Part 56 Lamborghini – Financial Stability at Last!
The History of the Italian Automobile
Part 56 Lamborghini – Financial Stability at Last!
By: David Cavaliere
The years of Chrysler’s involvement in Lamborghini was small part of last week’s feature. The seven year marriage of the two however pointed the way towards the future in terms of the extensive use of composite materials, without which, the later acquisition by Audi may have never taken place. The union did produce an unfortunate dead end – the Formula One engine. It was designed by Mauro Forghieri, who also developed Ferrari’s famous flat 12 (see part 37 – Ferrari and the Drama of Maranello, October 27, 2016). Following the “turbo era” of F1, major manufacturers were returning to the F1 scene as engine suppliers. Mercedes Benz, Peugeot and Subaru, joined Ferrari, Honda, Renault, BMW and Ford Cosworth in the 3.5 liter formula and also into this mix came Lamborghini.
After obtaining Chrysler’s approval, Forghieri designed his V12 engine and had it ready within a matter of months. Two teams contracted to use the engines – Lotus and Larrousse. During its first season, the engine resulted in one podium finish and numerous points placings further down the order. Encouraging results, but despite Forghieri’s commitment, Chrysler’s interest waned and this resulted in a lack of engine development. As is the nature of Formula One, if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind. This was short-sighted on the part of Chrysler. One of the powerhouses of Formula One – McLaren and one of the finest drivers of that, or any other era, Ayrton Senna, wanted to use the engine, but concerns about Chrysler’s commitment to the sport led the team to go with its second choice. The team instead selected Peugeot and its explosive V12 (explosive in the literal sense of the word) and the dead end was reached.
Chrysler’s decision to sell Lamborghini seemed sudden and raised many questions. The buyers were a group of unknown Indonesian investors called Megatech. The deal was consummated on January 21, 1994. Its immediate effect was a destabilization of the management structure at the automotive factory in Bologna. Despite these problems, the Diablo continued to develop, with numerous sub models proving very popular with the well-heeled auto enthusiast. Two of the most interesting were the 1995 SV, a lighter and more powerful model that placed a premium on driving pleasure over comfort ( in other words, it was both frighteningly fast and terrifying challenging to drive at speed) and the VT Roadster, with a Targa-style removable roof – an instant hit in the U.S. market. Other special editions, such as the SE, Jota, Monterey, Alpine were derived from these models.
In 1995, Giorgetto Giugiaro (see part 47 of this series – The Genius of Giorgetto Giugiaro, February 9, 2017) demonstrated the Calà to the automotive press. The car was intended to replace the Jalpa and had a 400 hp, 3.9 liter V10 instead of the 3.5 liter V8 of the Jalpa. The fully functional prototype used an aluminum chassis with a hand-built carbon fiber body. It borrowed styling cues from earlier Lamborghini models, such as the headlights of the Miura and the widescreen of the Countach. Interesting as was, it never left the prototype stage, but the car was the starting point in the development of the Gallardo, introduced eight years later.
The need to develop new models and the need to make major investments became clear to Megatech. Their management proved to be far more astute than anyone had expected at the time of their purchase of Lamborghini, but by this time, the Diablo was more than seven years old, a very long time in the difficult market of the day. In order for the Lamborghini brand to survive, let alone thrive, a financially stable partner would be needed. Lamborghini turned to several top-level carmakers, including Audi, to request technical collaboration. The initial idea was to use the V8 of Audi’s flagship A8 model to power a future “baby Lamborghini.” Audi’s technical staff was very impressed with Lamborghini’s vision and development plans. Instead of partnering with the company, Audi decided to buy Lamborghini outright. The deal was completed on July 27, 1998.
The first major innovation came three years later in 2001. The successor to the Diablo – the Murciélago was introduced. Its power still came from the Giotto Bizzarrini designed V12, at the time a 29 year-old design, but it was well-developed and produced 580 hp. The car had an even higher level of overall quality than the last of the Diablos. Sales were brisk with orders placed by customers well in advance of delivery. The Murciélago had all-wheel drive, an angular design and an exceptionally low body, the highest point of the roof was less than 4 feet high. It carried on the Lamborghini trademark of scissor doors begun years earlier in the LM 500. The rear spoiler and active air intakes (integrated into the car’s shoulders) extended automatically at high speeds for aerodynamic and cooling efficiency.
The next model of the Murciélago began with a concept car – the Barchetta. It was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in 2003. It was not simply a Murciélago without the roof, but essentially a new car, with aggressive treatment of the engine cover and lateral posts. It led to an open-top version of the supercar called the Murciélago Roadster, introduced in 2004 for the 2005 model year.
In March 2006, Lamborghini unveiled a new version – the Murciélago LP 640. With a displacement now increased to 6.5 liters, the new car produced 631 hp at 8000 rpm. The Murciélago’s exterior received a only a minor facelift. Front and rear fascias were revised and the side air intakes were now asymmetrical (with the left side feeding an oil cooler). A new single outlet exhaust system was incorporated into the rear diffuser and the suspension was tuned for greater high speed stability. The 2008 car’s estimated fuel economy with a 6-speed manual was a thirsty 8 miles per gallon city and 13 highway, making it the least green car on the market. The 2009 Geneva Motor Show saw introduction of the ultimate version of the Murciélago – the LP 670–4 SuperVeloce. With horse power increased to 661 and a weight reduction of 220 lbs. (due to the extensive use of carbon fiber), the car was blindingly fast. Zero to 62 mph came in 2.8 seconds, while its quarter mile time was 10.9 seconds with a speed of just under 130 mph. Top speed varied according to the spoiler package, but it’s doubtful that anyone would notice once you’re above 210 mph! A curious aspect of the car is that with 186 built, only six were fitted with a manual transmission, the rest were all paddle shift.
The long awaited “baby Lamborghini” was finally unveiled at the 2003 Geneva Auto Show, but it was anything but a “baby.” The highly anticipated Gallardo was powered by a 500 hp V10 and had all-wheel drive. It was intended as a high-performance sports car for everyday use. Based on Giugiaro’s Calà concept car, the car’s engine, transmission, space frame, body, suspension, brakes and electronics were carefully designed to create a compact 2-seater that could be driven both on the track and the street with equal degrees of pleasure. Like the Murciélago, introduced two years earlier, the car was both an instant classic and an instant success. Two years later, the Gallardo Spyder was introduced, bringing open top motoring to the model line. Always seeking to develop its maturing models, in 2007 Lamborghini debuted the Gallardo Superleggera at the Geneva Auto Show. The name paid tribute to the construction style of the first Lamborghini production model, the 350GT, designed by Carrozzeria Touring. The Superleggera was lighter than the base Gallardo by over 200 lbs and like the SuperVeloce, made extensive use of carbon fiber in the floor and diffuser. The Gallardo model line went on to become Lamborghini’s best-selling model, with 14,022 being built throughout its life from 2003 – 2013.
Next week, we will conclude the features on Lamborghini by looking at the newest models of the company.