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Thursday 1st September 2011


PH HEROES: LAMBORGHINI MIURA

The iconic Lamborghini proves a car doesn't have to be good to be great, reckons Brett Fraser



Beauty: the stuff of subjectivity. One man's gorgeous, another man's gargoyle, and all that. Yet pretty much without fail, whenever there's a poll of automotive elegance and visual desire, sitting atop the list, or very near the summit, is the Lamborghini Miura. True beauty, it would seem, seduces universally.


Even among Lamborghini's current outrageous offerings, the Miura stands out, its proportions near perfect, its curves drawn tightly enough around the chassis to suggest they were formed for mere purpose, and yet smooth and flowing and emotion-wrenching, as though inspired by pure, artistic desire. To spot a Miura parked up is to spot a large crowd of appreciative spectators, drawn to it by the magnetism of sheer star quality: it's a four-wheeled celebrity, though unlike others whose heyday was more than 40 years ago, the Lambo's ravishing good looks haven't required the services of Botox or cosmetic surgery to retain their youthful glow.

What makes the Miura's attractiveness all the more compelling is the fact that the car's styling played second fiddle to the package of engineering underneath it. Back in the mid-1960s, Lamborghini's freshly appointed chief engineer, Gian Paolo Dallara (yes, now of F3 and Indycar fame), was tasked with creating a new sports car, powered by a quad-cam V12 designed by freelance engineer Giotto Bizzarrini. At that time road-going sports cars tended to have longitudinally mounted engines, but so inspired was Dallara by the transverse location of the Mini's engine and its combined gearbox and final drive, that he effectively copied the idea, although turning it around to create a mid-engined design.


A rolling chassis was constructed and displayed on Lamborghini's 1965 Turin Show stand: only after that was Bertone - and in particular its in-house stylist, Marcello Gandini - brought on board to clothe the hardware. Normally things happen the other way around, but having to work within given parameters didn't seem to handicap Gandini very much.

Given how iconic the Miura has since become, it's astonishing that it was completed in just seven months. And by a core development team of just seven people. All of whom were just 20-somethings. In an interview in Evo a few years ago, Dallara explained how such a thing was possible: "We were a very young and inexperienced team and therefore didn't realise the enormity of the task." Goes to show how much better cars can be when they're produced by a small team rather than a large and cumbersome committee.


Not that the Miura traded solely on looks. Its quoted performance of 180mph - fanciful though that may have been - helped it establish an entirely new strata of sports car, that of the supercar. It sort of didn't matter that the Lambo would probably lift clean off the ground at anything approaching that speed, because all its rivals were also dealing in inflated performance and power figures, and to challenge the looker from Sant'Agata would be to risk exposing their own little white lies. The other factor that elevated the Miura to another marketing dimension was its price - in the UK in 1967, the mid-engined marvel cost £8050, at a time when a Jaguar E-type was less than £2000. Supercar indeed...

In an era of Ford Cortinas and Morris Minors the Miura must have seemed impossibly exotic, so it's fitting that the car pictured here once belonged to Twiggy; owned by her but, it seems, more often driven during the 1960s by her manager, Justin de Villeneuve. Also on the V5's list of previous keepers is a certain Mr B. Ecclestone. Current owner is JHW Classics, which acquired the car for its collection more than a decade ago, after a long hunt for the right example.

Even in colours less vibrant than JHW's car, the Miura remains compelling viewing. It's very low - its rooftop is just 51 inches above the tarmac, even on fat 'period' rubber - and it's very wide, while the slatted cover over the engine bay and the 'lashes' around its exposed, pop-up headlights are distinguishing features that every schoolboy of a certain age can recite.


Getting in isn't quite the struggle that it might be in more modern supercars or even some (Lotus) sports cars: side impact protection wasn't an issue back in the 1960s and bodyshell rigidity was a fledgling science, so the Miura does without large, obstructive sills. Mind you, it's still a long way down to the seats, and when you get there you find that the fixed seat back and thin padding don't bode well for long distance comfort. Neither, if you're tall, does the rake of the roofline, which falls away sharply as it travels aft, slicing off headroom as it goes. As for luggage space, well, it might be as well that you send your manservant ahead...

It's all-black in here, in a retro-but-for-the-reason-that-you-don't-really need-anything-more way. A sextet of dials off to your left, looming above the fat transmission tunnel. A thin-rimmed steering wheel ahead, a bit too high and a bit too tilted forward, yet not so much so that a tantrum's needed. The gearlever spearing down to an open gate is nicely positioned, while thanks to slender A-posts, forward visibility is excellent.


Behind you - barely - is that transversely-mounted V12, a 4.0-litre unit with a quartet of slurping carbs, rated at the time at 350bhp, though cynics might rightly doubt the pedigree of some of those Italian ponies... Again, though, it hardly matters. The Miura weighs less than a ton and has sharpness of throttle response that modern cars can only cast longing, misty eyes at. This bull rampages when you ask it, feels genuinely fast even in the modern idiom. Not 21st century supercar quick, but in no way disappointing and requiring context only in a minor way.

The V12 whoops and shrieks and fills your head with sound, your mind with visions of old-school racing cars from the days when 7500rpm was a full-on engine speed. You have to want the engine to dish out its power, though, because the accelerator pedal is as heavy as the brakes, and while the gearshift is nifty, you have to exercise precise movement to get it briskly across the gate. But this is all part of engaging with the Miura, having to work with it to earn your rewards, rather than have them handed to you on a silicone chip, as is the modern way.

A few years ago Lamborghini showed a modern interpretation of the Miura and the world went mental for it. And it seemed a brilliant proposition: an iconic shape mated to modern performance and convenience. When the concept was declared to be nothing more than that - a concept - I thought Lamborghini had missed out on a golden opportunity.


But meet the original and you realise that Lamborghini was right. The Miura can't be improved or replicated. A modern Miura would be hamstrung by modern regulations and marketing considerations, and bit by bit all the things that make its whole so wonderful, would be compromised. Its spirit would be eroded. Passion would be replaced with pragmatism. Yes, it makes the original cars ever-more valuable and unobtainable, but then that's part of what has always made the Miura so special - not every Tom, Dick and Footballer can have one.

Even if you can't own one or drive one, the soul and emotion of the Miura is still available to anyone with a DVD player - simply slip in a copy of The Italian Job (the original version) and immerse yourself in the opening sequence. The road, the scenery, the music, the engine note, the sunglasses, the sheer joyousness of the Miura experience is there, available to all. Just remember to press pause when the tunnel looms...


Our thanks go to JHW Classics for all their help with this feature.

To see this Lamborghini Miura in the flesh, then get yourself down to Chelsea AutoLegends on Sunday (4 September), at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London SW3 4SR.

PistonHeads is sponsoring the Supercar Convoy of Chelsea AutoLegends - which this year has the theme of 'The Swinging Sixties' - and as well as the Miura you'll be able to see a staggering array of some of the world's most iconic sports cars, supercars and extreme rally legends.

Pictures: JHW Classics

Author: brettfraser