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Lamborghini time machine

LP500 f3q

In 1971, at the Geneva Motor Show, Lamborghini showed us a car so shocking that, even 50 years later, we’re still not over it. That car was the Countach LP 500 prototype. 

Despite being ‘relegated’ to the Bertone stand, so as not to upstage Lamborghini’s new SV-badged version of the Miura, itself consistently named one of the most beautiful cars ever, it’s the Countach that had the more profound effect. So overwhelmingly positive was the reaction from public and press, both at the show and in the coming months, that Lamborghini abandoned the exquisitely curvy elegance of the Miura for the edgy, wedgy shock factor and dramatic lines of the Countach. Not only did Marcelo Gandini’s ‘ideas car’ tattoo our brains, it birthed the extreme design language that would go on to inform every Lamborghini since.

Above: Imagine seeing this in 1971! Still startling to look at, 50 years on. 

For such an influential concept car, you’d imagine a life of fame and honour. Alas, LP 500 had its one-off 4,971cc V12 replaced with a stock 4-litre unit and was subjected to a flurry of road tests at the hands of chief test driver Bob Wallace before being crash-tested and scrapped prior to the release of the first production cars that bore its name.

Now, five decades on, and at the request of an ‘important collector’, Lamborghini Polo Storico – the company’s historic preservation division – has faithfully recreated the LP 500 concept car. 

Naturally, this type of project is not the work of a weekend – Lamborghini puts the figure at around 25,000 hours. The first few months were spent scouring company archives for photographs, documents, meeting reports and original drawings, as well as questioning some of the people originally involved. ‘The collection of documents was crucial,’ says Giuliano Cassataro, Head of Service and Polo Storico. ‘There had been so much attention paid to all the details of the car, to their overall consistency and to the technical specifications.’ 

1971 LP500 f3q

Above: Scissor doors were a Gandini idea that stuck; the sleek, shark-gill intakes did not.

Using all these original documents Polo Storico reconstructed the car’s platform chassis, respecting the production methods of the time. For the bodywork, Lamborghini Centro Stile, headed up by Mitja Borkert, set about digitally recreating the original 1:1 scale styling model – also lost over time – from extensive photographic evidence. Some 2,000 hours later, the final design was verified and approved and the sheet metal fabrication began. Again, traditional production processes were followed, requiring the services of a ‘battilastra’ (panel beater).

As for mechanical components, a combination of original Lamborghini spares, restored period parts and completely new parts were fitted, including a reconstruction of the car’s electronic dashboard instruments which were unusually sophisticated at the time. 

The tyres are pretty special, too. Produced in collaboration with Fondazione Pirelli, the 2021 LP 500’s 14-inch Cinturato CN12s feature exactly the same tread pattern as on the 1971 car but comprise a modern compound and structure.

Accessing PPG’s archives delivered the exact composition of the yellow paint used – Giallo Fly Speciale, which, again, was faithfully reproduced and applied to the body panels of the new build.

Lamborghini LP500 birds eye view

Above: LP 500 recreation in action at Pirelli's Vizzola Ticino test track.

The result is a superb recreation of Lamborghini’s most pivotal concept car. It’s unadorned style, epitomized by its shark gill intakes instead of the NACA ducts used later, and futuristic visual purity still have the ability to shock. It is always good to see a car maker honour its heritage. The only question is why we had to wait half a century to see it again.

LP500 side viewAbove: What it lacks in 1960’s curves, it more than makes up for in 1970’s wedge.

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