Few names evoke the same passion and awe as ‘Countach’ – even the name itself is a Piedmontese slang word that illustrates shock and surprise or wonderment. The Lamborghini Countach was a supercar that left an indelible mark on the automotive landscape one that is as strong now as it was decades ago.
50 years ago, the star of the Geneva Motor Show was the new Lamborghini Countach LP500. In signature yellow, the Countach rolled onto the show floor at 10am in the exhibition space of Carrozzeria Bertone, making its first public appearance.
The unveil was so successful that Lamborghini was immediately backpedalling, in an attempt to meet customer demand and fulfill expressions of interest.
At the time still just a show car, Lamborghini had to turn it into a road car, albeit with a limited production run. At the time, Lamborghini was also displaying the last of the Miura breed – the SV – refined and honed after five years of production.
The Countach immediately become something of a poster child, featured in just about every motoring magazine of the time around the world in the months that followed. It then went on to feature on the wall of teenage bedrooms around the world, too. Its dramatic design and sharp lines transcended languages and cultures.
Internal code LP112 referred to the positioning of the engine – longitudinale posterior in Italian – which means north/south in the rear of the car, a change from the Miura’s east/west layout. Like the Miura, the Countach was to be powered by a V12 engine, the signature engine for flagship Lamborghini models.
Engineer Paolo Stanzani, who had been with Lamborghini since 1963, headed up the project, and he had been named General Manager and Technical Director in 1968. The styling, for many the hallmark of the car beyond the engineering smarts, was the work of the legendary Marcello Gandini.
Without doubt, the scissor doors created the most fuss, a complete departure from automotive design of the time. Gandini was responsible for that decision, one that would go on to remain the signature of V12 Lamborghinis ever since.
The show car was quite different to the Countach that would eventually go into production in 1974. It had a platform frame rather than tubular, it featured a one-off 4971cc V12 engine, the intakes were different, and the instrumentation featured – for the time – sophisticated electronics.
Following the initial success at the Geneva show, Lamborghini’s chief test driver, Kiwi Bob Wallace, used the car albeit with a less exotic 4.0-litre V12 for extensive road testing. The show car’s life ended in 1974, when it was used for the crash test required for the homologation of the production car. The wreck was subsequently scrapped – sacrilege in 2021.
Countach become a legend running through five different series from 1974 to 1990, with 1999 examples produced in total.