It’s quite common to be disappointed in a product or angered by the service received from a company. ‘It’s my money’, you cry, ‘and I could do a better job than these monkeys’. Most of the time these resolutions remain mere dreams, however in the early 60’s an unknown Italian industrialist named Ferruccio Lamborghini somehow turned his dream into reality. So angered was Lamborghini at the poor quality of his Ferrari’s and the shocking treatment he received from Maranello, that he set up shop just an hour down the road with the specific goal of beating Enzo at his own game.
Situated in the heart of Italy’s ‘Terra dei Motori’ (motor valley) between the cities of Bologna and Modena, Lamborghini is within an hour’s drive of Ferrari, Maserati and Pagani. Don’t let the building’s fresh facade fool you, because behind it lies essentially the same factory that has produced every Lamborghini model since 1963. It sits in the tiny village of Sant’agata Bolognese, a village surrounded by agricultural farming land and one that takes no more than a couple of minutes to drive through. It’s all refreshingly humble – you can be lost on a back road in sun drenched wheat fields and an Aventador on Italian ‘Prova’ (testing/proving) plates will blast past you, just as the Muira and Countach and Diablo would have done in decades past. It helps that speed limits are negotiable in these parts, too.
The museum sits opposite the main administration building and design centre within the factory, and begins on the ground floor by chronicling each Lamborghini model produced. The gleaming yellow Muira SV steals the show on entrance, but the story begins with Lamborghini’s first car – the 3.5 litre V12 350GT of 1964.
The V12 engine was the work of Giotto Bizzarini, the bodywork by Carrozzeria Touring, and just 120 examples were produced, including two Spyder’s. The 350GT had the desired effect of rattling Ferrari, but complete anihilation was to follow with the new company’s next model.
The Muira. The car that stopped the world in its tracks and firmly stole the supercar crown from Ferrari’s Daytona, which was launched at the same time. The Daytona is a pretty car, but it has absolutely nothing on the Muira for sheer drama.
The Muira acts as a roll-call of Italian automotive royalty – the sensual bodywork was the work of Marcello Gandini, assembly was by Bertone, the 4.0 litre V12 with integrated gearbox by Paolo Stanzani and suspension by Giampaolo Dallara. The Muira began the tradition of naming cars after famous Spanish fighting bulls, and production began in 1966 with the P400. This gold example is the uprated P400S from 1969, with an extra 20hp taking the total to 370. 280km/h is claimed, however that flowing bodywork takes zero account of aerodynamics and the story goes that the steering becomes scarily light at those speeds.
The P400SV of 1971 takes the Muira and somehow turns the sex appeal up yet again – just look at how those rear wheels now fill the guards. The ‘V’ in the name stands for Veloce (Italian for Fast), and as a result power is now 385hp and top speed listed at ‘over 290km/h’.
Six big Weber carbs on top of a V12 just a few inches behind your ear drums is the stuff of dreams. And legend, too. A large part of the high speed development of the SV and the prototype hot rod SV Jota was carried out after hours under cover of darkness by chief test driver Bob Wallace, who would make regular midnight runs on the autostrada at speeds of over 270km/h.
The task of replacing the Muira must have been immeasurable, however Gandini delivered once again with the edgy Countach, feet firmly in the seventies. The green car on the left is chassis #001, the first Countach prototype, and the silver car is the very last Countach ever built.
The Countach was produced throughout the height of Lamborghini’s financial troubles, and it’s interesting to see how the stylists have attempted to bring such a definitive 70’s design right through the eighties. They’ve done a remarkable job, but for what it’s worth I think the original car is still the looker.
Whilst the mid-engined V12 models were garnering headlines, it was often the cheaper models that provided the cashflow to keep the company alive and there are showroom fresh examples of these on display, such as the beautiful Espada GT.
Examples of the mid-engined V8 Urraco and Jalpa are sitting pretty alongside several display powertrains, highlighting once more how a landmark 70’s design has been updated for the 80’s. Quite effectively too, I think, and whilst these cars have proven to be a touch unpopular I think they are an interesting and more obscure alternative to a Ferrari 308 GT4.
