PH Heroes: Lamborghini Countach

In car design, as in life, there are times when only a well-aimed expletive will do. Lamborghini mythology has it that when Italian styling house boss Giuseppe 'Nuccio' Bertone first clapped eyes on the prototype of the car that would replace the ridiculously beautiful Miura, both penned by his gifted young employee Marcello Gandini, he exclaimed 'Countach!', a local Piedmontese expression often politely translated as 'Wow!' but, perhaps more accurately, connoting sex and a hot place. And the name stuck. I'd like to think it was true, if for no other reason that the Miura, aesthetically, had seemed like an impossible act to follow and Gandini, before he got down to the serious business of styling the Citroen BX, had conjured up a shape so shocking, it made the old man swear.

Well, how would you have reacted?
Well, how would you have reacted?
Like the Miura, often cited as the first modern mid-engined supercar, the Countach started life as a concept (they called them prototypes back in the '70s) designed to drum up interest at motor shows. It did that and rather more when the wraps were pulled off in 1971 at Geneva. Called the LP500 to denote the 5.0-litres of the longitudinally arranged V12 intended to power it and painted a dazzling sunflower yellow, the scissor-doored exhibit might as well have been beamed in from another planet compared to what else was on display that year. And it caused a sensation. Rather than evolve the lithe, sensual themes that had made the Miura such a smouldering seductress, Gandini invented a whole new design language for the Countach that dared to combine delicate curves with tough, trapezoidal angularity and the result, in this writer's opinion, was a work of near genius that for sheer drama and sense of purpose, eclipsed even the Miura and, come to that, anything else claiming to be a supercar since.

QV sits twixt pure LP400 and overblown 25th
QV sits twixt pure LP400 and overblown 25th
Expletive included
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.

455hp was a conservative estimate
455hp was a conservative estimate
Anything you can do...
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.

Not an easy car but, wow, so rewarding
Not an easy car but, wow, so rewarding
The QV had the legs of a Testarossa all right, even if the example I tried to max at dawn on the famous Jabbeke section of Belgium's E5 motorway in 1985 couldn't be coaxed beyond 168mph, even with the rear wing removed. Comfortably sub-five to 60, yes, and barely another six to top the ton. But while the Countach was relatively light, at just 1,447kg, it wasn't nearly as slippery as it looked. It would hurtle to 150mph with a snorting anger worthy of its maker's charging bull emblem, but every speedo increment after that was hard won. Not that it mattered. The glory of the QV wasn't its top speed but its ability to immerse you in feeling of massive mechanical power and harness it to the kind of grip and handling acuity that made other supercars of the day, even the Testarossa, seem slovenly and soft. It had a race car vibe, raw and jagged, belligerent and brutal.

QV is the best of the bunch says Vivian
QV is the best of the bunch says Vivian
Up for the challenge?
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.

5,167cc V12, 48 valves
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power (hp): 455@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@5,200rpm
0-62mph: 4.9sec
Top speed: 180mph (claimed)
Weight: 1,447kg
On sale: 1985-1990
Price new: £82,000
Price now: c. £110,000

Photos by Malcolm Griffiths, courtesy of Classic & Sports Car


P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (105) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Oddball RS 03 Sep 2012


  • Sonic 03 Sep 2012

    Oddball RS said:
    ^^ Agree. Childhood dream this one biglaugh

  • kambites 03 Sep 2012

    The LP400 looks lovely. Not really keen on the styling of the later versions, though.

  • Krikkit 03 Sep 2012

    kambites said:
    The LP400 looks lovely. Not really keen on the styling of the later versions, though.
    QFT. The original, uncluttered with wings and wide arches, looks best for the road cars. Looked sensational as a racer though:

  • edo 03 Sep 2012

    Right, who voted less than 10?

View all comments in the forums Make a comment