The cars we loved.
Ask almost any random person off the street to name one sports car and its likely to be the Lamborghini Countach. Depending on the age of the respondent, they might say Miura or Diablo, but most always a Lamborghini is mentioned more than anything else. The Italian car maker has a good track record of producing iconic vehicles that define the times the were built in. Founded as a car company in 1963, the company originally built tractors years before. Lamborghini’s focus changed after its owner, Ferruccio Lamborghini, found himself unhappy with the reliability of his Ferrari. After being snubbed by Ferrari, he set out to build his own car, thus starting a rivalry between Ferrari and Lamborghini that lasts even
After producing a string of interesting cars through the 60’s, Lamborghini topped off the decade with the advanced and strikingly beautiful Miura in 1966. It was the first mid-engine production car in the world. Built in small numbers for only six years, the Miura was intended to be a limited edition car. When word of a follow-up got out, excitement and speculation abound. Then in 1971 at the Geneva Motor Show, Lamborghini unveiled the LP400 to astonished crowds. The Bertone design was a runaway sensation that was unlike anything else on the road. Combining the angularity of a stealth fighter (before such a thing existed) and a flattened locomotive, the LP400 ( later called Countach ) had a unmistakable ground hugging stance at about 42 inches tall. The low cabin height made for a reclined driving position with the dash curving around the driver.
An unheard of (for the time) drag coefficient of .042 cd was produced, made possible by the innovative mid-engine design. The vented hatch just behind the passenger compartment housed a 4.0 liter V12 engine that initially made 375 hp. Eventually power reached 455 and beyond in 1985 with the introduction of the Quattrovalvde. Other innovations included a multi-tube chassis, designed to be rigid and lightweight. Pinning wide 15″ tires to the ground was a race inspired wishbone front and rear trailing arm suspension. Air ducts and vents in the bodywork were not just for looks. They cooled the engine and the massive disc brakes under all conditions.
For all its innovations, the Countach did have some throwbacks to older technology, even by 70’s and 80’s supercar standards. One trait shared by all Countaches from the LP400 to the 25th Anniversary edition is the use of carburetors for fuel management. Six Webber carburetors , gave all Countaches terrible gas mileage, but incredible power with a sweet engine note. The use of mechanical fuel management systems persisted even as other carmakers were switching to electronic fuel injection as the 80’s came to a close. Insistence on what would become older technology in some ways led to the financial problems experienced by Lamborghini during the 70’s. Two fuel crises at the beginning and end of the decade did not help either. Up until 1982, anyone wanting a Lamborghini of any type in America had to get one via the grey market. The weak sales network might have hampered sales foranyone else, but demand was consistantly strong for the Countach.
No discussion of the Countach would be complete without a mention of speed. The Countach was fast…very fast! In fact it was the fastest production car in the world. A title it would keep for much of its 20 year run. Even as Lamborghini went through multiple ownership (the Italian Government
and Chrysler to name a few), it maintained a focus on building the fastest Countach possible. Top sped was always something of a mystery, adding to the cars mystique. Some published reports start at 170 mph all the way up to over 200. Actual or dreamed up it did not matter because by the 80’s the Countach had become the supercar of choice for Western popular culture.
When the film Cannonball Run was realeased in 1981, the memorable opening sequence featured a dual wing Countach walking away from a 1980 Trans-Am in a pursuit. Lamborghini had already established itself as the defacto supercar to most people. As the 80’s closedt on the profile of the Countach faded somewhat. Over the years improvements to the engine and suspension helped the Countach fend off challenges by Ferrari for supercar sales . Ironically, it was Chrysler’s ownership in the late 80’s that saved the company from yet another possible insolvency and gave the Countach its last breath of life. With Detroits help, Lamborghini improvedits dealer network and reliability of the Countach, even as it was entering its last years. Possibly the best Countach was the end product of this peroid.
The 25 Anniversary Edition, built from 1988 to the end in 1990, embodied all the best from more than 20 years of innovation. Even as the best ever Countach was available as the 90’s dawned, its angular excesses were becoming dated in the coming age of curvaceous organic design. Technology was rapidly changing allowing cars as humble as Chevrolet’s ZR-1 Corvette to come closer to Countach’s rear view mirror. Times had indeed changed and the Countach was no longer the world’s fastest sports car. It wouldn’t be long before Lamborghini would release its next era defining supercar the Diablo.