40 Years of Miura
It took just an hour in the suffocating afternoon heat in front of a shocked crowd of 10,000 jammed into the small Plaza de Toros in Linares, for a ferocious Miura bull to end the life of ‘Manolete,’ widely accepted as “The Greatest Matador Who Ever Lived.” If the ferocious beasts from Seville were previously well-known just to bullfighting aficionados, the death of ‘Manolete’ on the 28th of August 1947 upon the horns of one of its fiercest ensured immortality for the Miura bulls forever and struck fear in the hearts of matadors. Hemingway wrote that in the Spanish-speaking world, grown men mourning ‘Manolete’s death wept on street corners and came to blows attempting to crowd cinemas to capacity to watch newsreels of their slain bullfighting god over and over again. “Only a Miura bull could take our hero away….” they cried. Thus the Miura legend was truly born.
In 1962, tractor manufacturer and industrialist Ferruccio Lamborghini visited Don Eduardo Miura Fernandez whose family bred its unique fighting bulls at the ranch in Seville. He left inspired by the majesty and power of the Miura bulls, and being a Taurean himself, he adopted the sign of the raging bull as the logo and badge for all the cars he was shortly to begin producing. Ferruccio never forgot how impressed he was with the mythical bulls bred at the Seville ranch. When his young design team headed by Gian Paolo Dallara came up with an awesome super car concept three years later, there was no question what the car would be named. Miura!
In 1965, Gian Paolo Dallara assisted by Paolo Stanzani and their small team, developed the concept of a road-going mid-engined super car. Prior to then the mid-engined concept had been utilized for competition cars only, and a V12 mid-engined sports car was truly a first. Excitement was in the air as talk of Lamborghini becoming a force in competition was rumored. But few understood just how astute Ferruccio Lamborghini really was and he had included a prohibition against racing in company by-laws, effectively establishing the purpose of the cars built by Lamborghini strictly as sports cars for the road.
The initial naked Miura chassis was shown at the Turin Salon of 1965 to much acclaim and speculation, especially amongst scribes of the day. Ferruccio Lamborghini basked in the limelight, cashing in on the publicity generated by the speculation that this was the chassis of a racecar with which Lamborghini was to settle old scores with Ferrari. One has to remember that this was 40 years ago: America had just become involved in the Viet Nam War and The Beatles topped the charts. This was the heady era of the Swinging Sixties when hair was long, miniskirts were short and anything was possible… Then at the Geneva salon of 1966, the Miura complete with bodywork designed by Bertone was shown for the first time. Ferrari was stunned by the appearance of the fully clothed car and needless to say, the mid-engined Miura caused a great deal of consternation at Maranello. The car’s breathtaking beauty all but created a frenzy of interest accompanied by a flood of orders. In May, Ferruccio had Wallace take the prototype P400 to the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, even managing to get it accepted for a few laps as a pace car, a promotional move that guaranteed instant fame. The crowd around the new Miura strategically parked outside the Casino was reputed to be five deep all weekend. That was until Ferruccio himself got in and fired up the V12. Then the crowds were 10 deep!
Dallara’s young team of engineers worked night and day to produce a car that could meet the demands of enthusiasts. What the car lacked in engineering development, it made up for with its raw beauty. The original Miura team under Gian Paolo Dallara was as follows: Paolo Stanzani dealt with stress tolerance, Achille Bevini oversaw chassis development, Oliviero Pedrazzi took care of engine production, Roberto Frignani ran the engine testing program, Gianni Malosi oversaw overall production, and finally Bob Wallace completed testing and development of the car on the road. This young team of men accomplished an astonishing feat in bringing this unique concept into reality, and Dallara confirms today that if anyone wants to know what really went on with Miura production, the above-mentioned are the ones who truly hold the key.
In reality, just one year of development wasn’t sufficient to produce a properly engineered car, and the early Miuras were lacking in terms of reliability. However Le Mans winner Paul Frere summed it up best in the period when he said: “If you have money, lots of it, you’ll just buy one and to hell with the (problems).” The Miura was definitely the “it” car of the second half of the 60s. Anyone who was anyone had one. Formula One race driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise drove to the European races in his yellow P400 (3108). Said Beltoise: “I had my car tuned by the factory so it could actually do 300kph”…. one imagines he was never late for a race event, until he destroyed the car in a high-speed accident! On the other hand, singer/actor Dean Martin enjoyed his P400 (3237) at a more sedate pace down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with a drink in one hand, a cigar in the other, and a starlet in the passenger seat helping to guide the wheel!