In the back corner was one of just 301 LM002’s. It is powered by the Countach’s V12 in a front-mid positioning, and has full four wheel drive with three self locking diffs and the ability to climb gradients of up to 120%. Lamborghini themselves very diplomatically say that “amongst the buyers, many are high-profile personalities from the Arab world”.
There is also a collection of more recent publicity material, the highlight of which is a multi-poster campaign titled ‘Welcome to Sant’Agata Bolognese. Home of Lamborghini’, a series of posters advertising the fact that the local community embraces the high speed testing that goes on. This photo of a woman using binoculars before crossing the road was joined, amongst others, by a photo of old men at the local cafe wearing ear muffs as standard issue. Can you actually imagine if a manufacturer in Australia (or anywhere other than Italy, for that matter), ran a campaign like this? There would be public outrage!
As overwhelming as the ground floor is, it pales into insignificance when you ascend the spiral staircase to the first floor. Up here, the collection focuses on prototypes and limited production vehicles.
This is a Diablo prototype, which some may notice looks suspiciously like the Cizeta V16T. This design was first proposed by Marcello Gandini as the new Diablo, however new owners Chrysler had their design team soften the harsh lines before putting it into production. This famously offended Gandini, so he took his design to a group of ex-Lamborghini employees who modified the rear and built it as the Cizeta. In all honestly, I think the Diablo is a far prettier car than this prototype.
This 1988 P140 concept by Gandini shows how Lamborghini were thinking of a smaller, cheaper car long before the Gallardo came along. It features Lamborghini’s first V10 engine and a four wheel drive version was also evaluated, mirroring the specs of the Gallardo which would come along 17 years later. The project was scrapped by Chrysler soon after their takeover.
By 1997 Lamborghini were thinking of the Diablo’s replacement, and called for submissions for the new car. Due to cost reasons it was still to be based on the Diablo, and this was Gandini’s solution, the P147 Acosta – a vehicle that retained the doors, windscreen and roofline of the Diablo and incorporated redesigned front and rear ends. It was not popular with management, so a working prototype was never built.
Zagato’s submission to project 147 was the Canto, a vehicle that threw out all cost parameters but still stuck with the mechanical package from the Diablo. This car never saw the light of day either because after Audi’s cashed-up 1998 takeover, the decision was made to instead built a completely new car, the Murcielago.
The museum is home to one of just 20 Reventon’s, the Murcielago based limited edition inspired by the F22 Raptor Fighter Jet. I remember being stunned at the angular lines when this was launched at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, however now it just looks a bit like an Aventador.
The Gallardo is represented by the 2005 Concept S, which despite the PR dance is really just a Gallardo with a segregated passenger compartment. I think for what it is they’ve pulled it off very well, but it just shows that even Lamborghini runs out of ideas and money for concept cars every so often.
Fear not though, because Centro Stile made up for it in 2006 with one of the best looking retro reinterpretations of recent time – the Muira Concept painted in the most 70’s hue of Twiggy green. Taking inspiration from the original SV sitting just downstairs, the Walter de’ Silva design celebrates the 40th anniversary of the company.
There were immediate calls for a limited production run, but sadly it was only ever designed as a concept. This has long been in my top list of best concept cars, so it was a great privilege to see it in person.
The best part about the museum is that it is located right at the factory, so regularly you can look out of the window and see prototypes and test cars on ‘Prova’ plates heading out with data logging equipment. All of the test drivers, without fail, give it the beans upon exit.
Just a little way over was the 2008 Estoque concept four door saloon. Powered by the Gallardo’s V10, the Estoque gave rise to speculation that Lamobrghini were diversifying away from supercars. It has since been confirmed that the Estoque will not be produced, however Lamborghini have stated that they are interested in building a four-door car at some point in the future.
