As marketing gambits go, living up to the Countach nameplate in 2022 has to be among the tallest of possible orders. The original model wasn’t a limited-edition wheeze, it was a game-changing sensation. When they pulled the covers off in 1971, it was clear to everyone that designer Marcello Gandini hadn’t sought to replace the unarguably gorgeous Lamborghini Miura on its own terms. Instead he’d rewired the design language to depict a new breed of supercar, one that exchanged the voluptuousness of its predecessor for an air-cleaving geometric wedge. The LP500 was 41 inches tall, festooned with trapezoidal styling cues and famously named after a Piedmontese expression for amazement. The Miura had successfully established Lamborghini’s reputation; the Countach blasted it into the future.
In a very real sense, the firm has been chasing that provocative high ever since. The original model took three years to wrestle onto a production line - the slats and vents it accrued in the meantime somehow served to make it look even more dramatic - but when it got there Lamborghini kept building the car in several iterations until 1990. It adorned a million bedroom walls in its time, yet it was no show pony. Underneath its functional styling the Countach sported a tubular spaceframe chassis with double wishbone suspension at each corner, and was powered by progressively larger versions of the Bizzarrini-designed V12. It was raw and unrelenting to drive, and helped cement the Italian supercar as a belligerent, tumultuous experience - something to be mastered, assuming you were man enough.
As you might expect, Lamborghini pays extensive lip service to the ‘patriarch’ of its present DNA when it makes the case for its ‘pure and novel interpretation’. And honestly it’s easy to forgive the instinct for homage in this day and age: if we can collectively punch the air at the reappearance of a very late middle-age Maverick, we can probably get to grips with the ‘elevated descendent’ of one of the 20th century’s pre-eminent supercars. Where the manufacturer gets itself onto predictably dicier ground is in the occasional attempt to draw parallels between what is effectively a bit of interesting 50th birthday cake, and a car that helped rewrite the automotive rulebook back when the Coke-bottle Cortina was considered modern.
If for no other reason, that’s because we’ve seen too much of the current Countach in other recent incarnations. Most prominently, of course, that includes the Aventador. Even if Lamborghini had not divulged which model the Countach shared its underpinnings with, you would know immediately. A decade of familiarity with the flagship’s proportions leaves no room for doubt: redolent of its spiritual ancestor the new silhouette may very well be, but the size and fundamental layout of its monocoque are unmistakable. And while the LPI 800-4 designation highlights its superior output when compared to any lowly Aventador, the number is generated by the same lightly hybridised powertrain that featured in the limited-edition Sián FKP 37.
Naturally this grants the Countach astonishing on-paper performance, but hardly makes it forward looking. Lamborghini has already conceded that the Aventador’s electrified successor will ditch the supercapacitor technology in favour of something much more ambitious. Consequently, when we drove the Sián last year, we suggested that, despite appearances, it was more about its maker’s recent past than its boldly imagined future - and obviously that sentiment goes double for a model that vividly harks back to 1971. Factor in the outrageous cost - 2m euros before taxes - not to mention the captivating brilliance of the Aventador in its run-out LP780-4 Ultimae format (a car you’ll pay ‘just’ £403,494 to secure), and it becomes tricky to build a convincing case why anyone would choose to be among the 112 souls that will eventually take delivery of a new Countach.
Happily for them there will have been no need for anything as troublesome as comparative reasoning. Most buyers will already own an Aventador. Some will have a Sian, too. Beyond its innate capacity for never shedding value, it will likely be enough that the Countach looks pleasingly different from its siblings. And in this regard at least, we’re going to side with the happy few: when presented to you at first light in an empty lay-by on the Yorkshire Dales, even by the exalted standards of Lamborghini-badged supercars, the model stands out. Way out.
Whether you relish the makeover or not, rest assured there is none of the theatrical silliness that blighted the Sián. Away from studio lights, that car looked like something the Riddler would drive to a wedding. The LPI-800-4, chiefly by dint of designer Mitja Borkert’s reverence for the Countach’s uncluttered outline, is sleek almost to the point of simplistic. Detailed alterations abound, but it is at the front where Lamborghini has had to put its shoulder into the job, drawing out the nose so that it now meets the road as the leading edge of the idiosyncratic wedge. Like the original, standing over it almost negates the effect; you want to be down in the weeds, or else stood a long way back, to appreciate what the Quattrovalvole makeover has done for one of the world’s most recognisable supercars.
