Legend has it Ferrucio Lamborghini started building sports cars after a dismissive conversation with Enzo Ferrari about the nature of the comfort and reliability of Mr. Ferrari’s cars. Lamborghini, a wealthy industrialist, owned many of the most capable cars of his day. So quite naturally he was drawn to the glamorous thoroughbreds from Maranello. However, he ultimately found them noisy, uncomfortable, and prone to clutch failure. Here it should be noted; Lamborghini’s empire had been built on the manufacture of tractors.
Imagine if you will the response of a prideful Enzo Ferrari, consistent winner of Formula 1 Grand Prix titles, a man who only built road cars to support his racing effort, being dressed down by a man he thought of as nothing more than a tractor mechanic.
Yeah—you nailed it.
That’s pretty much exactly how Ferrari responded to Lamborghini’s concerns.
Irritated, Lamborghini modified his Ferrari 250GT to be faster and more reliable than Ferrari built it in the first place. After that, he got the idea to build the type of Grand Touring car he would want for himself; fast, good looking, comfortable, and luxuriously appointed.
He proceeded to do just that, and today’s Lamborghini Aventador is the spiritual descendant of the first of the gloried Lamborghini automobiles.
But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here.
Ferruccio Elio Arturo Lamborghini was born in April of 1916 to a family of grape farmers in Renazzo di Cento in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Farming machinery fascinated him as a boy, so he studied mechanics at Fratelli Taddia technical institute near Bologna. During World War II, he was drafted into the Italian Royal Air Force where he eventually became the supervisor of his unit’s vehicle maintenance detachment.
Taken prisoner by the British at the end of the war in 1945; Lamborghini returned home in 1946 and opened an automotive repair shop. Then an avid racer,he modified a Fiat Topolino for extremely high performance and entered it in the Mille Miglia endurance race. He was running pretty well when he crashed into a restaurant some 700 miles into the thousand-mile race. That pretty much put a damper on his interest in racing and also explains why Automobili Lamborghini was never formally involved in motor racing.
However, Automobili Lamborghini was still some ways into his future.
In 1948, Lamborghini got into purchasing surplus military vehicles and remanufacturing them as tractors. His mechanical expertise led to some very reliable machines and the company’s products were bought in earnest. His timing being what it was during the post-war reconstruction period, Lamborghini sold a lot of tractors, as well as a host of other agricultural implements. By 1959, he could diversify into oil heaters and later, air-conditioning units too. These enterprises, as we mentioned earlier, made Lamborghini extremely wealthy. So much so, he could afford a garage filled with the most notable sports cars of the day.
Thus he came to own his first Ferrari in 1958—a 250GT. Over the ensuing years he purchased others, but ultimately became disconcerted with them. Thus, the conversation with Enzo Ferrari ensued. We’ve already covered how that worked out for Lamborghini, so let’s get into what he did about it.
In addition to his desire to build and sell what he felt was the perfect sports car, he also realized he could make way more money on his tractor parts if they comprised the makings of an exotic sports car. Thus was the genesis of the 1963 Turin Motor Show’s Lamborghini 350GTV concept car. Designed and built in only four months, the car was unveiled to such acclaim Lamborghini decided to put it into production.
Interestingly, that show car had no engine.
Lamborghini is said to have loaded the engine compartment with bricks weighing about what the engine would, so it would sit poised on the display stand at the proper ride height. Lamborghini, who wanted his cars designed specifically with road use in mind, deemed the original engine design for the 350 too high-strung.
To design the car, Lamborghini consulted the most illustrious Italian automotive professionals of his day. Giotto Bizzarini did the engine, Gian Paolo Dallara did the chassis, and Franco Scaglione did the original body. However Carozzeria Touring reworked Scaglione’s design after the original look of the car received criticism. Further, the chassis was also reworked for the production model. The reworked car was shown at the 1964 show and Lamborghini put it into production shortly afterward.
A number of well-received models followed, but the car that really put Lamborghini on the map was the 1967 Lamborghini Miura, the world’s first mid-engine exotic sports car. And, the first of Lamborghini automobiles to be named after a fighting bull—a pattern continuing to this day.
In 1971, financial woes around the world began to affect Lamborghini’s bread and butter tractor business. A number of large orders got cancelled and the tractor division got into trouble. The unionized workforce could not be laid off, so Lamborghini was forced to sell to another tractor manufacturing concern. And while that laid the groundwork for the end of Lamborghini’s reign as the director of his company, 1971 was also the year the world got its first glimpse of the car most people of a certain age envision to this day when they hear the word Lamborghini.
Countach (pronounced Koon-tash).
The following year the car business started to falter as well and Lamborghini was forced to sell control of the company to a Swiss businessman, Georges-Henri Rossetti. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact Lamborghini’s newest models could not be directly exported to the United States. The Countach for example, though introduced in 1971 and first offered for sale in 1974, was not officially U.S. – legal until 1982.
Ultimately Lamborghini sold out altogether and the car company wound up in the hands of a succession of buyers. The Mimran brothers owned it from 1980 – 1987. Chrysler bought it in 1987 and ran it until 1993, producing the successor to the Countach in the process, the 1990 Lamborghini Diablo. Next, came the MegaTech holding company, owned in part by Tommy Suharto, son of the Indonesian president. But the company never really saw true success until it became part of the Volkswagen Group in 1998, through Audi. The Diablo was followed by the Murcielago, which in turn was recently replaced by the Aventador.
As of this writing, the company seems to be on firm financial footing and facing a promising future.