countach evolution

1971 Countach LP500

When Marcello Gandini showed his concept drawings for the projected successor to the Lamborghini “Miura,” the LP500 prototype, to Nucchio Bertone, the latter exclaimed “Countach!”—the Piemontese equivalent to “fuck me sideways!” Ferruccio Lamborghini, who was present, decided that the exclamation should stick, and stick it did. Although the “Countach” was not the first wedge-shaped sportscar, and although it was not the first car which had scissor doors, opening to the front and upwards, it was the most radical and futuristic design of its times. The car is extremely flat, wide, aggressively pointed, and sports elegant flowing lines, decidedly distinct from everything before it. The cut-outs for the rear tires are more angular than round, right behind the inward slanted side-windows there are air intakes, structured like shark’s gills, supplying the V12 Lamborghini engine, which is placed lengthwise behind the passenger cell [LP = “longitudinale posteriore”], with cool air. Flatness of the car and size of the engine dictated the rear window to be very low—in consequence a periscopic sight was installed instead of a conventional rear mirror. There would be a lot more to mention, but I will focus on bodywork design, the side elevation in particular.

1974 Countach LP400

During testing of the prototype it very quickly became clear that the engine needed more cooling. The problem of overheating was countered by enlarging the air intakes behind the side windows, plus placing scoops there, leading more air inside. Behind the scoops, on top of the rear fenders, vents for exhausting the heat were placed. Additionally NACA ducts were cut into the car’s flanks. This elements, together with the still intact lines Gandini drew, combine to the original “Countach” look, first to be found with the LP 400.

1978 Countach LP400S

As soon as wider Pirelli tires became available, they of course had to be mounted on the “Countach”. Alas, the bodywork could not house them. Fiberglass extensions were “pasted” on the wheel archs. Now the front wheel arch became angular, too, and got integrated into a newly added front skirt, which gives the—still pointed—tip of the car a new character. The general lines of the original draft are preserved, but a bit broken, or roughened up by the added elements. This is not necessarily negative, as both futuristic look and aggressiveness are emphasized. The opinion is to be heard, that the LP400S and LP500S represent the definitive “Countach” look.

1985 Countach LP5000SQV

The stronger engine of the LP5000S QV [“QV” means “quattro valvole”—four valves per cylinder. When, as a boy, I first heard about the “Quattrovalvole,” I thought it meant “four wheels” and sharply deduced that it was four-wheel driven. Meanwhile Lamborghini has caught up with my error—the contemporary models indeed are four-wheel driven.] had the carburetors on top, causing a hump on the central engine deck. Apart from that the bodywork was unaltered first. In later series of the car the rocker panels were inflated to sideskirts, connecting the front and back wheel arches.

1988 Countach LP5000SQV

The late 1988 sideskirts of the LP5000S QV feature a new element, which will gain ever more prominence with the reincarnations of the “Countach.” At the rear end of the sideskirts yet another air intake has been placed, structured and emphasized by longitudinal strakes reaching out to the front, a bit reminiscent of the flanks of the 1984 Ferrari Testarossa. Let us simply ignore the monstrous rear wing seen on the car in the picture. It is ugly, unnecessary, and downright counter productive. The aerodynamics of the “Countach” never needed additional downward presure on the rear axis, the thing only produces drag and thereby reduces the top speed. Not to speak of its absolute misplacedness, designwise. In fact the wing only was a costly add-on offered by Lamborghini, but a lot of customers ordered it.

1988 Countach 25th Anniversario

Also in 1988 the 25th Anniversario made its debut, the last of the models named “Countach”. The longitudinal strake theme now dominates. The air intake behind the side windows has been rededsigned, there no more are a vertical and a horicontal element, but only a scoop with backward slanted intake, guarded by a longitudinal straked grill. The heat exhaust vents behind suffer the same fate. The straked intake at the rocker panel is there again, and now gets mirrored with an analogous intake at the front wheel, carved into the sides of the slightly more dominant front skirt. The nose betrays the former sharpness and starts to become a bit stubby. To my eye the worst of the design changes is the splitting of the rear end into an upper and a lower part. In order to meet US criteria some of the QVs already had grown ugly rubber bumpers, and I suspect that this separation of the lower part of the rear was Gandini’s effort to create a sufficient bumper which feels more or less integrated, and not pasted-on like the rubber elements. But in my opinion it completely destroys the elegance of Gandini’s original design of the rear end. Even worse, now the “Countach” is completely encircled by skirts, wheel archs, and the rear bumper, splitting the car in an upper half, which tries to preserve the elegant lines of the whole, and a lower half onto which the former seems to be placed. With the Anniversario the original concept of the “Countach” has been beaten to death—it was high time for a full-fledged reincarnation.