Ferruccio Lamborghini reveled in the promotion of his new super car, often participating in the delivery of new cars to VIP customers. Not forgetting the friend whose brave bulls the cars were in fact named after, Ferruccio delivered the fourth P400 made, 0961, (following its April 1967 Barcelona Motor Show duties) to Don Eduardo Miura himself, and stayed at the Miura ranch in Seville. This would not be the last time the loyal Ferruccio Lamborghini would bestow a Lamborghini upon Don Miura to commemorate their enduring friendship which lasted until Ferruccio’s death. The bond between these two men who were at the pinnacle of their chosen areas of interest, was a special one and Don Miura was proud to sanction the use of his name for the cars.
Miura production continued into the late 60s with the car evolving with necessary upgrades including a thicker reinforced chassis, vented disc brakes, a revised interior etc. This version became known as the Miura P400S. Customers all over the world ordered the cars in trippy shades of orange, lime green and other psychedelic hues. In addition to the mainstay markets such as the USA, Germany, Italy, France, the Middle East etc, Miuras were delivered to such far-flung places such as Venezuela, South Africa and even Haiti.
By late 1969 in the wake of Dallara’s departure, chief development engineer Bob Wallace had gained permission from lead engineer Paolo Stanzani to build an experimental version of the Miura known as the Jota, pronounced ‘Yo-ta’. With a dry-sumped engine (the only Miura thus specified upon production) and lightweight materials, this rivet-covered one-off Miura simply looked like a racecar, but was ultimately destined for a life limited to testing various engineering enhancements for the production Miura. Modern-day assumptions that the Jota was perhaps a test-bed for the upcoming Countach are simply incorrect – the Countach was a completely ‘fresh’ concept conceived from the proverbial ‘blank sheet of paper’, whilst the Jota served as the true prototype for the ultimate version of the Miura, the SV. Unfortunately, in early 1972 the Jota was written-off in a high-speed accident by a hapless Italian dealer showing off his limited driving skills to a passenger. By all damning accounts it was a terrible accident that almost took the life of driver and passenger, and completely destroyed this valuable piece of Lamborghini history.
The cover of the August 1971 issue of England’s CAR magazine featured the Jota, and several faithful Lamborghini clients noticed. It wasn’t long before the works were being asked to modify Miuras to look like the Jota, cars nowadays referred to as SVJs or “Jota replicas.” It is the old Italian car story of five cars built with eight surviving! Lore has it that these Jota replicas were cars with special engines and mechanicals, but this isn’t so. Basically, SVJs were all wet-sumped standard spec SVs, cosmetically modified by the works from their original Bertone-built SV production, with some Jota features – although items such as the brake vents cut into to fenders behind the wheels were in fact just dummies, without proper ducting of any sort! Rumor and innuendo surround these Jota replicas with everything from race engines to snow tires suggested, but these tales have simply been concocted by story-tellers and imaginative salesmen. Ultimately SVJs are partial replicas of the one-and-only true original Jota, and none of them were granted official designation by the factory on their chassis identification plates, to distinguish them from any modified SV. Purists therefore consider that that there was only one real Jota (destroyed), and all the surviving remainder are replicas to varying specification.
SV production commenced in March 1971 with a single-sump version of the Miura SV. By October 1971 the much sought after split sump version was at last in production. In April 1972 the works prepared a split sump SV (5038) for the Barcelona Motor Show to show its final production version of the Miura, marking the end of an era. However production of the seminal super car continued until October 1973, with 4822, a right-hand-drive car as the last Miura built and delivered as per period factory documentation. The myth of Miura production ending precisely with 5110 at the end of 1972 is just that – a myth, propagated in the main by the current custodian of that car. Four additional SVs (5092, 5108, 4826 & 4822) and one SVJ (4860) were built in 1973, as Miura production slowed perceptibly, coinciding with the diversion of resources towards the testing, development and production of the new Countach.
That the Miura’s production came to a close under the shadow of the new Countach takes nothing away from the Miura. In fact it is a testament to the Miura’s enduring appeal that the factory were able to go on and sell 140 plus examples of the SV after the Countach concept had already debuted, and all this in spite of an impending oil and economic crises. Nonetheless, the Miura is a classic for the ages, and in recent times this mythical icon has enjoyed a renewed appreciation for what it is. The original Miura SV was finally truly feted in the April 2005 issue of the premier classic car magazine OCTANE. This definitive account of the production and specification of the SV says it all and makes it clear that the SV was the pinnacle of the developed Miura. To most aficionados seeking a Miura that remains as it was originally conceived and manufactured, the Miura SV is The Holy Grail. As Wallace said: “The SV is a completely different car:” properly developed as compared to the early P400 was what Wallace meant. The marketplace has a way of endorsing greatness, and thus it comes as no surprise to see SVs changing hands for three or four times the price of a P400. The front page of the Octane piece summed it up best when it announced “40 years of the Most Beautiful Car in the World.” That alone, is exactly what this second Miura Reunion celebrates.