Growing up as a kid in the 70's and driving in the 80's not one person I knew of did not dream of the Lamborghini as their "When I get older car." or when I make it big. It was the car that adorned all our walls. Posters of the legendary Countach was the dream. Reliving the chase see from Cannonball run and more. So how did it all begin? Well in this installment of Crown Classic Cars we are going to turn back the clock and go to a time when we dreamed. Dreamed of owning a Lamborghini.
In production from 1974 to 1990, the Lamborghini Countach is one of the most iconic sports cars of all time. It pioneered countless design aesthetics such as: the wedge-shaped, sharply angled look seen in countless sports cars of today (including most of Lamborghini’s models since); the ‘cabin forward’ concept which pushes the passenger compartment forward to accommodate a larger engine; and of course the trademark ‘scissor doors’ that lifted up and tilted forwards.
A car the postered every wall aroung the globe in the 70's and 80's, this classic supercar saw a total of 2,042 cars built during its 5-model, 16-year lifetime. So kick back and enjoy the ride of the Lamborghini Countach from beginning to end.
So first lets look at history.
Nobody thought a relatively new exotic automaker would seriously compete with Ferrari in the 1960s, when it was well-established, but nobody figured there would be a Lamborghini.
By the next decade, it seemed that every boy and young man in the civilized world put a poster of the wild 1974-90 Lamborghini Countach sports car on his bedroom wall, where Ferrari posters were noticeably absent. The Countach was the ultimate automotive fantasy poster car for more than a decade.
Enzo Ferrari gained fame in auto racing circles with Alfa Romeo race teams before World War II and started his own auto company with its racing arm after that war. Lamborghini didn't come along until the early 1960s, but it soon became a prime Ferrari road car rival.
The story goes that Lamborghini began building autos in 1964 after self-made multimillionaire Italian industrialist Ferruccio Lamborghini became unhappy a few years earlier with his temperamental Ferraris and told Enzo he could make a better car.
"You stick to making tractors, I'll continue making world-class sports cars," Ferrari supposedly told Lamborghini, founder of the automaker that carried his name.
Ferruccio then methodically built an ultramodern auto factory near Ferrari headquaters in northern Italy, hired that country's top auto talent and began making cars many thought were superior to Ferrari road cars.
While Enzo Ferrari lived for racing his cars, Ferruccio Lamborghini didn't feel racing was necessary. Even Maserati, an old-line Italian exotic sports car builder and longtime Ferrari racing rival, pretty much gave up racing in the 1960s, partly because it had become too expensive, and concentrated on making fast road cars.
Lamborghini came up with the Countach because it needed a successor to its fast, wild-looking 1967-72 Miura sports car, which was the most exciting exotic Italian sports car of its day, topping Ferrari models.
To the drawing board.
The Countach was styled by Marcello Gandini of the Bertone design studio, the same designer and studio that designed the Miura. Gandini was then a young, inexperienced designer—not very experienced in the practical, ergonomic aspects of automobile design, but at the same time unhindered by them. He produced a quite striking design. The Countach shape was wide and low (42.1 inches), but not very long (only 163 inches). Its angular and wedge-shaped body was made almost entirely of flat, trapezoidal panels.
A single prototype was built, the LP500 (the 500 standing for the 5 L displacement of the engine which was intended to be used). Painted bright sunflower yellow, the car was a stunner at the Geneva Motor Show in 1971. Sporting Gandini’s original design concepts, the car’s design needed extensive modification for production. In particular, the small air intake ducts on the car’s rear shoulders proved insufficient to cool the engine, and large ‘air box’ scoops were added in that position. Large NACA ducts were added on the sides to give additional air. The experimental car was also constructed of aluminum honeycomb sheeting among other things, which was dropped for production.
The car did not survive; it was crucified in a crash test to gain European safty approval. The Countach’s styling and visual impression caused it to become the icon of future design to almost everyone except automotive engineers. The superior performance characteristics of later Lamborghini models (such as the Diablo, or the Murciélago) appealed to performance car drivers and engineers, but they never had the originality or outrageousness that gave the Countach its distinction. The different impressions left by the various Lamborghini models have generated numerous debates and disagreements over what constitutes ‘classic’ or ‘great’ automotive design. Style vs. Tech and Engineering!
The Lamborghini Countach LP400
The Countach entered production as the LP400 with a 4.0-litre (3929 cc) 375 PS engine. The first production Countach was delivered to an Australian in 1974. Externally, little had altered from the final form of the prototype except at the rear, where conventional lights replaced the futuristic light clusters of the prototype.
The styling had become more aggressive than Gandini’s original conception, with the required large air scoops and vents to keep the car from overheating, but the overall shape was still very sleek. The original LP400 rode on quite narrow tires, but their narrowness and the slick styling meant that this version had the lowest drag coefficient of any Countach model and possibly the highest top speed. The emblems at the rear simply read “Lamborghini” and “Countach”, with no engine displacement or valve arrangement markings as is found on later cars. By the end of 1977 the company had produced 158 Countach LP400s.