1990 Diablo

Gandini could start from scratch, and with the Diablo his genius indeed once again shines brightly. From start on the bodywork is wide enough to comfortably house the widest tires available, no need to plaster anything onto the wheel archs.The dreaded longitudinal strakes have vanished, and so has the NACA duct. Only three years earlier Ferrari had littered its F40 with all in all eight of them! Also gone are the upper air scoops. At the analogous spot there still are air intakes, but they are led inward, integrated intro the bodywork’s overall line, very true to Gandini’s vision as seen on the 1971 prototype, although without the shark gills structure. The lower air intake in front of the rear tires is there again, but, like with the upper intake, its duct is curved into the body, not glued upon it. The lower rim of the duct at the same time is the sideskirt, perfectly integrated into the design. The whole slender curvature of the duct, which in fact starts right behind the front wheel arch, together with the shaping of the doors, the sidewindows in particular, in my mind leads up to the most beautiful thing on the “Diablo”. The whole car is characterized by an elegant bend, reminiscent of maybe an airborne dolphin—an energetic curve, like if the vehicle would lean or crouch forward, a predator on the very brink of an explosion of speed and power. The lines lead forward, pointing to the centre of the front axis—hence it makes sense that the front wheel archs no more are angular, but round again. In respect to the side elevation of the “Diablo” I only have two points of critique: the divided rear end and the stubby nose.

1993 Diablo VT

With the 1993 Diablo VT the front skirt develops a lower lip—maybe needed aerodynamically for downward pressure on the front wheels, but unelegant. The lower air intake again has been graced with horicontal strakes, but fortunately with short ones, not outreaching.

1993 Diablo SE30

With the Diablo SE30, also in 1993, Gandini has achieved the optimal design of the lower intakes, I think. Now they are slanted forward, and structured by gills. This is a shark, isn’t it? The rear wing? Well …

1996 Diablo VT Roadster

For the 1996 Diablo VT Roadster the upper air intakes had to be redesigned, but the shark gills remained—very much to my satisfaction. The Diablo GT (1999) has no strakes or gills, but the opening still is “correctly” slanted forward, plus there is an additional intake on the roof—not a beauty, but then again the machine needed the air, as with a top speed of 338 km/h it was the fastest production car of its time. The Diablo VT 6.0 (2000) and VT 6.0 SE (2001) sport the original “Diablo” openings behind the doors—the design achievement of the SE was lost again. I am not sure if it can get regained, because the “Diablo” was the last Lamborghini production car designed by Marcello Gandini.

2001 Murcielago

After economical chaos and an unfortunate history of several owners, Lamborghini was taken over by the German Audi AG in 1998. The tremendous economical and technological resources the new owner provides very much show up in the next reincarnation of the “Countach”, the 2001 Murciélago. Seen from a technical viewpoint this car is maybe the most perfect of all Lamborghinis, four-wheel driven and everything. To say that Luc Donckerwolke‘s design is a step backward, away from revolutionary futurism, towards the more conventional, would be gravely unfair, as there are a lot of pros and cons. First of all the new solution for the upper air intakes is absolutely brilliant. True to Gandini’s original “Countach” design, and true to the “Diablo”, the intakes are fully integrated into the lines of the bodywork. But at higher speeds they automatically extend upwards to scoop in more cooling air. That way the “Murciélago” features both the looks of the “Countach” prototype and the LP400. Fittingly enough “Murciélago” is Spanish for “bat,” and the car is able to spread the wings like its namesake. Speaking of intakes, the new lower intake I deem to be a catastrophy, because again something has been glued on—a scoop. The scoop itself is slanted forward, and its duct still is slanted inwards, but Gandini’s dynamic curve of the “Diablo” has completely vanished. Furthermore the whole area of the windows and roof looks very conventional—in contrast to this the “Countach” featured angles and divided side windows, and the “Diablo” had the beautifully curved side windows. Although dominated by large and aggressive air intakes, the nose is too stubby for my taste. A great thing is the reintegration of the backend into one part. Not as pointed as the one of the “Countach,” but definitely an aesthetic solution, going very good with the whole car.

2006 Murcielago LP640

But just to make things worse, the technically most advanced “Murciélago,” the 2006 LP640, has different lower airscoops on its two sides. The left one gives a home to the oilcooler and thus is even more emphasized with its rear outlet.

2007 Reventon

Just as the Anniversario was based on the strongest “Countach,” the QV, so is the 2007 Reventón based on the LP640, but this time the redesign is far more radical. Don’t get me wrong—I very much embrace the stealth plane inspired “design language,” and a lot of other things in and on the “Reventón.” I already raved about that, and easily could go on for quite some time, but there are some things I dislike, consider to be “faults.” First of all the lower airscoops, asymmetrical again. Then the rear wheel houses, bulging out of the bodywork. This is a bit reminiscent of Giulio Alfieri’s 1987 attempt of creating a “Super Countach” out of the QV, which encompassed the addition of widened rear fenders. But then Alfieri tried to do away with the added fiberglass elements, as the “Countach’s” bodywork simply was not wide enough for the huge tires. In the case of the “Reventón” the bulges are on purpose, not born out of the struggle with shortcomings. But the “Reventón” does not need this kind of metaphor for bringing force to the street—leave the making of fat-bottomed cars to Ferrari.

Indispensable resources of information and pictures were: Joe Sackey, The Lamborghini Registry, Lamborghini Cars, KLD Concept, ForoCoches, and:

BOSNELL, THOMAS E. 1988. Lamborghini. New York: Gallery Books.
HARVEY, CHRIS. 1982. The Lamborghinis. London: Motor Racing Publication.

What all this has to do with my research project, or anthropology? I will get back to that later on. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.