My Car Quest

August 11, 2020

The Cruel Fate Of The First Lamborghini Countach

Or why you will never see the first Lamborghini Countach ever at an auction…

by Wallace Wyss –

I write this series of books called “Incredible Barn Finds.” (Enthusiast Books,Hudson, WI.) Now one of the plums of barn finding, one I like to write about, is when someone finds the very first prototype of a given car model, like the Lamborghini Countach.

In one of my books I tell the story of somebody who discovered the original 1963 Lamborghini 350 GTV prototype at the factory, covered with dust, and bought it and made it a running car.

That was the car that was rather space age in styling, with hidden headlamps, that had it styling toned down for the production 350 GT. The car started Lamborghini out in business, with over 130 sold. He went on to the front engine 400GT and 400 GT 2+2.

But the Lambo that really threatened Ferrari was the Miura because it was mid-engined and at that time, Ferrari was still against having a mid-engined 12 cylinder in its lineup of production cars though they had them on the racetrack.

The Miura made the Lamborghini name legendary. It was a car truly ahead of its time. It shocked even companies like Ferrari and Maserati.

As much of a shock as the Marcello Gandini designed Miura was at the March 1966 Geneva Show, I have to say that the shock wave caused by the prototype Lamborghini Countach at the 1973 Geneva Auto Show was even more substantial.

Lamborghini Countach Prototype

Lamborghini Countach

The car at the show was painted in a bright red and with a black suede interior. It was an extreme wedge in shape, and had those famous swing up doors. It also had unique vertically mounted rear air intakes to go with its powerful 4 Liter engine.

The name “Countach” was said to be some Piedmontese expression, which might involve profanity to explain, let’s just say you uttered it when totally surprised. The name LP500 was a bit of showmanship, maybe to shake up Ferrari. It had a normal 4 liter engine. Word is that the engineers planned a 5 liter engine but ran out of time and that didn’t come for some years.

Lamborghini Countach

The Lamborghini Countach prototype not only pushed the envelope on styling but had a had a space age dashboard with electronic rearouts for tire pressure and many other things that today is on most production cars.

The prototype bears the air scoops that show this was not just a pretty face show car but a test car as well, and the one that Bob Wallace fixed the overheating on by simply installing air scoops and NACA inlets.

The twin radiators had been changed from a longitudinal to a transverse mounting position which made the air scoops necessary. On top of the radiators were air snorkels to feed in cold air, much better than the original idea of taking in air from the engine bay.

Lamborghini Countach

After the prototype did all tough work in development, the first real Lamborghini Countach LP400 (#1120001) was produced. The LP400 production car kept the same shape but had to be productionized so everything was changed under that body. The LP500 chassis of square section tubes was replaced with a new frame–a stiffer more complex space-frame–of welded round tubes to which a secondary structure was mounted to hold the 1 mm thick body.

The production Lamborghini Countach was introduced with a smaller 4 liter (3929cc) engine with a bore (82mm) and stroke (62mm).

Some sources claim the original concept had a 5-liter, others say the 5 liter existed only on paper. The production engine breathed through six sidedraft Weber 45DCOE two barrel carburetors and spark was sent by two 6 point distributors driven off two of the engine’s four camshafts. The power claim on the production car was more reachable—375 bhp at 8000 rpm with torque measured at 268 lb-ft at 5500rpm. Total weight for the new car was 2390 pounds.

The periscopic mirror was used on quite a few of the first cars but even when that was dropped, the rooftop tunnel was kept on the car for a while.

The space age dash of the prototype disappeared, with more normal gauges on the production car. The visibility was so bad to the sides that the louvers had to be dropped in favor of glass.

The production model had what I call “normal size” tires compared to later years, Michelin XWX tires (205/70-VR-14 front, and 215/70-VR-14 rear) though some lamented they hadn’t fitted Pirelli P7s like the prototype

It would have been nice if they could have kept the original prototype around, but I don’t think there was a factory museum then. They were too busy making cars to sell. And apparently that first car had to be sacrificed to the barrier test at MIRA (GB) in order for it to be sold in England.

Lamborghini Countach

So the first ever made Lamborghini Countach was destroyed and can never be restored again… Fortunately the second Lamborghini Countach ever built, Chassis #1120001, the one first painted red and shown at the 1973 Geneva Motor Show, and later repainted green and shown at the 1973 Paris Motor Show was found by a collector in Switzerland in the year 2000 and is now in the factory museum.

SHIFT magazine, published by the RM company, a renowned auction company, said in a story in their Summer 2015 edition that 1120001 caught fire while being tested on the autostrada. Even though the fire was put out, the car was the same one sent to England for its date with the barrier. Thus, says RM, that “put an end to the very car that redefined the meaning of the name Lamborghini”.

Lamborghini Countach

And so it is. But, after writing about several concept cars in my Incredible Barn Finds books that were reported destroyed six ways to Sunday (such as the GT40 open car that Bondurant flipped in the Targa) only to be rediscovered and restored, I am holding out hope that someone retrieved the wrecked Lamborghini Countach from the MIRA testing grounds and is hiding it, waiting for the smoke to blow over before he rolls it out. Call me an optimist, but I live in hope….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss, in addition to being a historian, has a number of fine art prints available of his original paintings. For a list of current work, write Photojournalistpro@gmail.com

 

Lamborghini Countach

Lamborghini Countach

Summary
The Cruel Fate Of The First Lamborghini Countach
Article Name
The Cruel Fate Of The First Lamborghini Countach
Description
The Lamborghini Countach Prototype was destroyed in a crash test.
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