Inside, sadly, the Countach is a little too familiar. The Sián shared this vice; for all the funky 3D-printed vents, there’s just no getting away from the overriding Aventador theme. True enough, the new model gets the same revised centre console as the Sián, which means you do at least get the portrait touchscreen (so no need to travel back in time to relearn the obsolete Audi-donated system that persisted for an entire epoch). But when you consider the imagination and craftsmanship brought to bear on the cabins of million-buck restomods by companies with a fraction of Lamborghini’s resources, you do wonder if the Countach has brought sufficient glamour to the occasion once the scissor doors have slammed shut.
Characteristically though, any quibbles about specialness are swept away when you lever up the blood-red safety catch and light the 6.5-litre V12 starter button. After all, what other hybrid can claim to rival the raucousness and leering intent of Lamborghini’s big dog in its 780hp configuration? Of course, very few contemporary petrol-electric hybrids these days limit their emission-free contribution to a decidedly modest 34hp; the 48-volt e-motor mounted to the gearbox can’t even shift the Countach under its own steam, which means you always kick off proceedings in hugely vociferous, Aventadory style.
The time required to acclimatise to it is no different either. Like its cheaper, non-hybrid sibling, the Countach comes across as big, twitchy motherhumper for what seems like quite a while. Firstly there is its improbable size, unaided by the gun slit view out or the model’s default left-hand-drive status or the scale of the minor roads on the Dales. Secondly there is the single-clutch automated transmission, which, despite now having some additional electrified torque to smooth out its upshifts, is still a head-nodding and progress-sapping experience compared to a seamless dual-clutch gearbox. Thirdly, there is the Sián-like uncompromising ride quality, and a nose now so close to the ground that snapper Harry is instructed to radio back any abrupt elevation changes from his Passat, lest we remove Borkert’s hard work in a single stroke.
This is particularly unfortunate because our destination is the Buttertubs Pass, a road that features umpteen elevation changes and precious little wiggle room for wanton Lamborghini girth. Harry, marooned on a hillside, and assailed by the waspish wail of an atmospheric V12, falls increasingly in love with the distant white blur. And stood beside him for the inevitable sun-kissed static shot on a deserted stretch, it’s suddenly hard not to get swept into the legacy of what the Countach actually stands for in a general sense: that pinch-me feeling of adulation that separates iconic, exotica-grade supercars from the lesser regarded chasing pack.
Yet truthfully the car underneath doesn’t live up to its billing until we find it flatter, smoother roads. Good for it then that one of the B roads snaking away from the much more famous pass is just its sort of jam. With sweeping, sighted bends under its enormous footprint, the Countach duly comes alive. As with the Sián, this experience is briefly trailered by the novel interaction of the supercapacitor, which chips in at low revs to enhance the in-gear acceleration. But the main event is obviously the preposterous, chest-compressing, life-affirming petrol engine. Had Lamborghini endeavoured to pay tribute to one of its tractors, the V12 would have ensured it a rapt audience.
In the office we’d briefly discussed how the Countach might have been better differentiated from the Aventador (and Sián) had its maker reduced its driven axle count by one. But in the real world that notion seems outrageous; like its siblings, the naturally aspirated unit seems acutely well matched to its monumental lateral grip. You feel hot-wired into every corner - and not just because the steering is deftly geared or the chassis stringently damped or the car appropriately balanced - but because you’re simultaneously - endlessly - seeking a way to get back beyond 7,000rpm. And with enough space and no one else around, the Countach will encourage you to do that. Repeatedly.
Of course, in that regard, it’s no more compelling than the Ultimae that had John gushing like a steam vent just last month. Probably less so, objectively speaking, because the Countach is slightly heavier and suspended more ruthlessly - and doesn’t cost as much as a medium-sized helicopter. But the Countach is a Countach. And slowly it dawns on you that no matter the reasoning for building it or its ultimately questionable place in the firm’s history books, the name still encapsulates much of what is good about it, and, by extension, Lamborghini in general. Moreover, if this does turn out to be one of the final resting place for its glorious, stupefying and now outmoded V12 - which, surely it must - then who are we to argue with one last ridiculously extravagant throw of the dice?
SPECIFICATION | LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH LPI 800-4
Engine: 6,498cc V12
Transmission: Seven-speed automated ISR, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 780@8,500rpm+33hp electrical
Torque (lb ft): 531@6,750rpm+26lb ft electrical
0-62mph: 2.8 seconds
Top speed: 217mph
Weight: 1,595kg 'dry'
Price: circa £2m plus taxes
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