushed the passenger compartment unfeasibly far forward or made the car overall impracticably large.
Stanzani’s unique engine layout
Stanzani’s remarkable innovation was to turn the
Engine around so that the gearbox was in front of It, effectively located between the driver and Passenger, where its relative narrowness allowed It to fit quite comfortably. He then took the drive
Back from the gearbox output, via a shaft running In a sealed tube within the engine’s sump, to aa
Final drive unit at the rear end of the engine (nominally the front in normal terms!) also within the sump casting, and thence to the rear wheels. Like all the best ideas it is essentially very Simple and at a stroke it overcame many of the Miura’s problems. It made the Countach a better Balanced car; the gear lever acted directly into the Box without the Miura’s serpentine and often Baulky linkage; and it separated the engine lubrication from the gearbox lubrication (which the Miura itself had finally been obliged to do in the 385bhp SV). And, amazingly, the Countach with its longitudinal engine was actually shorter in both wheel-base and overall length than the Miura with its transverse set-up. That unique layout apart, the LP500 Countach
As it first appeared was mechanically fairly conventional. Although the Countach concept had
Been kicking around since probably 1969, the car had finally been built in the usual last-minute rush
To make that March 1971 Geneva debut.
The chassis of the prototype was described by
Lamborghini as a ‘monocoque’, but in reality, it
Was a simple steel spaceframe with welded
On panels, and it used mainly square section
Tubing. The suspension was obviously fully independent, with double wishbones, coil springs and
Telescopic dampers all round, and with anti-roll
Bars at each end, and it was based almost entirely on production parts. The chassis used Girling
Ventilated disc brakes all round, with a dual
Hydraulic system and twin servos. It was relatively basic by Lamborghini’s production car stan
Dards, but it got the show on the road.
The 5-litre (305cu.in,) engine was unique to this
Car. Lamborghini, in truth, still was not really
Committed to building the Countach as a production model, but even a show car has to come up
With some big numbers if it is to have the desired
Effect on the onlooker.
The motor was based on the existing production V12, which at that stage had bore and stroke
Measurements of 3.23 x 2.44in. (82.0x 62.0
mm), for a capacity of 3929cc (240cu.in.). In the
Miura SV that was good for 385bhp at 7850rpm
And 286lb ft of torque at 5000rpm. For the LP500,
The dimensions were increased to 3.35 X 2.88in.
(85.0x 73.0mm) or 4971cc (303cu.in.); the
Compression ratio was a very high 11.5:1 and
There were six twin-choke sidedraught Weber carbs. In that form, Lamborghini reported 440bhp
At 7400rpm and a massive 366lb ft of torque at
5000rpm; in reality, the production Countach
Wouldn’t better those figures until the 5000S
Quattrovalvole was launched, with 455bhp, in
With that much power, Lamborghini claimed a
Maximum speed of 186mph (300kph) for the car,
Comfortably faster than Ferrari’s contemporary
Rival, the front-engined 175mph (282kph) Daytona
If the LP500’s claims were true.
Of course, at that stage, it didn’t matter too
Much whether the speed was real or not; it wasn ‘t
Just the big numbers that made the Countach spectacular, it was the way it looked too.