PH HEROES: LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH
Define 'hero car' and for many this would be it - for every child of the 80s we celebrate the Lamborghini Countach!
More remarkably still, the ducts and vents that were added as necessary extra cooling for the smaller (4.0-litre) engine when the Countach went into production in 1974 as the LP400 simply reinforced the angular aspects of the design without destroying the purity of the underlying shape, pumping up the aggression, dialling in even more drama - a process that continued with wider wheels, bulging rear arches and a controversial rear wing before finally tipping into garish over-embellishment with 1990's valedictory 25th Anniversary model.
From the beginning, though, the hard drivers with motorsport running through their veins at Lamborghini's Sant 'Agata factory, headed by lanky Kiwi Bob Wallace, had adopted the Countach as a cause celebre, determined to make the driving experience every bit as thrilling as its appearance. With a light but immensely strong tubular steel chassis, fully uni-balled suspension with double wishbones at each corner and an alloy body, not to do so would have been a wasted opportunity. A succession of bigger engines and power hikes were a given - whatever Ferrari had up its sleeve, Lamborghini liked to stay one step ahead.
The pace race definitely had its upside. For the 1985 model, the 5000 Quattrovalvole (QV for short), Lamborghini had taken the precaution of stroking its existing 5.0-litre V12 out to 5.2-litres, fearing that continuing with the 375hp motor of the LP500 S would leave the company red-face with its rival from Maranello about to launch a replacement for the Boxer. The extra capacity liberated more power than expected - 470hp on the dyno straight off the production line, some 500hp for blueprinted units - but Lamborghini decided to play it safe and quoted 455hp, leaving some wiggle room should the new Ferrari emerge with eye-popping stats. It did, too. To Lamborghini's amazement, Ferrari claimed a mere 390hp for the Testarossa, leaving the Countach QV as almost certainly the only Italian supercar of the 80s with a conservatively quoted power output.
There were other challenges that were harder to warm to: a cabin that looked great with no one in it but required a somewhat contorted driving position; almost zero rear visibility; non-assisted steering that was never anything but heavy; a sticky throttle action and ludicrously long clutch travel; and an open gate gearchange that demanded precision and timing. It wasn't what you'd call an 'easy' car to drive.
But then easy cars are seldom the most rewarding. Get in synch with a Countach, drive it hard on your favourite road, maybe scare yourself just a little, and, whichever way you care to cut it, the thing will take your breath away. A hero? Just ask the crowd that gathers around it whenever you stop.
LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH 5000 QV
Engine: 5,167cc V12, 48 valves
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power (hp): 455@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@5,200rpm
Top speed: 180mph (claimed)
On sale: 1985-1990
Price new: £82,000
Price now: c. £110,000
Photos by Malcolm Griffiths, courtesy of Classic & Sports Car