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Showpiece of the Week: Countach 5000 QV

The Quattrovalvole earned the largest version of Lamborghini's V12. And the reputation to go with it

By Sam Sheehan / Monday, April 15, 2019

Lamborghini has been the most vocal car maker in the world when it comes to saving the V12 engine from oblivion. Retaining a naturally-aspirated twelve in its Aventador has given the brand a powerful USP at a time when rivals have turned to turbochargers for better performance and reduced CO2. Word is that the Italian brand has every intention of retaining a non-force-fed V12 in its Aventator successor, and while the adoption of hybrid assistance seems almost inevitable, it should mean ferociously responsive V12 power will remain a feature of supercardom for many years to come, thanks to Lambo.

The Miura was, of course, the car that tied the knot between the firm and a dozen-cylinder engine way back in 1966. The gorgeous two-seater used a midship-mounted 3.9-litre V12, and was successful enough for each of its successors to receive an evolution of the same unit. When the Countach arrived in 1974, its V12 engine was of the same capacity and, with 370hp, produced only 25hp more than the original Miura. The Countach's exterior couldn't have been much more contrasting, but the formula beneath was clearly inherited.

While the Miura provided Lambo with its technical formula for years to come, the Countach set a trend for its design direction - see Aventador SVJ as the most recent example. Marcello Gandini, an automotive designer from Bertone, was the man responsible for the Countach's angular lines - and interestingly, he was the person who'd given the Miura its pretty, feminine shape prior to that. Where the Miura eschewed the rounded shapes of performance cars from its time, the Countach too ignored established traditions and looked like something out of science fiction.

The wedge nose, pop-up headlights and ultra-low roofline of early cars were familiar, but the details - like those rocket-booster-mimicking air intakes, the twin-buttress rear deck, not to mention the motorsport-esque single wiper and naca ducts - took the Countach to a new, more adventurous place. When a large, fixed rear wing was added and the wheel arches grew wider, the original Countach's delicate design was arguably lost. But to many - particularly those of the teenage boy variety - the coolness of Countach went off the scale. Its title of 1980s supercar poster-filler was set in stone, so much so that how it actually drove was virtually a side issue.

Nevertheless, the Countach was appropriately special in real life, too. Slipping beneath its scissor door and into the low-set seat, with the sight of those intakes in the mirrors and wheel arches either side was as exotic as automotive experiences came. It was also typical of a retro Lambo, because the pedals and wheel were offset, so you sat with a twist in your body to reach the controls that sat left of centre while rear visibility in later cars was almost completely eliminated by the rear wing, so attempting to reverse park in one was like doing the backstroke. But it must've been hard to care, given the superhero status it imbued on all those driving it.

Later cars got a larger 4.8-litre 12-cylinder, still related to the Miura's heart but with modern additions to increase power beyond 400hp, making the Countach supremely fast for its day and every bit as ferocious as that wingthings further still, increasing engine capacity to 5.2-litres to provide the Countach 5000 Quattrovalvole - named as such for its use of four valves per cylinder - with 455hp. Along with the new valve design and greater engine size, the boost was enabled by the use of six Weber Carburettors, which were located atop of the engine instead of to the sides for better cooling. This encouraged the fitment of a raised engine cover, restricting rear visibility even further.

At the time, America was Lamborghini's most important market for the Countach, with sales there surpassing all other regions. But the US's more stringent regulations for safety and emissions meant that the Countach was forced to wear a set of thick bumpers, basically black plastic segments that were added to the front and rearmost panels, and the QV version also had to trade carbs for Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. Presumably because the V12 engine was originally developed for carbs rather than the more modern injection system - or perhaps because it needed some detuning to meet US regulations - the 5.2-litre now produced 420hp. Just 66 QVs were produced in this specification, making them almost ten times rarer than the Euro-spec carb cars and probably more mechanically reliable to boot.

This week's Showpiece is a former California car, so it comes with the American fuel injection engine, although mercifully it has been converted to European bumper-free form. Finished in black with bronze wheels, it looks stunning, and with a recent engine rebuild, apparently it runs like new, as well. The car arrived in the UK in 1991, which is when its extensive service history begins, with constant maintenance and work carried out since and the paperwork to prove it, culminating in a receipt for a £25,000 engine rebuild. Considered alongside the 15k on the clock, this has to be one of the finest examples of Countach on the planet - which might help to explain why it's up for sale on PH at £350k.

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