Lamborghini: A Legacy of Lunacy
Lamborghini’s new Veneno
Lamborghini is a supercar company in an enviable position. They have a flexibility in their brand born of the fact that their founder and figurehead, Ferruccio Lamborghini, was at the helm for only ten of the company’s fifty years. But in those ten years he oversaw production of a range of cars that ensured a rich and varied future, unbound by a restrictive and dogmatic heritage. Just about the only tradition that binds Lamborghini is the razor-thin margins they play with in regard to the ratio of Show-to-Go (S:G) in their products. No other manufacturer has walked such a fine line so successfully.
First, there were the beautiful little 2-door coupes, the 350 and 400GTs, as well as the 2+2 version of the 400. Then came what is generally considered to be the world’s first supercar, the gobsmackingly sexy Miura. Knee-high, with eyelashes and slats galore, this was Lamborghini’s first test of the boundaries of S:G. Before long it was joined by the 400’s replacement, the dart-like 2+2 coupe called Islero.
Lamborghini Espada. From conceptcarz.com
Lamborghini’s next move was the Espada – an ultra-low and wide, front-engined V12 coupe with four full seats and a glass hatch which opened onto a vast luggage compartment. Not long after came a shortened version, the angular Jarama, which took over for the Islero as the smallish coupe in the range.
We’re already getting close the patriarch’s exit, but Ferruccio had a couple rather important cars to produce in order to leave Lamborghini with a rich enough portfolio going forward. Namely, the first ‘baby’ Lamborghini. The Urracco was the first to be powered by something other than the already legendary V12. It had a transverse mid-mounted V8, and in a surprising concession to practicality it was also a 2+2 coupe, albeit a low slung, be-slatted one. And just before he grew tired of the car game, Lamborghini utterly stole the 1971 Geneva Motor Show with the LP500. Or to you and me, the Countach.
Ferruccio stuck around just long enough to get that car into production and ensure the immortality of the brand that bore his name. One more important precedent would be set by a vehicle produced under the next owners, once the company had been stabilised. In a bold move they created the LM002, a military-grade SUV with cartoon proportions and a Countach V12.
By now it should be evident that, unlike Ferrari with their loud protestations that nothing with four doors will ever wear the Ferrari badge, Lamborghini can build whatever the hell they want, as long as its huge performance is matched by huge presence.
Technically, Lamborghinis are solidly engineered but not paradigm shifting in any way. Famously, the Miura’s transverse engine layout, with the crankcase and transmission essentially sharing the same casting and oil supply, was an idea directly cribbed from Alec Issigonis’ Mini, just moved amidship. The Countach’s transmission was placed ahead of the longitudinally-mounted V12, allowing for much tighter packaging, as well as a better polar moment of inertia – with more of the masses within the wheelbase – and no need for a tortured length of shift linkage winding its way backwards. Again, good, solid engineering but not a game changer that has been universally adopted by the industry.
So Lamborghini’s niche can be found at the hedonistic extremes of the Show-to-Go Ratio. At the core of the S:G is the balance between form and function, a balance they have sometimes gotten wrong. Unfortunately for them, one such example of a lopsided S:G, when Show pummeled Go into submission, became an iconic trademark – the horrid rear wing on the Countach. We can blame Walter Wolf for that, thus providing a neat answer to the question, “Why don’t we ever speak about Canadian style?”
Lamborghini Countach. From motorstown.com
Luckily for the company, its most important iconography, the dramatic scissor doors, are a perfect example of flamboyant form coming at no cost to function.
Because of the freedom from heavy patriarchal legacy, limitless design language, and the aforementioned back catalog allowing for nearly any permutation of performance vehicle to be produced under their name, Lamborghini is in a unique position. How can the thought of their proposed HyperSUV, the Urus, be less disgusting than its analogue over at Bentley, Maserati, or Porsche? Because it’s a Lamborghini, and they have history with such lunacy. It makes as much or more sense to want to be able to bomb around some moonscape in an insanely powerful 4×4 with outlandish styling and performance than it does to try to do the same in a choked city center in its hypercar sibling.
In recent years, it seems Lamborghini has been concentrating more on the Go than the Show. By comparison to its forefathers, the Murciélago was a positive prude. The Gallardo was a fresh start, filling a niche left vacant after the babies Urracco and Jalpa were euthanized decades earlier, but decided to take that blank canvas as an opportunity to be compact and classy rather than overtly flashy and flamboyant.
But the rise of the Mega Rich has re-sparked an interest in super-rare, limited run, or even one-off creations characterised by completely over-the-top design, even by Lamborghini’s standards. To see a Reventón is to see the Show-to Go Ratio being pushed to its extremes. With almost nothing but a slightly reduced weight producing more Go than the Murciélago on which it is based, one can safely argue that it is a Lamborghini almost entirely about Show. If you want the S:G to be more in harmony (and save a few hundred grand) you would just buy the stock Murciélago, wouldn’t you?
They followed that up with the Sesto Elemento, which, taken at face value, would appear to be a Gallardo-based one-off cut from the same angular carbon cloth as the Reventón. But upon further inspection, the Sesto Elemento is a lot more. It’s a truly unique vehicle with pioneering approaches for the use of carbon in a ‘production’ car. At 2200lbs, with 570hp, its Go is in perfectly insane proportion to its shouty, cut and shut Show.
But it seems Lamborghini is eager to redress that delicious balance with its new hyper-rare Veneno. Rarely am I happy that just three of any Lamborghini are going to be produced, but with the Veneno, it’s a comfort knowing that I am unlikely to ever have to see one in person. It is painfully obvious that underneath that outrageous carbon plumage is a regular boring old Aventador, but it costs ten times as much. And to anyone who has been watching the great designers coax and control airflow for the past twenty years, it is also painly obvious that the Veneno was styled rather than designed. An Aventador might cheat the wind, but a Veneno just cheats the rich.
And as Walter Wolf proved of the Mega Rich all those years ago, it’s rare for absolute wealth to be paired with absolute taste. So let them seal their prizes up in mountain lairs, and let their money flow into Lamborghini. Hopefully they’ll put it to good use and redress the Show-to-Go balance with the long-overdue Gallardo replacement. Or the incredibly beautiful 4-door Estoque. Or even the Urus. Until then, we’ll let this one slide, just like the Countach wing.