Today, you may feel surprise that the earliest Countach was so pure in shape - without extended wheel arches, no front spoiler, with narrow tires and flat engine lid. Undoubtedly, this is the most loyal to Gandini's spirit. You might surprise how old-fashion the Michelin XWX tires were - 14 inches diameter, 70% profile, 205 mm width for the front wheels and 215 mm for the rear ... obviously this was unsuitable to such a supercar. However, also because of this, LP400 had better aerodynamic drag than its successors, therefore it was actually quicker in top speed than LP400S and LP500S.
There was another unique feature in LP400: instead of a normal rear-view mirror, it had a periscope mirror recess in a characteristic groove on the roof.
The Lamborghini Countach LP400S
In 1978, a new LP400S model was introduced. Though the engine was slightly downgraded from the LP400 model (355 PS), the most radical changes were in the exterior, where the tires were replaced with much wider Pirelli P7 units, and fiberglass wheel arch extensions were added, giving the car the fundamental look it kept until the end of its production run. An optional V-shaped spoiler was available over the rear deck, which, while improving high-speed stability, reduced the top speed by at least 10 MPH. Most owners ordered the wing. The handling of the LP400S was improved by the wider tires which made the car more stable in cornering. Aesthetically, some prefer the slick lines of the original while others prefer the more aggressive lines of the later models, beginning with the LP400S. The standard emblems (“Lamborghini” and “Countach”) were kept at the rear, but an angular “S” emblem was added after the “Countach” on the right side. Thanks to Dallara, who worked as a consultant to Lamborghini at the time, a modified LP400 was launched in 1978. The most important change was the adoption of Pirelli's. No road car in history had ever used rear tires as wide as this 345 mm P7, even until today! In addition to the latest low profile technology, grip was increased significantly without hurting ride quality. Now Countach had the right tires to match with its tremendous power.
To accommodate wider tires, extended wheel arches made of glass fiber were added, which also enhanced aggressive feeling. Air dam was added under the nose, while a V-shape huge rear wing was listed as a popular option for increasing high speed stability as well as visual aggression. Many people including me like the wing, but its extra drag cost at least 10 mph at top speed.
Even without the wing, LP400S had considerably higher aerodynamic drag than LP400, thanks to the widened wheel arches and tires. This inevitably deteriorated top speed, especially when the V12 was carried over without the slightest alteration. Acceleration was also worsened because an extra 50 kilograms were added to the curb weight.
However, judging by handling, the LP400S never let us down - cornering ability was not in doubt anymore. Obviously, Lamborghini knew that an all-time supercar must have handling matching speed.
As mentioned already, the V12 was not changed at all, but a more honest appraisal resulted in 353 hp instead of 375 hp.
There are three distinct Countach LP400S Series:
Series One — The first 50 cars delivered with Campagnolo “Bravo” wheels in 1978 & 79. The very early 1978 cars had the original LP400 steering wheel. Small Stewart Warner gauges, 45mm carburetors and a lowered suspension (low-body) setting is a trademark feature of this celebrated first series. Halfway through 1979’s production, bigger gauges were employed. 50 cars were built.
Series Two — These cars are recognized by their smooth finish dished/concave wheels, and still retain the low-body setting. 105 cars were built.
Series Three — The cockpit space available was raised by 3 cm. These cars are recognized by their raised suspension setting. 82 cars were built.
The Lamborghini LP500S
1982 saw another improvement, this time giving a bigger, more powerful 5 litre engine. The bodywork was unaltered. This version of the car is sometimes called the LP5000S. Let alone the originally proposed 200 mph target, Countach again and again let down motor journalists whenever testing against the clock. The LP400S was probably slower than 160 mph, that is, much inferior to its predecessor, the aerodynamic superior Miura. However, due to the financial uncertainty (Ferruccio Lamborghini sold his company just before Countach launched, then the company changed hands frequently), a new Countach was not born until 1982.
Also known as LP5000S in America, LP500S got an upgraded engine, now displaced at 4754 c.c. by increasing 3.5 mm bore and 7 mm stroke. As much as 302 lbft of torque was available at 4,500 rpm, though tougher emission control prevented the power from exceeding 375 hp. This V12 surely improved the disappointed performance - top speed rose to about 165 mph, while 0-60 mph was down to 5.6 sec. There were no much changes in other aspect. The body was virtually the same as LP400S, although the roof was raised by 30 mm for more headroom.
The Countach 5000QV & U.S. Model
In 1985, Lamborghini made the biggest improvement to Countach. The V12 was stroked to 5,167 c.c., incorporated a 4-valve cylinder head (called "Quattro-valvole" in Italian, which gave its name "QV") thus a total of 48 valves. Power jumped to a world-beating 455 hp, torque rose to 369 lbft. Finally, the Countach produced more power than the originally proposed LP500 prototype, which would have been capable of 440 hp from 5 litres of displacement.
