Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lamborghini Countach
Restoration World Review #9

The Supercar That 
Changed The World

It's hard to imagine, today, just how much the Countach affected the perception of the modern automobile

The 1971 Geneva Motor Show was absolutely rocked by this car. And even though the Cold War raged between America and the Soviets, Italy said:

"Meh. We got a new car that does 200 mph. It gets bad gas mileage, but so what? You wanna see it?" 

Err...yes we do

Did the motoring public love the Countach and ache for Lamborghini to build more? 

Yep, bet on that 

First, a little history...

A lot of people aren't aware of how innovative America's submarine technology was in 1954. That's okay. But the USS Nautilus was beyond innovation. 

It scared the crap out of Russia, which was the whole point.

Brand new nuclear tech made 20,000 miles of underwater travel on a golf-ball sized chunk of uranium an everyday thing for the Nautilus.

By comparison, a Russian diesel sub would need 11,000 tons of fuel-oil to make the same trip. A no-brainer, actually. America was damn scary.

The same could applied to to Italy's new Countach....

It was a supercar to end all supercars....but....the term hadn't been coined yet. Rather odd.

The world was a very different place in 1971. The Vietnam war was raging in Southeast Asia, and the Soviet Union was a real threat to America and Europe.

A cultural revolution that involved rock music and free love was taking place in the states, while a different and deadly revolution was happening in China. 

The average person had never heard of the term 'supercar' yet, but they were about to.

Most people drove this to work every day:

1971 Vauxhall

A small Italian car company, opened mainly because a tractor magnate named Ferroccio Lamborghini was pissed off at Enzo Ferrari, released a car to the buying public that didn't seem real at first. 

Lamborghini started making sports cars in 1964, and saw moderate success with the ground-breaking Miura and the clean, pure lines of the Espada. 


All of the designs were mid-engine high-performance sports cars that broke down often, like any true Italian car should. 


But even by today's standards, the Miura is fast. In 1969 terms, it was a rocket. Lamborghini followed this success with the disappointing Islero and the space-age Urraco.


The world economy was starting to slip badly as the Geneva Motor Show commenced in 1971. The prototype Countach, known as the LP400, was unveiled. 

Until that time, all cars built by Lamborghini had names associated with bullfighting. 

Countach, however, is word in the Piedmontese language that men spoke upon seeing a beautiful woman, and probably equal to Mel Gibson exclaiming, 'Hey, sugartits!'

The Countach stunned those who attended the show. It was daring. It was striking. It was a Stinger missile in a world of six-shooters. 

The scissor doors were an incredible innovation, but not a lot of people realize that the young designer of the Countach, Marcello Gandini, had almost no experience in car design....and no experience whatsoever in practical car design. 

All the better for us, I say.

The car was extremely low to the ground, the super strong aluminum chassis made the car very hard to get in and out of, but it was light. 

There was no rear visibility. It was an oven inside, and even the later air-conditioned models were like being blown on by an asthmatic mouse.

No one cared. 

The Countach was a mega hit.

In 1974, when the Countach went into production, every car lover wanted one, and every young boy dreamed about them, no matter what country he was in. I had a poster of a black Countach on my wall in 1979, while most people were futzing around in Detroit Iron. 

In the meantime, things weren't rosy for Lamborghini, or any of the other Italian car manufacturers, for that matter.

The average American drove this:

During the Jewish Yom Kippur Holiday in 1973, the Arab Coalition attacked Israel, which drove up fuel prices by 70%. Maserati and Ferrari sales were instantly cut in half, but Lamborghini fared even worse. 

Ferroccio Lamborghini sold off all of his shares in the company in 1974 and retired. Lamborghini fell into bankruptcy in 1978 as the world moved on to more practical cars that sipped gas rather than guzzled it.

Lamborghini, despite the problems, continued to develop the Countach. 

The traditional V-12 was constantly upgraded - starting at 4 liters and winding up at 5.2. Externally, the Countach changed very little over the years...with the noticeable exception of various wings and huge air ducts to cool the constantly overheating engine.

Fuel injection technology never caught up with the Countach during its production run, and they used six Weber carbs for a crisp throttle response. 

It is interesting to note that the last two years of the U.S. version used Bosch fuel injection, and the horsepower dropped from 455 to 414 as a result.

The Countach, in terms of styling, is a legend, and probably the world's most recognizable car. Today, the same could be said of the Diablo, but it isn't a first like the Countach.

I have never driven a Countach, and most likely never will. 

That's fine. 

By all accounts, the car was a bitch to drive, and even worse to park. I'm good with just looking at the Countach, because they say you should never meet your heros. 

The Countach is a very good example of that.

What is your 
favorite supercar?

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