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Did Ferrari's First All-Wheel Drive Supercar Become The Lamborghini Diablo VT?

Nothing like a good Italian conspiracy.

For the record, the FF wasn’t the first all-wheel drive Ferrari, but rather the first production all-wheel drive Ferrari. Ferrari began experimenting with all-wheel drive long before the FF’s 2011 debut. In the 1980s Ferrari began trying to figure out what the supercar of the future needed to become. Now, Ferrari, especially during this time when Enzo Ferrari was still running things, was fairly conservative at the management level, meaning it liked to stick with a winning engineering formula.

At the engineering level, however, things were a bit different. Engineers, by their very nature, like to experiment, but it took a concept car from Nissan (of all companies) to get Ferrari management’s attention. Nissan revealed its MID4 concept in 1985, followed by an updated version in 1987. Both concepts were innovative and packed with modern tech like four-wheel-steering, a fully independent suspension, and ABS brakes. They were also mid-engined, all-wheel drive, and had exceptional build quality. Nissan, at the time, intended to build it, aiming to go after the likes of Porsche as well as Ferrari. The suits at Ferrari immediately took notice.

Ferrari’s then mid-engined V8 offering, the 270-hp 328, suddenly looked dated from an engineering perspective, and the solution was clear: innovate. Enter Mauro Forghieri, the now legendary Ferrari engineer. He joined Ferrari straight out of engineering school, becoming a part of its racing team in 1962. He later rose to be Technical Director of the entire racing department. Forghieri was the ideal engineer: brilliant, passionate and forward-thinking. When the FIA ultimately decided that all-wheel drive race cars were never going to happen, Forghieri was re-assigned to Ferrari’s future road cars, and the 408 4RM was the result in 1987.

This was an all-wheel drive, mid-engined V8 supercar built on a modified 328 steel chassis. Now, we know that you know this was right around the time when Honda/Acura was putting the final touches on its revolutionary and now iconic first-generation NSX. Although it had a V6 instead of a V8 and was rear- instead of all-wheel drive, the NSX also featured a mid-engine setup. And unlike Ferraris of that era, the NSX had superior build quality. Again, Ferrari management took careful note. Development on the 408 4RM continued and it was quite innovative. Along with its hydraulic all-wheel drive system, a second 408 4RM prototype, painted yellow, was built. Only this one featured an all-aluminum chassis bonded with adhesives.

It was shown to the public in 1988 and yes, we also think it looks a lot like the original NSX, which was no bad thing. If Ferrari was willing to go public with an advanced prototype such as this, wouldn’t that be a clear indicator of its upcoming production? You’d think so, but this happened: Forghieri was lured to Lamborghini by Lee Iacocca, then CEO of Chrysler, which owned Lamborghini at the time. Forghieri’s main task at Sant’Agata was to design the naturally aspirated V12 used for Lamborghini’s ill-fated Formula 1 effort. He also brought with him additional knowledge: how to build a state-of-the-art mid-engined supercar. Now, here’s where you have to wonder about things.

The Lamborghini Diablo went on sale in 1990, retaining the familiar rear-wheel-drive. In 1993, however, the Diablo VT was launched. VT stood for Viscous Traction, and this new drivetrain could send up to 25 percent of the torque to the front wheels for needed traction during a rear wheel slip. The era of the AWD Lamborghini had officially begun. As for Ferrari, to this day it has never applied AWD to any of its mid-engined models. Interestingly (or ironically), the FF’s patented all-wheel drive system was named 4RM, today called 4RM-S in the GTC4Lusso. What if Forghieri hadn’t been poached by Lamborghini? Obviously we’ll never know, but a good guess is that Ferrari - not Lamborghini - would be the one making RWD a novelty.

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