After that everything was different
“Of course, the Miura is the greatest icon for the Lamborghini brand. But the Countach is certainly the most important model of all – the Countach defines Lamborghini to this day,” says Federico Foschini, who is responsible for marketing at the Italian company, among other things. And the Polo Storico. In other words, the department that deals intensively with the history of the brand. Foschini should know, he is something like the guardian of the past at Lamborghini. “We don’t have a great racing history like other manufacturers,” says Foschini, “but we have had a stringent design language since the Countach, and no other brand has that”.
We don’t want to tell the whole Countach story again, we already have: here (sorry, just in German). But briefly, simply this: When the sheet was pulled off the Lamborghini Countach LP500 at the Geneva Show at 10 o’clock in the morning on 11 March 1971, the automotive world stopped for a few minutes. Anyone who saw the yellow prototype on the Bertone stand knew that nothing would ever be the same again. True, Marcello Gandini had brought the true wedge shape to the wheels before, the Carabo for Alfa Romeo (1968), the ultimate Stratos Zero for Lancia (1970), but the Countach was: pure geometry. The very pure doctrine. Never before had the car world seen such a vehicle, this first design, painted bright yellow, was free of spoilers, sills and other growths. It was a fist-punch against visual habits, absolute aggressiveness, brutal functionality – infinite charisma.
Mid-engine, that was clear. But in contrast to the Miura, this was now to be installed longitudinally at the rear, LP, longitudinale posteriore. Paolo Stanzani, at that time general manager and technical director and in general responsible for everything at Lamborghini, also dreamed of a more powerful engine, the 3.9-litre V12, once designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, had reached its performance limits; Stanzani wanted more displacement for more torque, 5 litres and over 400 hp, i.e. LP500.
Enthusiasm for the Countach was great, still in Geneva it was decided that it had to go into series production; orders were already plentiful. But things turned out differently, Lamborghini stumbled, in 1972 Ferruccio Lamborghini had to sell the tractor division to the Same Group, got the investors Georges-Henri Rossetti and René Leimer on board for the sports cars. A very hectic period began, in May 1972 Rossetti/Leimer gave the green light to build the Countach, but there was no money to develop the 5-litre V12 further, so the familiar 3.9-litre was used. The LP400 was 4.14 metres long, 1.99 metres wide and only 1.07 metres high when it was unveiled at the 1973 Geneva Show (though the first customer car was not delivered until 11 April 1974); the wheelbase was 2.45 metres.
However, before the new cars designated as Lamborghini Countach LP400 could be homologated, the prototype still had to die. During the Mira test in England, it was driven at 50 km/h against a 110 tonne concrete block. This shortened it by half a metre. There are still many rumours about the wreck, it is said to have stood in the rain in Sant’Agata for decades. Or in Switzerland with a collector. Or, it doesn’t matter. Incidentally, there are also no reliable sources as to whether the 5-litre engine actually ever existed, whether Bob Wallace really drove to the Geneva Motor Show under his own steam the night before the premiere.
A lot of research has been done in the past four years. In 2017, the most important Lamborghini collector of all, a Swiss, approached the Polo Storico and suggested rebuilding the LP500 after all. The months of preliminary analysis were long and hard; for a long time, Lamborghini was not sure whether it was really possible. Then they consulted the still living engineers of the project, which had once been codenamed 112 (Paolo Stanzani, the most important man, had unfortunately passed away at the beginning of 2017), they found the old plans, they managed to convince Pirelli to rebuild the original tyres.
It was a never-ending process, around 25,000 hours of work had to be invested. The body, which was hand-beaten in the traditional Italian way, took months of work. The interior was reconstructed with the help of contemporary photos. The technical restoration should be a little easier. For the Lamborghini Countach LP500 used the Bizzarrini V12 design that already did duty in the other bulls. So Lamborghini proudly points out that all mechanical components are either original spare parts, restored components or parts remanufactured to original specifications; in principle, they can now supply the entire powertrain of the Countach models as a spare part from the factory. The only problem is that the 5-litre V12 doesn’t run smoothly yet, so a lot of tuning work is still needed.
We are standing deep in the night in a dark hall in the industrial area of Sant’Agata. In front of us: the Lamborghini Countach LP500, this legendary prototype (and the new Lamborghini Countach LPI800-4). Of course, we only have eyes for the grandfather of all Countach, for this 50-year-old quintessence of the sports car. Which, even 50 years after its premiere in Geneva, is a wonder that almost leaves you a little speechless. Or moves you to tears. And leads to the question: What came after that was better? It is beautiful, it is important that it is back. Whenever you have the chance to see this vehicle up close, you have to take it. It’s a bit like the “Mona Lisa” of automotive history.