Forget the 200 mph dream, this would never be achieved with the same aerodynamic. As the body was virtually unchanged from LP500S, people were happy to see the QV could run up to slightly over 180 mph, which was among the fastest in the world. Ferrari 288GTO and Testarossa had more or less the same top speed while other competitors were quite far below than that.
Compare with LP500S's engine, the 48-valve QV unit was very powerful and revvy, it was certainly a jewel on the road. The extra power was mainly achieved by the larger valves and the re-positioned Weber carburetors - now mounted vertically instead of horizontally to enable straight forward engine breathing. However, this resulted in a large mound on the engine lid thus deteriorated the precious rear visibility.
Other minor changes included:
For the first time, a US specification model was produced by the factory, with styling changes to allow bumpers to meet US federal standards (large, bulky bumpers were used that, to many people, ruined the smooth lines of the car). Although this change was the most notable on the exterior, the most prominent change under the hood was the use of Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection providing 420 PS, rather than the six Weber carburetors providing 455bhp used in the Euro-spec model. The 1985 US model had a base price close to $100,000. Only two optional extras were available: a $5,500 aerodynamic spoiler and a $7,500 sound system. As for other markets, 1987 and 1988 model Quattrovalves received straked sideskirts. US version 5000QV
The US version differed from the European version mainly by the engine's fuel system because of stricter emission requirement. With Bosch K-Jetronic instead of the six Webers, power dropped to 420 hp. Besides, the "power dome" on the engine lid was split into two to house the new fuel system. Federal regulations also changed the bumpers, rear lights etc.
Lamborghini Countach 25th Anniversary
Launched in 1988, this car was named to celebrate the 25 anniversary of the company.
Mechanically, it was nearly identical to the 5000QV, except that several changes were made to shoot some long-existing problems. One of the old problems was the cooling for brakes and engine. As you can see in the pictures, more ventilation holes were opened in the air dam, side skirts and engine lid. The air box intakes were also enlarged. In styling, vertical grilles instead of horizontal were employed simply to refresh your eyes. However, the air dam and side skirts were particularly unmatched with the original styling. Personally I hate the new look very much.
Lamborghini was already taken over by Chrysler, so you won't be surprised to discover that electric seats and even power windows were made though many do not now why. Now the bumpers and side skirts were also made of carbon fiber, perhaps to offset the weight of "power everything". Countach was really changed ... it was no longer the pure performance machine that inspired by Ferruccio Lamborghini, engineered by Paolo Stanzani and styled by Marcello Gandini. After all, who really wanted those luxury items in such a cramped supercar ?
Named to honor the company’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 1988, the 25th Anniversary Countach was mechanically very similar to the 5000QV but sported much changed styling. The rear ‘air boxes’ were restyled and enlarged, while the vents behind them were changed so that they ran front to back instead of side to side. In addition, a new air dam and side skirting, both with air intakes, were fitted, and the taillights were restyled to be narrower, with body-colored panels replacing the upper and lower parts of the previous large taillights. The styling changes were unpopular with many, particularly since the intakes had strakes in them that appeared to mimic those on the Ferrari Testarossa, but they improved the engine’s cooling, a problem the Countach had always struggled with. It also featured 345/35R15 tires; the widest tires available on a production car at the time. The Anniversary was produced through 1990 when it was replaced by the Lamborghini Diablo.
The initial plan was to make the Countach a very limited-production car that would be available only to those who proved themselves skilled enough to drive a road car that acted much like a race car. Ferruccio Lamborghini was reluctant to even offer air conditioning because it might make the Countach civilized enough for unskilled drivers. But it eventually was decided to make air conditioning and even leather upholstery standard. Having driven the 25th and the LP400, I can tell you that skill is needed to drive the car to it's limits. The gear shifting is difficult in the gate. You can really only see what's in front of you. But at that speed and style, who cares what's behind you.
Rear visibility was terrible, though--you had to open the door and sit on the sill while looking over a shoulder when the car was in reverse gear. The Countach is the most difficult car to back up in, and sitting on the sill while working the brakes, cluth and pedal at the same time does take some getting use too. Steering was heavy, and the interior was cramped, with an overnight bag consuming most luggage space. If you're between 5'7 and 6'0" the seating is perfect. above that the tightness starts to take affect.
But such faults were expected in such an exotic car and were forgiven because the Countach looked spectacular and had a race car's speed, handling, braking and stability. And it was generally practical and reliable for a supercar, nearly as comfortable in city traffic as when moving at full speed on the highway
Still today, the Countach - especially the LP 400 of the first series - is in great demand, most notably because of the iconic visuals of this version, such as the characteristic shape, lack of large mudguards, and rear spoilers. 151 units of the Countach LP 400 were produced between 1974 and 1978. The Countach finally was replaced by Lamborghini's rakish Diablo model after a Countach Anniversary Coupe was produced. The more modern Diablo was generally a better car, but it lacked the amazing allure of the Countach. Now it's time to go play the opening scene of Cannonball Run again to relive mine just a bit.