50 years of Lamborghini Countach

By: Mark Higgins, Photography by: Unique Cars Archives, Lamborghini

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Italian tractor maker Lamborghini stunned the automotive world with its first sports car, the curvaceous 350 GT in 1964

Six years later the public got a glimpse of what was to become the Lamborghini Countach with the showing of the Lancia Stratos Zero. The Zero reappeared at the 1971 Geneva Motorshow this time as a prototype, badged the Lamborghini LP 500. Its unconventional design received great public interest and extensive press coverage.

The Countach or project name LP112 originated in 1970 with Ferrucio Lamborghini fearing the gorgeous Miura was showing its age against rival new models like the Ferrari Daytona. He instructed Chief Engineer Paolo Stanzani, Assistant Engineer Massimo Parenti, Bertone Designer Marcello Gandini (who penned the Miura) and Test Driver Bob Wallace to commence work on an all-new car.

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The aim was to create a car that enabled the best possible performance with an aerodynamically efficient body that was also daring aesthetically, the same principles used successfully with the Miura. Lamborghini had a preference for comfortable grand tourers as well as naming his cars after breeds of fighting bulls but was critically aware of the commercial value of a purer sports car.

| Past Blast: 1983 Lamborghini Countach LP5000S

The interior of the Countach was equally outrageous with Gandini sketching a dash with digital readouts but while this didn’t eventuate steering column mounted aircraft style warning lights were included. Also included were deep bucket seats and when combined with the high transmission tunnel gave the sensation of siting in a formula one car cockpit.

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Not only did the design of the Countach break with Lamborghini flowing design tradition, so did the name. With Countach coming from the word contacc – an exclamation of astonishment in the Piedmontese, a dialect within a region of Italy. Apparently there was a profiler working on the project who only spoke Piedmontese and he frequently said ‘countach’, which literally means plague, but is actually used to express amazement or admiration.

| Video: Lamborghini Countach LP5000s

Alphanumeric designations in order to further define Countach models with most beginning with LP, Italian for longitudinale posteriore, referring to the Countach’s engine position. Early production models also had three digits pointing to their engine displacement, 400 for 3.9-litre engines and 500 for 4.8 and 5-litre engines. In 1988 the LP designation was dropped for the 25th anniversary edition.

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The Lamborghini V12 used in the Countach traces back to 1963 and was designed by Giotto Bizzarrini.

In 1974 the mid-engine, wedge-shaped LP400 Countach with its scissor doors entered production that lasted until 1990 with a total of 1983 units produced.

In 1975, Walter Wolf, a wealthy Canadian businessman and owner of the Wolf F1 Racing team in the 1970s, purchased an LP400 but was less than impressed with its performance and asked Gianpaolo Dallara, Lamborghini’s then chief to create a special high-power version of the Countach. Only three were made.

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Three years later the LP400S or Sport was introduced with fibreglass wheel arch extensions to cover the 345/35R15 Pirelli tyres, the widest seen on a production car. An ‘S’ emblem was added to the Countach’s flanks and an optional vee-shape rear wing improved high speed stability but cut the top speed by 16km/h. Despite this drawback, most buyers opted for the wing. In all three LP 400 S series were produced.

Fifty series one cars featuring Campagnolo ‘Bravo’ style wheels, a lower ride height and small Stewart-Warner instrumentation that were replaced with larger dials in 1979 also changed at the time was the unpadded steering wheel for a new padded version.

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The biggest seller of the three was the Series 2 cars of which one hundred and five were made, identifiable by their concave style wheels and lowbody suspension.

Eighty two Series Three cars were produced and are recognised with their higher ride height compered to its predecessors.

A new model Countach, the LP 500 rolled out of the Sant’ Agata factory in 1982 with a bigger 4.8-litre engine and while the exterior was left untouched the interior came in for an update.

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Another new variant to ease its way out the factory gates in 1985 was the LP5000 Quattrovalvole and, as the name suggests, the 5.2-litre engine boasted four valves per cylinder. Still fuelled by carburettors their placement was moved to the engine top for improved cooling that resulted in an unsightly (to some) hump in the engine cover reducing the rear visibility from poor to close to nil. Kevlar had started making its way into the auto industry and the Countach was one of the first cars to feature kevlar body panels. Fuel injection by way of Bosch K-Jetronic replaced the carbys on later models and produced 309kW. However the Downdraft version employing six Weber carbys put out a more substantial 335kW. Of the 610 LP5000s built only 66 wore fuel injection.

To meet US safety and emission regulations, Lamborghini’s biggest market, a US spec 5000 QV was made with bumper bars front and back, which most owners immediately removed after taking ownership and the K-Jetronic injection.

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Next cab off the rank was the 25th Anniversary edition of the Countach in 1988. It had a similar mechanical package to the 5000QV but with a heavily restyled body by none other than Horacio Pagani who went onto to create a car company in his name, bestowing on the world the Zonda as his opening gambit.


The Anniversary edition Countach featured larger airbox intakes with a second pair of ducts sitting on top and redesigned longitudinal fins behind the radiators for better airflow from the radiators out through the secondary fins. Additionally the engine bay cover was modified and a rear bumper was introduced. The Anniversary edition was considered the most refined and fastest Countach, accelerating from 0–100km/h in 4.7 seconds, a time considered epic back then and it had a top speed of 295 km/h. In 1990 it was replaced with the Diablo.

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Lamborghini’s Swiss importer Max Bobnar hired engine whizz Franz Albert in the early 1980s to bolt on a pair of turbos to two Countach models, a LP500 S and a Series I LP400 S with the LP500 S being shown at the 1984 Geneva Motor Show. Power was boosted to 558 kW enabling a 0-100km/h time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 335 km/h. The boost pressure was adjustable from 0.7 bar to 1.5 bar.

The Countach also featured on the biggest motorsport stage as the safety car at the Monaco Grand Prix between 1980 and 1983.

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In order to create a suitable successor to the Countach a one-off Evoluzione was built by in 1987. Its engineering team included Pagani and utilised an all-new chassis incorporating many kevlar, aluminium honeycomb and carbon fibre panels but the existing engine, suspension and wheels from the Countach LP5000QV. The Evoluzione was used for other technologies including a 4WD driveline, adjustable ride height, active suspension and even low drag windscreen wipers. The Evoluzione never entered production and was destroyed in crash testing.

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A small batch of Countachs were assembled from CKD kits in Cape Town, South Africa during the mid-1970s by local dealer and importer Intermotormakers and lasted until 1980 when the government mandated all cars manufactured in South Africa must have a minimum of 66 per cent local content.

In 1990 the Countach was succeeded by the Diablo.

 

From Unique Cars #452, April 2021

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