The faithful will tell you there really doesn’t have to be an excuse to gather a group of what is accepted by many to be THE ultimate Supercar of all time: the Lamborghini Countach. That being said, it was indeed 35 years ago that Project 112 was given the nod for production, and the rest as they say is history. Production proper started 2 years later, and we can count yet more celebrations in a couple years. Countach owners and enthusiasts alike will need little convincing to join in.
Project 112 traces its lineage back to Bertone’s Carabo and Lancia Stratos wedge-shape designs. When Lamborghini came calling for a blank sheet of paper fresh design for the Supercar theme by now becoming outmoded with the Miura, Bertone assigned the design job to the same young man who had completed the Miura’s design – Marcello Gandini. The resultant stunning shape had Nuccio Bertone gasping “Countach!”, and a star was born.
Employing the Carabo’s upward opening doors and radiators mounted in the car’s flanks – Formula One technology at the time – the yellow prototype dubbed “LP500” shocked the world at the 1971 Geneva Salon. The motoring press and enthusiasts alike were agog at the futuristic and impossibly lithe design. But Chief engineer Paolo Stanzani and development engineer Bob Wallace had only one thing in mind: convincing Ferruccio Lamborghini that the publicity Show Car should in fact go into production and become a road car.
In a recent interview Stanzani asserts:” We had to come up with something radical, a car with unusual styling, hence the pure lines and ‘Carabo’ doors”.
Road testing began in earnest with Bob Wallace at the wheel and a reliable 4-litre engine in the car. Two problems presented themselves: chassis flex and overheating.
The former was solved by a rigid tubular frame ‘birdcage’ chassis and the latter by mounting the radiators amidships just like in a Formula One car of the day. With these solutions implemented, the LP400 was created the following year by way of a single prototype (currently resident in Lamborghini’s own Museo after all these years), but it was not until 1974 that the car was ready for production proper. Keen to avoid the situation with the Miura where early cars were experimental fright pigs, Chief development engineer Bob Wallace and his team tested the prototype relentlessly. The result was that the production LP400 was in Wallace’s words: “Miles ahead of what the Miura could ever be” right from the onset.
A legendary trip by Wallace & Stanzani to see the Targa Florio in Sicily had them convinced that they indeed had something special, and although at this point Ferruccio Lamborghini was removed from operations at Sant Agata, Stanzani sought and received his blessing that the LP112 project go from concept to production.
By June 1974 production was well underway and the press treated the Countach as the Supercar Du Jour. With its svelte silhouette, the LP400 easily claimed the title as “The World’s Fastest Production Car”, Road & Track asserting that the example they tested was capable of 192mph. Bob Wallace told this writer that on FIAT’s proving ground, and electronically timed 185mph was in reality the maximum velocity attainable by the LP400 – at a time when most production cars topped out at 100mph!
Affectionately monikered ‘Periscopa’, these cars represent the original Countach concept almost exactly as the prototype was conceived. Pure and unadorned, Periscopas have legions of enthusiasts for whom nothing else will do but this first variant. Thirty five years after its conception, this benchmark angular shape is saluted by stylists and designers worldwide.
Walter Wolf started and funded the foray towards wider wheels and parallel-linked suspension and thus the 1978 LP400S was born. With Bravo wheels, fiberglass slats, lowered suspension and menacing stance, the Series One cars are an awesome sight to behold. Series Two cars gained the smooth-style wheels and Series Three cars gained smaller carburetors making them the slowest Countachs built.
It took till 1982 for a 5-litre unit to be developed and deemed reliable for production Countachs, but with Alfieri in charge 1982 saw the first 5-litre Lamborghini drive away from the Sant Agata plant. Just 323 examples were built over three years making them fairly rare.
No less than 455 bhp was the result of a revised downdraught unit for the QV, a car that by then had the Countach in production for 10 plus years. More power however, did not translate into more top end speed and even the QV would not best the original LP400’s 185mph.
Horacio Pagani was given the job of designing the Countach’s final flamboyant flourish, and if you remember that this was 1988, the car represents the era perfectly. With 500 small upgrades from the QV and a chassis and suspension dialed in by three-time world rally driving champion, Sandro Munari, the 25th Anniversary had handling and performance that belied its looks.
One thing is for sure: the Countach stayed in production for an astonishing 16 years. In whichever version, it gained the reputation as being The Most Photographed Car of all time. Just look at one and you’ll understand why.