Italian Exotic Icons: Lamborghini Countach

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Perhaps the most famous Lamborghini of all time.

Just as Lamborghini had created the supercar niche with the Miura in 1966, when the Countach came along in 1974, it set the tone for how outrageous and flamboyant a supercar had to be. Even the name Countach is derived from an expression of surprise in the local Italian dialect. It's one used by men on seeing a beautiful woman, and is this is just the first of many things about the Countach that were unlike anything else seen in a car before.

The launch of the Countach could not have come at a worse time. Global financial problems as well as an oil embargo hit the automotive world hard in 1973, and were responsible for effectively killing off performance cars from American manufacturers by 1974. Ferruccio Lamborghini had sold off the company which bore his name by this point, and it seemed like the deck was stacked against the launch of a new V12-powered supercar. Yet somehow the Countach survived, and went on to enjoy the longest production run of any Lamborghini model to date.

After the huge success of his design for the Miura, Marcello Gandini, of the Bertone design house, was once again called on to style this latest raging bull. To say the design was one still considered to be outrageous today, and it was Gandini's boss, Nuccio Bertone, to whom the gasp of "countach!" on seeing the design for which the car was named has been attributed. Lamborghini's engineers once again needed to work hard at making the V12 engine fit into Gandini's design. With the Miura, they had needed to place it in transversely, and for the Countach it was mounted backwards, with the output shaft pointed towards the front of the car.

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The wide, low wedge shape of the car would become the new norm for the still-new supercar niche, and for Lamborghini's models in particular. The angular lines and gaping NACA ducts made the car look incredibly futuristic, and the scissor doors added another styling flourish just for the hell of it. The doors and wedge shape would become signature features for Lamborghini, and no car that they have put out since has been such a radical leap forward in styling. The Countach's engine started out as the same 3929cc mill from the Miura.

Interestingly, it was mysteriously identified by Lamborghini as a 3.9-liter in the Miura and as a 4.0-liter in the Countach, despite having an identical displacement. The displacement would eventually grow to 4.8-liters and in 1985 it would grow one last time to 5.2-liters, and would receive a new four-valve setup, known as the "Quattrovalvole". These changes to the engine came along with a few tweaks here and there to the car's styling, and thanks to the unusually long production run, the Countach would end up evolving quite a bit more many other Lamborghini models.

The final evolution of the car would be the 25th Anniversary Edition, obviously celebrating 25 years of the company and not the Countach, which would be introduced in 1988. The styling for this edition was greatly changed, and was this time handled by the new company Pagani Composite Research, founded by a former Lamborghini designer named Horacio Pagani, who would go on to design cars which would wear his own name when the company became Pagani Automobili. The 25th Anniversary Edition has a much more (there is no other way to say it) eighties look to it.

Strakes on the intakes resembled those of the Ferrari Testarossa, and would be one of the more iconic design features of the decade. Though they never made it to production, Lamborghini made two prototypes out of the Countach as test vehicles for new technologies. All Countachs were fast, but either of these prototypes would have been the fastest production car in the world if they had been green lit. The first of these was the LP500 Turbo S. The concept behind this one was simple, it was a version of the 4.8-liter engine with two Garrett turbochargers. A boost knob was fitted, and the power output could be adjusted from 550hp to 750hp.

The Turbo could hit 60mph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 207mph, still impressive numbers nearly 30 years later. Next was the Evoluzione, a project also under the direction of Pagani, which was used to test the benefits of various weight-saving composites. The Evoluzione used a mostly unmodified version of the Quattrovalvole engine, but the use of composites trimmed more than a third of the vehicles weight allowing it to hit speeds of 205mph. Production numbers for the Countach reached 2,042 total, much more than the Miura, but still noticeably less than the cars to come after it, especially the Murcielago.

The Countach would be replaced in 1990 by the Diablo. Although the Diablo did have the coolest name in the history of cars (that, I'm afraid, is a fact, and cannot be debated), neither it nor any subsequent Lamborghini has managed to raise the outrageous bar much above the level of the Countach. It seems that is now the job of one-time Lambo designer Pagani.

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