Countach – the name comes from a Piedmontese exclamation of amazement which, very roughly translated into English, means something like `crikey’ and was an ideal name for the car that was to replace the Lamborghini Miura.
First seen at the Geneva Motor Show of 1971, the Countach car was produced as the ultimate no-compromise high performance road car. To achieve this cost was barely a consideration, and the result was quite dramatic, to say the least. The designer, Bertone, included doors which did not swing outward but upward and forward from low-mounted front hinges.
The chassis was a very complicated multi-tubular structure, in which the famous V12 unit was mounted lengthwise behind the cockpit. The designer, Stanzani, who was never afraid to take dramatic decisions, such as reversing the engine’s direction of rotation, dispensed with the vagaries of the Miura’s long floppy gear change by simply turning the engine through 90 degrees so that it faced north and south, rather than east and west.
Other people who have done this placed the clutch, gearbox and final drive at the back in the accepted order, but not Stanzani. He put the gear box at the front, solving the long linkage problem with the stroke of a pen. The five-speed transmission protruded into the cockpit, and drive to the rear wheels was by a propeller shaft, through a tube in the engine sump, to the final drive.
As a consequence, the driving position was a long way forward, but the car’s centre of gravity was low, and there was a 43/57 percent front/rear weight distribution. There was even space for some luggage behind the engine itself. The power unit, originally of 3929 cc and developing 280 kW, was eventually enlarged in 1982 to 4754 cc with no more power, but better torque. A rear spoiler wing was optional, and top speed was at least 290 km/h.
Exotic aviation alloy and Belgium glass made the Countach lighter than the Miura which shared the same power. With better balance and superior aerodynamics, the handling was frequently described as fantastic. And so was the cost of building it. Lamborghini made almost everything themselves and when one learns that it took 17 men to cast one of their exquisite cylinder heads, one realises how high their labour costs must have been. Lamborghini probably lost money on every Countach they made and finally Ferruccio Lamborghini sold his business and retired to grow grapes.
Others took over and Automobili Lamborghini, still producing cars, tottered from one financial crisis to another until stability was achieved by a French takeover in 1980. But there is still nothing on the road which can match the speed, handling and style of a Countach: the classic among classics.