Unlike its nearby Modenese neighbors, Lamborghini have never been a company to be defined by motorsport, in fact Ferruccio famously prohibited it during his long tenure. Despite this, in the early 90’s Lamborghini began dabbling their feet in motorsport as an engine supplier to Formula One, however never that successfully. The museum has a few examples of Lamborghini powered Formula One cars, as well as several display engines.
As an engine supplier Lamborghini found much greater success in the world of offshore powerboat racing, and there were three powerplants on display. The engine on the far left, from 1991, is a 9300cc V12 making 650hp at 5200rpm, while the engine on the far right is a 1993 spec Class 1 engine. Its 8200cc V12 makes 1100hp at 7500rpm.
The most staggering part was the sheer quality of the assembly – not a single weave out of place or defect to be found. Looking at a photograph like this, you can really see just why these cars cost so much and how much time and effort goes into building them. For a company as small as Lamborghini with a production run so (relatively) miniscule, it’s amazing that they can produce something of this quality.
The 1998 Diablo GT2. Just look at it. Pure, unrefined aggression. The 6000cc V12 now makes 650hp thanks to titanium connecting rods, a new intake system, a bespoke exhaust system and countless other minor tweaks. The body is in carbon fiber, the undertray is flat, the rear diffuser adjustable.
The interior is proper racecar stuff – there’s no console, no carpets, a full roll cage and a stiff, precise, metallic shifter juts up with purpose. And like every Italian factory racer, there is still time and effort taken to trim the dash in suede.
It was built to race in the GT2 championship, but the project never really got off the ground and in addition to this car displayed at the Bologna Motorshow, only one other was built. It’s not really legal or competitive for anything these days, but you can’t deny that it would make the ultimate track toy. Just look at it!
So what could possibly top the one-of-two Diablo GT2? The one-of-one Sesto Elemento, the 2010 featherweight concept car built for the Paris Motorshow to highlight Lamborghini’s expertise in working with carbon fiber. The name is Italian for ‘Sixth Element’, a reference to the atomic number of carbon.
On the Sesto Elemento every possible component that can be made of carbon, is. I’ve never seen a more brutal disregard for weight on any car before it – this thing makes a Lotus look tubby. The wheels, the brakes, the body, the chassis. It’s all carbon.
Whilst you can’t see it that well in this photo, the interior is the most impressive and innovative part. There are no seats, rather a scolloped section has been molded into the chassis tub for the two occupants to sit. There is no dash or console – the carbon steering column disappears into the firewall and anything absolutely necessary is mounted to it. It is brutally beautiful.
Those figures give it a power-to-weight ratio of 0.57hp/kg, and it will do the 0-100km/h sprint in just 2.5 seconds! It’s widely regarded that nothing has come close to the legendary McLaren F1 in terms of an all out, spare no expense, driver-focused supercar, but I reckon the Sesto Elemento does. If only Lamborghini found a way to make a limited production run!
If you find yourself in Northern Italy, don’t just be swayed by the lures of Modena and Maranello. Make the trip across to Sant’agata Bolognese and you’ll be rewarded with a much more genuine experience. I’ll touch on it in a future story, but the Ferrari museum and factory has morphed into a tourist attraction, frequented by tour buses and backpackers and people who aren’t truly passionate about cars.
Not so the Lamborghini museum. Only the true enthusiasts make the journey, and it’s better off for it. You’re not just another tourist, you’re actually visiting the birthplace of these remarkable cars and you can observe all the little nuances of a business that has evolved over the years – like how there’s a green energy usage display for a fifty year old factory exclusively producing V10 and V12 powered cars.
It’s a place where the immaculately dressed security guard warmly greets you in Italian, and then happily allows you to ride your scooter right up to the entrance of Lamborghini HQ for a quick photo. And then pretends to get angry at you when his boss walks past.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles
Note – in addition to the excellent museum, Lamborghini gives full guided tours of the factory for a very reasonable cost. Unfortunately Any Given Reason visited Lamborghini during the last week of Ferragosto, the month-long holiday where all of Italy simply shuts down and goes to the beach. There were no cars being built during the month of August, so tours were not conducted.
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