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Design Review: Lamborghini Calà (1995)

A V10-powered prototype designed by Giugiaro with the goal of becoming the baby-Lambo of the late 1990s.

The Lamborghini Calà, a concept which stunned the world with its design back in 1995, offered an enticing preview into the Raging Bull's future entry-level supercar.

Today, the Lamborghini Calà is widely regarded as the predecessor of the Gallardo (and later, the Huracan). The stunning yellow supercar was revealed in near production form at the 1995 Geneva Motor Show, alongside the Diablo SV. The car was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign studio, and was intended to become the second model in Lamborghini’s line-up next to the Diablo flagship.

Mechanically, the fully functioning Calà prototype was was built on a bonded aluminium chassis with a 4.0-litre V10 producing 300kW, offering a 0-100 km/h sprint time of around five seconds and a top speed of 291km/h.


Above: Lamborghini P140 concept (1987) by Marcello Gandini

The concept car was based on the P140 (1987) prototype designed by Marcello Gandini as the successor for the ageing Jalpa (1981-1988). Although three prototypes of the P140 were thoroughly tested, production plans were scrapped due to the global financial crisis of the early 1990s which had a significant impact on supercars sales.

Even more significant than the Calà's performance credentials, was Giugaro’s styling which proposed an evolution of Lamborghini’s design language. The rounded edges, organic shapes and smooth surfaces moved further away from the sharp-angled past of the brand.

At the front, aggressive headlights featured integrated air intakes as a nod to the legendary Miura. Their rounded triangular shape (which would later inspire Luc Donckerwolke for the design of the Murcielago and the Gallardo), followed the curve of the bonnet reaching close to the wide windshield which was reminiscent of the Countach. At the same time, the horizontal line above the wide air intake at the front bumper created a strong connection with the Diablo, while the additional side intakes gave it a fresh look.

The profile of the Calà, with its typical mid-engined proportions, retained the wedge shape that characterises most of Lamborghini’s models with a very steep front windshield and a long window line meeting with the sloping roofline above the rear wheel. The splitter on the long front overhang sat lower than the rest of the car, making it look like it was ready to attack the road.

The double air intakes on the sides featured organic shapes and, together with the split rear-quarter windows, provided enough air for cooling the engine. Two additional air intakes sat on top of the rear shoulders towards the back, even though those parts were removable. Another very cool element was the very large and body-coloured aerodynamic mirror covers on the base of the A-pillar, serving as the connection between the front windshield and the lower side windows.

Finally, the 18-inch rims, made from from polished magnesium, may look dated now but back in 1995 they were cool as hell, completely filling the round wheel arches with traditional round inlets in between their five spokes.

Moving to the back, the large tail-lights with deep red plastic covers, followed the rounded shape of the rear fender elongating the four circular light units. The slats on the rear windscreen, the large rear wing, the part between the tail-lights and the lower part of the bumper were painted black, offering some contrast to the bright yellow colour of the body.

Compared to modern supercars, the rear design and especially the bumper was clean, and only the four tailpipes positioned towards the centre and the large V10 badge revealed this as a serious machine designed for performance.

The targa-roof was removable and could be stored behind the seats. When closed it featured a peculiar sunroof which worked as an expansion of the front windshield allowing more light inside the cabin.

The cabin featured a combination of leather and suede covering most of the interior surfaces. A curved line surrounding the centre console was heavily tilted towards the driver, inspired by the organic shapes of the exterior.

White gauges, a gated shifter for the six-speed manual, and heavy bolstered Recaro seats completed the image of a supercar with a premium feel that would have made a great daily driver.

What Happened Next?

In 1994, Lamborghini fell under the financial control of the holding company MegaTech Ltd which in turn was owned by Indonesian Setdco Pty. In 1996, sales of the Diablo recovered and the Italian brand returned to profitability.

The development of an entry-level supercar to rival the Ferrari F355 continued, and Lamborghini was in talks with Audi for the supply of a V8 engine. Unfortunately, due to the financial crisis in Asia, MegaTech found itself in financial difficulties and in 1998 sold Lamborghini to Audi AG for US$110 million, a reasonable return on investment considering it had paid only $40 million for the ailing manufacturer just four years prior.

Ferdinand Piëch, president of the VW Group, wanted to strengthen the image of the company by acquiring brands like Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley. Over the following years, Audi proved to be a safe place for Lamborghini, allowing it to grow and flourish in an unprecedented way. However, the restructuring plan didn’t include a production version of the Lamborghini Calà, promoting the development of brand new models instead.

After experimenting with a significantly updated Diablo, Lamborghini unveiled its new flagship - the Murciélago, in 2001 - before launching the V10-powered Gallardo at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show. Finally, the Raging Bull had a successor to the Jalpa.

The baby Lambo would become the most successful model in the history of the brand, with total sales of 14,022 units between 2003 and 2014, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the cumulative car production from the Sant’Agata factory. The only car that threatens to surpass those sales numbers is its successor, the Lamborghini Huracan (2014-present).

VERDICT

The Calà was a beautiful and very competent concept car that could have changed the course of Lamborghini’s history if it had been put into production shortly after its reveal. The delay, and later cancellation of the project due to financial restraints, had nothing to do with the great potential of this car which would have been competitive in an emerging market towards the end of the '90s.

We would have loved a production version of the Calà, retaining its sexy curves and the overall exotic character, but at least its legacy lived on with the Gallardo and Huracan. Both of these cars took inspiration from the Calà but they also benefited from VW Group’s expertise in making high quality and reliable supercars, combining amazing performance with everyday usability.

Additionally, the brand new platform of the Gallardo was significantly more modern than the 1980s-developed P140 chassis which would have started to feel dated in the early 2000s. In that context, the Calà got the successor it deserved and now rests at the Lamborghini museum where everyone can admire its beautiful carbon-fibre body and wonder what might have been.

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