The Lamborghini Diablo Is A V12 Icon Never To Be Repeated

Supercars / 9 Comments

This is how the legendary Diablo was born and how it evolved.

A year ago, the modern reinterpretation of the Lamborghini Countach was revealed as the Sant'Agata-Bolognese automaker started celebrating its range-topping V12 engine. Although the Aventador Ultimae marks the end of the naturally aspirated Lambo V12, the flagship supercar's successor will continue to use the configuration, albeit with electrification.

As Lamborghini prepares to say goodbye to the power plant that has effectively defined the brand, it has been looking back at a number of significant icons from its past, including the achingly beautiful 350 GT. Now, Italy's most outrageous automaker is looking back on the Diablo, which succeeded the Countach. Does that mean a modern Diablo recreation is in the works? Keep reading.

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Project 132 (1995)

The original Lamborghini Countach was produced from 1974-1990. That meant it was already dated and losing pace with Ferrari for years before it was replaced. Thus, in 1985, Lamborghini began work on Project 132. The goal was to future-proof the vehicle to "remain the world's fastest production car for years to come."

Rally World Champion Sandro Munari contributed to its development, and five years later, on 21 January 1990, the automaker used Lamborghini Day at the Sporting in Monte Carlo to reveal the 5.7-liter V12-powered Diablo. The engine was derived from the 60-degree 3.5-liter V12 of its predecessor and boasted a Lamborghini-Weber Marelli LIE electronic fuel injection system, one of very few electronic components in the entire car. At this point, such systems were only used by Lamborghini to control the engine. With 485 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque, it could reach a top speed of 202 mph.

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The First AWD Diablo (1993)

The Diablo was still very crude in many ways in the early 1990s, with power steering only fitted to the supercar in 1993. It is often misunderstood that the Diablo gained an all-wheel-drive system because of the influence of Audi, but while Audi did take control of the company during the lifetime of the Diablo, it did so in 1998, after the first AWD Lambo arrived in 1993 as the Diablo VT. That suffix stands for "Viscous Traction" since the vehicle transfers torque from the rear axle to the front using a viscous coupling and a propeller shaft connected to the front differential. The system was always sending grunt to the rear unless those started to slip, and when that happened, only 20% of the performance made its way to the front axle. This system was based on that of the ill-fated LM002, the spiritual grandfather of the Urus SUV.

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That wasn't the only innovation, however, as an electronically-controlled suspension setup with five presets was also introduced here, as were new front intakes below the headlights for improved brake cooling, larger intakes in the rear arches, four-piston brake calipers, and a better interior with more comfort. All of the updates to the Diablo VT were quickly added to the regular Diablo, bar the AWD system.

Later in 1993, the Diablo SE30 commemorated the automaker's 30th year of existence with more power and less weight. It produced 523 hp and remained rear-driven. That and the deletion of the electronic shock absorbers helped keep it slim, while adjustable-stiffness anti-roll bars that could be adjusted from the cabin were added to further improve handling. Only 150 models were built, and with unique styling changes, it set the tone for future Diablos. Also noteworthy was the rare Jota specification, which converted the SE30 for track use and bumped power to 595 hp with 471 lb-ft of torque.

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Diablo Roadster Debuts (1995)

In 1994, a red Lamborghini Diablo drops Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels off at their hotel in the original Dumb & Dumber film, adding glamor to the moment. But if the movie had been released a year later, they might have made an even grander entrance. 1995 was the year in which the Diablo Roadster was revealed as the first-ever V12-powered Lamborghini with an open top. It arrived in December of that year and sported a carbon fiber Targa top that sat atop the engine cover when not in use, and technically, was not the automaker's first attempt at chopping the roof. Some previous concepts were created, but they remained one-off feasibility studies.

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Let's Go Racing! (1996)

From 1996-2002, Lamborghini ran its first one-make racing series in the form of the Super Sport Trophy, which would foreshadow today's Super Trofeo series. The Diablo race car debuted in a supporting race during the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans with 34 examples of the Diablo SV-R. These produced 550 horsepower and were campaigned in one-hour races.

We haven't mentioned it until now, but this race car calls to mind the Diablo SV that was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1995. The Diablo Super Veloce revived the nomenclature that was last applied to the Miura SV. Based on the standard Diablo, it was a rear-driven machine with 510 hp. Interestingly, this was priced below the regular Diablo, despite arriving with an adjustable rear spoiler and other upgrades as standard, and in 1998, the US got 20 slightly different takes on the SV with a new name: Monterey Edition.

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Audi Takes Over (1998)

The Italian automaker does not resent the corporate oversight that came with Audi's purchase of the brand: "The turning point for Lamborghini came in 1998 when Audi bought the company. The automaker finally had enough resources to develop a more refined industrial plan and gained access to components and technology once never dreamed of."

Audi didn't scrap the Diablo, as many may have after eight years in production. Instead, it helped Lamborghini create its in-house design department, which was christened Centro Stile in 2004 when the Murcielago was revealed. Here, the second Diablo series was born as a more powerful, luxurious, reliable, and faster car.

While Audi may not have been responsible for the introduction of AWD to the brand's products, it certainly played a big part in bringing quality and refinement standards to a level that even Ferrari could not ignore.

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6.0 Liters Of V12 Fury (1999)

The V12 increased in capacity to 6.0 liters, producing almost 600 hp in road cars and 655 in the 1997 GT1 Stradale. Only two Stadales were produced for race track use, making it one of the rarest Lambos ever. In 1999, the Diablo GT arrived with this bigger engine and better fuel injection calibration. It also featured radical new bodywork with carbon fiber and three-piece OZ Racing wheels. The engine generated 567 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque, with the transmission offering different gear ratios that the buyer could specify. This was once again RWD to save weight, and the later Diablo VT 6.0 and VT 6.0 SE were shortly introduced after Audi asked Lamborghini to design a more refined and modern version of the Diablo. Along with significant styling changes, these models helped the Diablo hang on for a few more years while the Murcielago successor was being developed.

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The End Of The Road

We're happy to report that Dumb & Dumber wasn't the only occasion where the Diablo got screen time. The Diablo SV was featured as a playable vehicle in 1998's Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit videogame, cementing its place as an icon for countless kids around the world. And in 2001, a 1999 Diablo VT Roadster appeared in Exit Wounds in an unforgettable scene with Earl Simmons, a.k.a DMX, and Anthony Anderson.

The Diablo has had a storied career spanning 11 years and 2,903 units produced, so one can't help but wonder if it would be worth Lamborghini's time to create another modern interpretation of a former halo car in the same vein as the recreated Countach. But that's not Lamborghini's way, and the brand has indicated that it won't be looking back to the past for inspiration again.

This is a brand that creates icons, not resurrects them. We can't wait to see what it does next, especially as its 60th anniversary looms...

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