From inventing the supercar to failing to sell motorcycles.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was born on April 28, 1916, and developed a reputation for mechanical ingenuity when he was stationed as a vehicle maintenance supervisor for the Italian Royal Air Force. Stuck on an island in the middle of World War II meant the supply chain for parts wasn't reliable, so he had to get creative to keep things running. When he returned to Italy, he created a business making tractors from surplus military machines, then expanded into manufacturing all kinds of things, including heating and air-conditioning systems. Ferruccio Lamborghini became a wealthy man and spent some of his money on sports cars, specifically a Ferrari 250GT regularly serviced by Ferrari at its Maranello headquarters. When Lamborghini's own mechanic pointed out that a replacement clutch in the car was the same as used in Lamborghini tractors, but with a massive markup from Ferrari, he was incensed and confronted Enzo Ferrari. Enzo being Enzo, he belittled Ferruccio Lamborghini as a tractor maker that didn't know anything about sports cars.
Lamborghini responded to Enzo Ferrari's arrogance by building his own sports car, the Lamborghini 350 GTV. It was a two-seater coupe powered from the front by a V12 engine. Automobili Lamborghini was established as a company in 1963 in Sant'Agata Bolognese, Italy, and changed the automotive world in short order.
Enzo Ferrari gave in to the mid-engine layout in race cars as it was necessary, but he liked his production cars to be traditional grand tourers. Ferruccio Lamborghini preferred powerful sports cars that were more comfortable cruisers over race car-derived road machines. Lamborghini's top engineers thought the way forward was mid-engine, so Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani, and Bob Wallace set about building a prototype on their own time. Ferruccio wasn't wholly convinced of its long-term viability but recognized that a ferocious mid-engined car could be a great marketing tool. He gave the engineers a free hand to develop the idea to the end, then contracted the Italian design studio Bertone to design the bodywork.
Between them, they invented the Lamborghini Miura and created the first supercar with a rear mid-engine two-seat layout. Just 764 were built between 1966 and 1973, but it became a global sensation. Amazingly, the engineers took a massive design idea from the equally culturally important Mini by designing the engine and transmission as a single unit to share lubrication from the oil.
At the time of writing, Lamborghini has produced just 26 separately named models. If you ignore the single and special production models based on existing models, that number drops to 18 over 59 years. The one with the most sub-models is the landmark Lamborghini Diablo with 18 different variations despite only around 900 being built in total. The lowest selling model was Lamborghini's second, the 400 GT. The biggest selling model is, at the time of writing, the current Huracan which sold its 14,022nd unit in 2019, matching the Gallardo's total build number over its ten-year production run. Not bad for a company that started out with farm equipment.
It's well known that most Lamborghini models are named after an aspect of bullfighting history, but that's not the only reason the bull was settled on as a logo. Ferruccio Lamborghini's star sign was Taurus, and the bull and bullfighting were passions for him. Also, the bull represented power, speed, and prestige to him - as well as a great response to Ferrari's prancing horse logo.
The original logo for the automaker was a black-and-white bull on a red background with the shield outlined in black. The more familiar black-and-gold color scheme didn't appear until 1972, but in 1974, a monochrome version was created, and it wasn't until 1998 that black and gold returned and the badge we know today was created.
The Lamborghini Countach was launched in 1974, and its radical design and performance changed the supercar game again. However, it wasn't built from the factory to meet the United States or Canadian safety and emissions regulations. That didn't stop Americans, though, and quite a few made their way across the ocean as gray market imports and modified to meet legislation. Lamborghini was well aware the US was a big market for the brand and the car but didn't build one to meet standards until the US-specification Countach LP5000 QV in 1985. Like other sports cars of the era, the US model had larger energy-absorbing bumpers fitted. Inevitably, most owners pulled them off straight away.
A new Lamborghini is never going to be cheap, but the Veneno Coupe weighed in at $4 million and the Veneno Roadster at $4.5 million. Five coupes and nine roadsters were built and, if you want one now, expect to pay at least double the original cost when one comes up for auction again. Not only did the Veneno arrive in 2013 as the most expensive production car on the planet, but its 6.5-liter V12 pushed it to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 221 mph. The specs don't stop wowing there, though. In corners, the Veneno will pull 1.41 G, and it'll come to a stop from 60 mph in just 98 feet. That's the length of the world's largest bus or two feet short of the height of a ten-storey building.
Most high-end manufacturers will teach you how to drive fast in one of their vehicles on a track. Lamborghini, however, will put you out on a track topped with ice and snow. In 2020, the event that Lamborghini describes as a "fun and instructional program" took place in Aspen, Colorado, and people attending had the chance to thrash Lamborghini Huracán EVO and Urus models around in the snow. We're not sure if this benefitted any of them in the real world, but we'd bet our bottom dollar that the experience was seriously fun. Teaching Urus owners that their SUVs are more than just pavement pounders is something we can get behind too.
According to Lamborghini's founder, taking the brand racing would drain too many resources, including cash. As a result, he decided there would be no factory team or factory support for racing teams. His engineers didn't agree, particularly the ones that came from Ferrari, where selling road cars was what supported the racing. Under Ferruccio's reign, a few highly modified prototypes were built but none went racing. Lamborghini did build Formula 1 engines from 1989 to the early 1990s to the Larrousse, Lotus, Ligier, Minardi, and Modena teams. It's commonly believed the Modena team was Lamborghini's factory project, but the automaker was just a supplier.
Now, though, Lamborghini does have visibility in racing through its motorsport department, Lamborghini Squadra Corse. The department organizes the Lamborghini Super Trofeo and Lamborghini GT3 one-make series. Lamborghini these days is happy to build customer race cars such as the Huracán GT3 EVO to go tear up the track with.
The 1980s were a great time for Lamborghini financially, and the head of the company at the time, Patrick Mimran, decided the brand should branch out. Lamborghini still builds incredible engines for boats, but the project to develop and sell a motorcycle didn't go so well. The Design 90 motorcycle was outsourced to Boxer Bikes and used a Kawasaki engine. Fifty orders for the bike were made, but only six were built, including concepts. The project was iced when GM took over Lamborghini and was ultimately forgotten about. The last time we saw a Design 90 in the wild, it went up for auction but didn't meet its reserve price. Still, Lamborghini remains a highly attractive marque, and the vehicles it has found success with are better than ever.