A Look Back At 50 Years Of The Lamborghini Countach

Images: Makarand Baokar/Archivio centrale dello Stato/Stile Bertone

If the achingly beautiful Miura made Lamborghini famous, and the Espada made the marque desirable, it was the Countach that made Lamborghini controversial, famous, infamous. It was a car that grabbed headlines in no uncertain way, and eventually, immortalised the brand.

More than 50 years later, on 2nd October, 2021, the Countach grabbed headlines once again, as Lamborghini debuted the replica of the original Countach LP500 prototype, from 1971, at the Villa d'Este Concourse d'Elegance, built for a well-known Swiss marque collector. The genesis of the original, no doubt, was a very exciting story.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show of 1971, on the 11th of March, the Lamborghini Countach LP500 concept prototype totally stunned the automobile world with its radical design

By the time the Miura had evolved to the fully sorted SV iteration, the shortcomings of Lamborghini’s flagship were more than obvious. With a transverse V12, there were issues about the excessive lightness at the front. The suspect aerodynamics gave the Miura’s front end a propensity to lift. Thanks to a long and complicated gear linkage, the Miura had a rather recalcitrant gearbox, plus, the problem of heat and noise, given the close proximity of the engine to the interior.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
With its scissor's action doors and a sharp wedge-shaped front end the Countach was like no other car in the world then; this yellow concept prototype, after extensive testing, was crashed as a test for safety, disappearing forever

The marque had the opportunity to remedy all these issues when it came to the Countach, which was inspired by the Miura, and was to succeed it as well.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
Even the rear of the Countach was like no other, with a pair of trapezoidal lamps encased within nacelles at the rearmost end of the flying buttresses

Placing the engine longitudinally seemed to be a better solution (as compared to the transverse location of the Miura’s engine) addressing the issue of front-end lightness and better front-rear weight bias, plus heat and noise could be reduced, as most of the engine would be away from the cabin.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
From any angle, even above, the Countach is dramatic; this is the 5000 Quattrovalvole, from 1987, which is part of the Bertone Collection

For Lamborghini’s chief engineer, Paulo Stanzani, placing the engine longitudinally would be too easy and obvious a solution. A more innovative idea would be to locate the engine longitudinally, but south-north, instead of north-south, and have the gearbox ahead of the engine, between the driver and the passenger. No doubt a brilliant and out-of-the-box solution, but the hard truth was another reality.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
That delta-winged rear spoiler worked beautifully as a design counterpoint to the sharply sloping front end

Although credit has been given to Paolo Stanzani for the Countach’s very innovative layout configuration, the real originator of the concept was none other than Stanzani’s understudy, Oliviero Pedrazzi.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
The first car to feature scissors-action doors, the concept was invented by Marcello Gandini on another of his concepts, the Alfa Romeo Carabo concept, from 1968

Pedrazzi explained to this writer: “We came up with the idea of using the engine-transmission combination of the Espada, but turned around, so that the gearbox would be located ahead and between the seats for the driver and passenger. It was done to essentially rationalise our production process.”

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
These images were taken at Stile Bertone, at the basement where the Bertone Museum used to be, a week before all the cars were moved out, for ever

The gear lever would be directly connected to the gearbox, with the drive going back to the rear axle, under the engine, addressing the issue of the recalcitrant shift problems of the Miura, and all the other shortcomings of front-rear weight, front end lightness, heat, and noise.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
The rear wing was optional and many had it fitted; it hardly helped downforce, and compromised top speed, but it looked so purposeful

For the design of the Countach, Stanzani and Bertone’s Marcello Gandini worked closely, deciding between them the wheelbase of 2.45 meters (96.5 inches) for the Miura’s replacement. With the experience of the Alfa Romeo Carabo and the Lancia Strato’s Zero and Stratos HF projects, Gandini proposed that the driver and passenger could sit further forward, but closer together with their legs extended between the front pair of wheels, up to the front axle line, thus making it possible to reduce the wheelbase of the car.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
Like the elytra wings of a beetle...

Once the powertrain layout and chassis design had been fixed, Gandini provided the tightly enveloping shape of the car. And what a shape it was!

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
Low, wide and dramatic, beautifully offset by a those pair of doors like wings all ready to take off

A revolutionary creation, which marked the evolution of the art of Marcello Gandini to a more radical shape, but without too much complexity.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
From the rear the sense of power and purpose

The Countach, other than being a logical extension of the design direction defined by the Alfa Carabo concept from 1968, and the Strato’s Zero from 1970, deeply influenced automotive design of the 1970s and thereafter. The almost monolithic form with its trapezoidal design motif could not have been more futuristic.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
Extremely low hammock-like seats encase the driver and passenger, separated by a very high central console

At the front, a sharply chiselled nose, the wedge shape flowing over a tight greenhouse and the powerful engine marked by a set of six vents cut into either shoulders ending in a complexly sculpted Kamm tail cut-off.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
These air intakes were necessary to cool that mighty V12 within, elements which "defaced" the purity of the original design of the yellow LP500

With the whole flowing form animated by vertically opening scissors-action doors—the elytra wings borrowed from the Carabo—the Countach was an amazing sculpture, with a purity of geometry broken by sharp edges over smooth surfaces, yet not devoid of sweeping curves.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
Two pairs of pop-up lamps were necessary to pierce the night for this superfast bolide

Although concept-car-like in its looks, layout and thinking, when the car was first unveiled at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show, Ferruccio Lamborghini confirmed that the Countach was indeed intended for ‘regular street use,’ and that it would be replacing the Miura.

1971 Lamborghini Countach Marcello Gandini classic cars vintage cars
Four exhausts to amplify the importance of that very powerful V12

It took another two years before the street legal version hit the road, with several design changes. But then it remained in production, with some more changes to both the cosmetics and the mechanicals, until 1990.

The badge says it all: that this Countach is the version with the 5-litre engine and four valves per cylinder

The red car featured here is part of the Bertone Collection, and is from 1987, a 5000 Quattrovalvole version.

Here is an image of the replicated Lamborghini Countach LP500.

The brand new recently-replicated Lamborghini Countach LP500, unveiled at Villa d'Este on 2nd October 2021, and photographed by Patrick Rollet

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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