Customer service spats don’t usually give birth to entire car companies, but that’s how Lamborghini was born.
Ferruccio Lamborghini’s sub-five-star experience with the maintenance of his Ferrari 250GT led to the wealthy Sant’Agata tractor maker failing to achieve a conversation with Enzo Ferrari – provoking Lamborghini into building his own supercars instead.
And incredibly he did, the first Lamborghini 350 GTV appearing in 1963. That soon metamorphosed into the less troubled production 350 GT (pictured), which was rapidly followed by the 400 GT (next picture).
Building low-volume supercars was so much easier in the regulation-free old days, it seems. But impressive though these scratch-built early Lambos were – and an admirable reaction from a man who’d had a bit of clutch trouble – they didn’t make such a massive impact in an Italy that was regularly churning out coach-built, high-performance specials.
But no one expected what Ferruccio managed next, least of all those tetchy makers of supercars just down the road in Maranello. At the 1965 Turin motor show Lamborghini pulled the sheet from a transverse V12 mounted in a steel spaceframe whose four corners were independently suspended.
This was race-car technology, and it came at a time when most supercars had front-mounted engines that usually drove crude old live back axles.
Lamborghini had cocked his gun. Now, just a few months later at the 1966 Geneva motor show, he unleashed it with a spray of breath-freezing bullets when the spectacular bodywork of the Gandini-designed Miura was revealed, its panels perfectly draped over the V12 and the Lamborghini’s wheels. From its fat-slatted, matt black rear window louvres to the delicate eyelashes framing those wickedly imploring pop-up headlamps, the exquisitely proportioned Miura oozed come-drive-me perfection.
It famously delivered a little less of this on the road, neither managing the goose-pimpling top speeds claimed for it nor providing the kind of high-end physical experience you might hope for from high-calibre wheels like this, a mix of uncomfortable seats, uncertain B-road stability and hefty controls providing drivers with a workout likely to leave them looking decidedly uncool and disconnected when they opened a shapely door at journey’s end.
That the Miura was more zzz-max than V-max turned out to be a good thing, the wing-like sculpting around its sensuous, matt black mouth proving to be exactly that, some testers claiming near-total front wheel lift as the V12 howled towards the flat-out. The Miura needed downforce, more stability and more power, too.
All would come, if at the expense of a little delicacy of style, but what mattered more than getting the details right – though many would argue that going airborne past 160mph qualifies as more than a detail – was that the Miura rearranged the heart of the supercar and fired its styling in all kinds of radical new directions.
Many of those were realised by Lamborghini itself with the Urraco and Countach, its bold new confidence turning the raging bull into a legend strong enough - in reputation if not financial foundation - to pull in the cash and ambitions of of starry-eyed entrepreneurs and car companies, until it fell into the safer hands of Audi, in 1998.
But without the Miura it’s highly possible that Lamborghini would have joined Iso, OSCA, Bizzarrini and Cizetta in the graveyard of Italian supercar makers – bright comets that sparkled before commercial reality brought extinction.