While some automakers have incredibly long histories, Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A., the company we more commonly refer to simply as "Lamborghini," was founded only forty-five years ago, in 1963, and the man who did it, Ferruccio Lamborghini was not a builder of planes or motorcycles before he turned to sports cars, but instead owned a successful tractor factory. Even better, popular legend credits the inception of the company - indirectly - to Enzo Ferrari. Apparently, Lamborghini was dissatisfied with the quality of the clutch in his Ferrari 250, visited the other automaker to complain, and ultimately decided that the only way to resolve the issue was to make a better car.
The first two Lamborghinis to be made were the 350 and 400 GT, and proceeds from the sales of these vehicles earned the company enough to design its first sports car, the Lamborghini Miura. This car, or rather it's chassis and transversely-mounted engine, was personally introduced by the company founder at the November, 1965 Turin Auto Show, and, with styling by Marcello Gandini, was displayed less than a year later in the March, 1966 Geneva Auto Show. The name "Miura" was a homage to a famous trainer of fighting bulls, Don Eduardo Miura, and the car was first sold in 1967. 111 cars were sold in the first model years, with a total of 761 made over all. The Miura would earn Lamborghini's place in the intimate world of exotic car manufacturers.
Alongside the Miura, the Espada was designed, based on the Marzal concept car. Another homage to bull fighting, the name "Espada" is the Spanish word for "sword," specifically of the type used by matadors. While the Espada car never confronted bulls, it was a four-seat car with a four-liter V12 engine (in a more usual front-engine layout), and a top speed of about 150 mph. It sported a glass tail-light panel that was remarkably similar to the panel of the Fiat 124 Coupe' which was sold at the same time. During its production life, the Espada received enough minor improvements to mark three distinct series of this model.
In 1971, the LP500 Countach prototype car was produced, this time not named for any aspect of bull fighting, but after the Italian phrase that Nuccio Bertone let fly upon first seeing the car. The production model, the LP400 Countach, was introduced three years later in 1974. The Countach was the first Lamborghini to feature the company's now-iconic scissor-style doors, as well as vertically-mounted rear air intakes. It was initially sold with the same 4-liter engine as the Miura, but was upgraded to a 5-liter engine in 1982 with the launch of the LP500S, and it was also one of the first vehicles to ride on Pirelli "P-Zero" tires. The company test drivers reveled in demonstrating the Countach's abilities to members of the press, particularly showing off the method in which the car was reversed: the driver would raise the door and sit on the door sill.
In 1972, when a massive tractor order from South America was cancelled, Lamborghini suffered a major financial setback. Lamborghini had upgraded its factories to accommodate increased demand, but now Ferruccio was forced to sell part of his share in the tractor works to rival Fiat. Eventually, the tractor business was acquired by SAME (now the Same Deutz-Fahr Group), which still sells the tractors today. While the automobile division of Lamborghini did go on to become both profitable and self-sufficient, Ferruccio Lamborghini eventually sold his remaining stock to a Swiss investor and left the automotive industry entirely.
In fact, the Swiss buyout during the seventies was partly in response to the oil crisis that was plaguing the sales of high-performance vehicles, a series of events that led the company to declare bankruptcy in 1978. The Swiss-based Mimran Brothers took over the company in 1984 after managing the company for four years during its receivership. Under their reign, Lamborghini models for sale included the Countach, the Jalpa, and the LM002.
In 1987, in a bold move strategized by Lee Iacocca, Chrysler Corporation acquired ownership of Lamborghini, while the company was developing the Countach's direct successor, the Diablo, a car designed by Marcello Gandini - the same man who had designed the Miura and the Countach while still employed at Bertone. Chrysler brought its resources into the mix, and continued development of the Diablo, adding such elements as pollution controls, noise and vibration reduction, and improved ergonomics.
Chrysler retained ownership of Lamborghini until January 1994, when it was sold to an Indonesian investment group called Megatech, which was headed by Tommy Suharto, youngest son of the then-president of Indonesia. A new management team was installed, and included Mike Kimberley (formerly of Lotus) and Nigel Gordon-Stewart (from McLaren Cars). With this team in place, Lamborghini entered a renaissance period in the world automobile market, which included a complete restructuring of its international dealer network, and highly proactive marketing that included large stocks of cars sold by dealers, and new models introduced to create the illusion of a shortage in the market, all reinforcing the image of Lamborghini as an exclusive marque.
In 1995, the Lamborghini Diablo SV (Sport Veloce) was launched. Based on the Miura SV, this car featured a V12 engine that provided 525 bhp, and included variable cam timing technology, and it went on to become the best-selling version of the Diablo, even when the SVR model was added to the lineup the following year. The latter, sponsored by Lease Plan, was used to compete in the one-make racing series developed by Stephane Rattel.
In 1997, changing economic conditions in Indonesia forced Megatech to sell Lamborghini, and the company was subsequently acquired by Audi AG, which had gained interest in the Italian automaker after being approached as a possible supplier for technical components. This new ownership influenced the design of the next models to sport the Lamborghini marque, including the Murcielago, considered one of the brand's most sophisticated offerings.
Today, Lamborghini shares a head designer, Wolfgang Egger, with Audi. The current (2008) vehicle lineup includes the Murcielago LP640 and Murcielago LP640 Roadster, as well as the smaller, less pricey Gallardo LP560/4 and Gallardo Spyder, while production of the Gallardo Superleggera was stopped earlier this year. All these cars are mid-engined two-seaters known for their high speeds, and all but the Spyder comes standard with four-wheel drive. The owner of a modern Lamborghini will no doubt be prepared to accept high car insurance quotes, robust maintenance fees, and fuel costs for such a high performance vehicle.
Future Lamborghini models are rumored to include a Gallardo with rear-wheel drive and an LM002-inspired SUV-type vehicle. As well, the Estoque Concept, a four-door sedan, was revealed at the 2008 Paris Auto Show.
Licensing and Replicas
While Lamborghini, unlike many other automakers, has never done any excessive licensing of their designs to other auto manufacturers, Jorge Antonion Fernandez Garcia did obtain special permission from the company to set up his Buenos Aires, Argentina-based Automoviles Lamborghini Latinoamerica in 1994.
His first cars were based on the Diablo, and were hand-made sports cars. The cars, the Eros GT-1 and the Coatl were first presented in 2000, and were offered for sale from 2003 onward, but only in South America.
Despite being an official licensee, Garcia's company has not built any cars in the past five years. They applied for government funds in 2003, but their application was denied.
Replica Lamborghinis, most often versions of the Murcielago and the Diablo, are widely available from kit-car companies, and there are numerous websites and forums devoted to their construction and performance. There are replica kits for the Countach available as well, though these do not seem to be as popular.
Unlike long-time rival Ferrari, the Lamborghini management rarely goes after the replica companies for copyright/patent infringement, though there have been several kit-car sellers who have been sued by consumers, for non-delivery of products, or for substandard parts.
In addition to the South American cars, the Lamborghini badge has been licensed for use on products like sunglasses, watches, cigarette lighters, mountain bikes, and notebook computers, none of which are actually produced by the automaker itself.
Lamborghini today remains one of the top names in elite automobiles, with an unmatched cachet of speed and sophistication, as well as a continued rivalry with Ferrari. It continues to be controlled by Audi AG.