Over fifty years ago, Lamborghini unveiled what would become an absolute icon of automotive design, skyrocketing the industry further into a murky, foreign territory which had yet to be properly explored. In essence, the Lamborghini Countach remains the absolute apotheosis of a proper supercar — avant-garde styling, tremendous power, a midship layout, and a radical, unhinged sense of style which is utterly unmistakable.
Across the sixteen years of its production run, the Countach went head-to-head with the best performance cars in the world, ultimately searing its image into the minds of the global populous as the quintessential supercar. For these reasons, and many more, Marcello Gandini’s original design still remains a staple of the automotive scene.
Even when Lamborghini revived the Countach nameplate last year, Gandini himself flatly rejected this new venture, wishing to distance himself entirely from this new model that bears little in common with the legend he’d first spawned in the early 1970s. For that, he is entirely righteous.
Why The Lamborghini Countach Exists
The original Lamborghini Countach traces its roots all the way back to 1970, when the Miura was just starting to grow long in the tooth. Despite its release just four years prior in 1966, the Lamborghini Miura had set an unprecedented tone within the automotive industry.
Although it certainly wasn’t the first mid-engined car to ever exist, the Miura was certainly the first to apply this platform onto the scale of a top-tier, high-performance thoroughbred with the intent on becoming one of the best performing cars on the market. Obviously, the new model had taken well to its role and was widely praised for its daring style and blistering speed.
Lamborghini’s main competition at Ferrari took immediate notice of this, and promptly filled the void with the Daytona 365 GTB/4, which would become one of the fastest production cars in the world at the time of its inception. Although Ferrari was still using traditional, front-engined layouts for their production cars, the famed Italian automaker was no stranger to the advantages of midship performance, especially after their 250 LM saw success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965.
Despite this, Ferrari had opted for their road cars to remain front-engined, initially feeling that the handling characteristics of a midship car would be too difficult for the average customer to properly utilize. Lamborghini, in contrast, saw absolutely no qualms with putting this layout at the highest level of production, as evidenced by the success of the Miura. By 1970, Lamborghini had already sought to replace the Miura with a new model which would exude a mechanical quality to outperform the competition, as well as radical, new styling techniques that would add a sense of identity to this new model.
This would be the start of the Countach program, and also the start of an entire new wave of supercars that would ultimately shape the way we perceive automotive performance.
The Lamborghini Countach Started Life Already A Legend
Once the project was set into motion, Lamborghini had teamed two of their engineers, Paulo Stanzani and Massimo Parenti, with the famed designer Marcello Gandini of Bertone, the renowned, Italian coach builder. Test driver Bob Wallace was also recruited to assist in development, and the project got swiftly underway. In its early stages, the project got designated as simply “LP112”. After further stages of development, the Countach then received its signature name, as well as the designation of LP500 for its initial prototype. This same prototype consequently debuted at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show, causing an uproarious response from the public over its outrageous and daring styling techniques.
Although the Lamborghini Countach is one of the best examples of the “wedge era” supercars, it certainly had not been the first. Previous concepts, such as Gandini’s Alfa Romeo Carabo and the Bizzarrini Manta of Giorgetto Giugiaro, had already been making their rounds on the auto show circuit since the late 1960s. Still, these types of concepts were simply too radical for their manufacturers to actually consider for production. This is exactly where Lamborghini’s inherent, ballsy attitude came into play. Just three years after the reveal of the original LP500 concept, the Countach entered production in 1974, seemingly unchanged from its wild, untamed incarnation of its first prototype.
When it was first offered for sale at the 1974 Geneva Motor Show, 50 orders for the LP400 Countach were immediately placed, setting into a motion a series of events that would ultimately shape the world of supercars as we know it. Although Ferrari had offered their mid-engined, 365 GT4 BB a year prior, in 1973, the Countach was far less reserved about its appearance.
Furthermore, its performance was not something to take lightly. Even in the middle of a global oil embargo that choked down compression ratios and plummeted horsepower figures on countless other automobiles, Lamborghini still felt the need for the Countach to exude a staggering 375 hp from its 3.9-liter V12, allowing the car to top out at 170 mph. Although this was still well within the range of its competition, these fundamental figures for the car had certainly placed the Countach on the top drawer of automotive performance for the mid-1970s and beyond.
How The Lamborghini Countach Changed The World
After the Countach gathered traction throughout the 1970s, the ensuing 1980s would be the decade in which this car really took to the spotlight. Being highlighted in films such as The Cannonball Run series only ignited this fuel further, as the Countach quickly displayed to the public just how wild and raw a supercar could truly be. Gone were the round curves and flowing shapes familiar with sports cars of the 1960s, as more and more automakers quickly took note of Gandini’s sense of style, and consequently garnished their own offerings to the realm of the wedge supercar.
Ferrari was already hot on the trail, first with their 365 GT4 BB, and later with the Testarossa of the 1980s, which had been specifically designed to slay the powerful brute of the Countach. BMW had also dabbled with their M1, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (and originally intended as a Lamborghini model), although this venture would be short-lived. Even on the lower end of the spectrum, cars like the Lancia Montecarlo and even the Pontiac Fiero had found inspiration from the low-slung, sharp-angled lines of the Countach.
At the end of the day, the Lamborghini Countach was certainly not the first of its kind, and far from the last. However, it remains burned into our retinas as a fantastic display of possibilities, transcending from concept to mass production with very few changes over its original form. The model itself stood the test of time, built from its launch in 1974 until 1990, where even then, it was still very much relevant. With the coming of the new, low-volume Countach of 2021, even Marcello Gandini seems to think that the brand had it right on the first try.
Sources: Lamborghini, Attic Capital, Lamborghini For Sale, Autoweek