1983 Lamborghini Countach LP5000S Review - Past Blast

By: John Bowe with Steve Nally, Photography by: Steve Nally

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Countachs were like low-flying fighter jets

 

1983 Lamborghini Countach LP5000S

Has there ever been a car as dramatic looking as the Lamborghini Countach? I don’t think so. Certainly not at the time when this car and its forebear, the original LP400 Countach, hit the world motoring stage. While Lamborghini’s earlier Miura was the epitome of 60s style and speed with its sleek feminine curves and breathtaking V12 performance, the Countachs were like low-flying fighter jets, all angles and scoops and menace. These were the first true supercars.

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The Countach LP400 prototype debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 1973 and it was so out there, it rocked the car world. But when the LP5000S was launched in 1982 it was even more outrageous with its fat guards, super-wide tyres, and big rear wing. It was every teenage kid’s pinup car in the 80s, so to get the opportunity to drive a Countach was very special for me. I’ve always been a Ferrari guy but Lamborghini, particularly before Audi took over the company, made some very dramatic and very fast cars.

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I’d never looked at one closely before but I became a fan when I drove Carl Lakis’ car. By the way, he took the rear wing off his car because he thinks it’s looks better without it. Fair enough. Countach’s have a reputation for being difficult to drive and temperamental but this car is neither. Based on our drive, which included getting stuck in a traffic jam on a freeway, the Countach’s cantankerous reputation is unfounded.

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There is a mega sense of occasion when you walk up to it, open the famous scissor door and slide across that wide sill into the deep bucket seat. And a speedo that reads to 330km/h would have been pretty special in 1983.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been in a car that turns heads so much, it stops people in their tracks and we have the great Bertone designer Marcello Gandini to thank for that. It’s very low and you’d think it’d be difficult to see out of but it’s actually not too bad and if you’re on your toes you can get through traffic without too many dramas. I gather the best way to reverse park them, though, is by sitting on the sill with the door open!

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The heart of the car, the engine, is beautiful. I’ve driven a few Lamborghini V12s before, my friend Peter Edwards has a front-engined Espada and I’ve also sampled the later Diablo and Murcielago and all their engines are mighty, particularly the carburettor-fed V12s. Fuel injection might be more efficient and stay in tune better but there’s something about the sound of twin banks of Webers gulping fuel and air behind your head.

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This Countach has a 4.8-litre V12 with three dual-throat 45 DCOE side-draught Webers per cylinder bank and it’s a very responsive engine that makes an awesome noise. It sings its head off when you get some revs on it and crackles and pops on overrun, it’s a mega powerplant. Quoted power and torque are 375hp and 302ft/lbs in the old money which allegedly pushed the LP5000S to a top speed of 294km/h. On a good day on the right road Carl’s ‘wingless’ car might top that because that big rear wing would have created a lot of drag.

It has a five-speed transmission with the classic gated gearshift, like a Ferrari. If you’re used to Corollas you’d find it hard to use but as long as you make positive shifts you get used to it pretty quickly. The steering is no heavier than a pre-power steer Porsche 911 and is relatively low-geared, so it would be quite stable at high speed, which is what these cars were designed for – low flying across Europe.

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The cabin is surprisingly roomy and the interior typically 80s Italian, with some bizarre switchgear (like indicators on the right of the steering column, which is unusual for a European car) and air-conditioning vents on top of the console that don’t face you. At least it has air-con, not that it’s mega-effective. Also the upper section of the two-part side windows is fixed while the lower part only winds down a few inches so I’d hate to try and go through a toll booth in one of these!

You sit with your feet skewed to the left but it’s nowhere near as bad as an 80s Ferrari. The steering wheel is at a nice angle, the pedals are well positioned and as long as you have some decent brake pressure it’s easy to heel-and-toe for down changes. Clutch weighting is moderate, it’s probably a five on the one-to-10 scale of heavy clutches so it’s not too hard on the left knee.

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I reckon it must have the biggest rear tyre of any car of that era, a 345/35 x 15 Pirelli P7, which is even big compared to modern supercars and consequently it has plenty of traction and grip. Even the front tyre is a 205/50 and they are mounted on beautiful Ozzetta Electron rims. I can’t imagine this car with any other wheels.

On the road it feels light and there’s no doubt it’s a quick car, but it has so much character and the sense of drama you get when you start it up and merge with everyday traffic is what makes owning a car like this special. It’s an awesome thing. Plus there aren’t too many around, only 321 were made between 1982-85.

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The thing I like about Carl’s Countach is it’s in original, unrestored condition with a patina of stone chips and some wear and tear and that tells me it has been driven and that’s what these supercars were made for.

SPECIFICATIONS

1983 Lamborghini Countach LP5000S

ENGINE 4754cc, 24V, DOHC 60-degree V12, mid-mounted
POWER 279kW @ 7000rpm
TORQUE 409Nm @ 4500rpm
GEARBOX 5-speed, all synchromesh
CHASSIS Tubular steel spaceframe
SUSPENSION Independent, coil springs, telescopic dampers (f&r)
BRAKES Girling ventilated discs
WEIGHT 1480kg

 

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