Ferruccio Lamborghini – From Tractors to Track Days
An earlier piece on Nuccio Bertone talked about the birth of Lamborghini with some of its greatest models. It seems only logical then to dig a little deeper into the brains behind the bulls: Ferruccio Elio Arturo Lamborghini. Ferruccio was born on April 28, 1916 in Northern Italy to a pair of grape farmers. Growing up in this environment exposed Ferruccio to the realities of an agricultural life. He displayed a mechanical aptitude, finding that the farm equipment caught his eye far more than the farming itself. This would serve him well later in life.
He was drafted int0 the Italian Air Force during World War II and was stationed in Rhodes. He supervised vehicle maintenance, which allowed him to further develop his mechanical abilities. Rhodes eventually fell to the British and he was taken as a prisoner of war. The British, recognizing his abilities, utilized him to keep their vehicle fleet operating. Following his release, he returned home and opened a garage. He began building tractors to support the farming community and, in 1948, he founded Lamborghini Trattori. The stars were aligned for his success as post-war Italy needed industrial equipment to rebuild and recover. This success led to the start of his fortune. But Lamborghini wasn’t done. In 1959, he founded a company to produce oil heaters and HVAC equipment.
I can imagine what many of you are thinking: “Good lord. How did a man with so many dull businesses go on to create some of the mount outlandish cars that have ever existed?” Like many business owners, Lamborghini filled a market need with his businesses and fulfilled his own passions with the profits. The garage that he used to build tractors for Lamborghini Trattori became the site of his first automotive experiment, a modified Fiat Topolino, which he entered into the 1948 Mille Miglia, a 1,000 mile (hence the name) endurance race that ran up and down Italy. As his businesses became more profitable, he became one of Italy’s wealthiest men and purchased cars accordingly, amassing quite the stable.
The car that was the catalyst for his automotive journey was a Ferrari 250 GT. Lamborghini owned several of them over the years and found that they lacked in quality, specifically the interiors and the performance of some mechanical systems. He was frustrated by the service that was required and went to Maranello to express his concerns directly to Enzo Ferrari. Ferrari refused to meet with Lamborghini and Lamborghini, feeling slighted, left in a huff. He became committed to the ideal of building the perfect GT car, specifically one with a V12 engine. Work started on the project in 1962 and the founding of Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini coincided with the construction of a new factory in 1963.
The resulting car, the 350 GTV, was unveiled at the Turin auto show in November 1963 and it featured a 3.5 liter, 360 brake horsepower V12. It was an immediate success (partially thanks to the Bertone-styled body) and spawned several different models: The 400 GT and the 400 GT 2+2. Production runs were small but profitable, with a run 120 cars for the 300GT and 273 for the 4.0 liter 400GT. This success encouraged Lamborghini and gave him faith in the team that had designed the 350. When the two engineers that he had hired for that job, Giampaolo Dallara and Giampaolo Stanzani, approached him with an idea to modify a full race-car for the road using a two-seat sports car setup. When Lamborghini saw their product, he gave it his full approval and sensed that it would be great for marketing the brand, even if it never produced large sales numbers. If only he had known…
The chassis was displayed at the 1965 Turin Auto Show where it caught the attention of Nuccio Bertone. He said to Lamborghini, “I’m the one who can make the shoe to fit your foot.” A deal was struck and the design was handed off to Marcello Gandini, who was tasked with interpreting Bertone’s instructions and producing a car befitting such a chassis. This task was made slightly more difficult in that it had to be accomplished in four months so that the car could be unveiled at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show.
Thanks to many long days and a clear vision, they succeeded. The Miura was born. After the huge success in Geneva, Lamborghini took the car to the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. According to Lamborghini (the company, not the man), “The orange Miura he parked in front of the Hotel de Paris that Saturday afternoon attract[ed] so many oglers that they completely jammed the square in front of the Casino, arousing even more enthusiasm, interest and orders. It was, quite simply, a runaway success.”
The remainder of the ’60s were a whirlwind of activity at Lamborghini. The well-oiled machine of the Bertone design team and the Lamborghini engineers produced models and special editions at breakneck speed. Two models, the Espada and Urraco, were the top sellers during this period and they had been designed to sell. The factory was expanded to keep up with the demand for the Urraco. In this midst of producing cars for the well-heeled masses, the Lamborghini team continued to improve on the Miura. Two models in particular stand out: the Jota and the Super Veloce (SV). The SV was the best (and last) road going version of the Miura. It had a number of changes throughout to make it the best it could be, including a reworked engine, gearbox, and nine inch wide rear tires. The Jota was designed to meet FIA Appendix J regulations for racing. It featured an aluminum body, plastic windows, and many other weight saving modifications, which combined to make it 800 pounds lighter than the Miura. This, when combined with a tweaked engine making 440 horsepower gave it a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds.
When the SV was unveiled in 1971, it failed to turn heads. People recognized that it was an exceptional version of an exceptional car, but they were drawn to the new, unbelievable car – the Countach. Sunflower yellow and striking from every angle, the Countach was the darling of the Geneva Motor Show. It represented a stark departure from the accepted styling language of the period. When it reached production (model LP400), it was outfitted with a 4.0 liter V12 making 370 horsepower.
Unfortunately, this was the last car that Ferruccio had a strong hand in developing. Labor unrest was changing the face of industry in Italy, and it was a transition that he couldn’t stand. The situation was intensified by the 1973 oil crisis, which reduced demand for high-power sports cars. Between 1972 and 1973, he sold his entire stake in Lamborghini Automobile and retired to his 740 acre estate in central Italy, where he pursued winemaking, returning to his family’s roots for the remainder of his life.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.