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March 11, 1971 – Lamborghini Countach debuts

The Lamborghini Countach, the poster car for a generation, made its public debut at the Geneva Auto Show on this day in 1971. Following that unveiling of the Countach concept, known as the LP 500, a grand reception pushed the Italian automaker to transform it into a production model. After three years of further development, it hit the streets in 1974, succeeding the Lamborghini Muira.

The LP 500 prototype and production Lamborghini Countach had several key differences. A platform frame sat under the yellow show car, where as production versions received a tubular frame. Additionally, a one of a kind 12-cylinder 4971cc engine powered the prototype, but the first production cars received a 3929cc (3.9 L) V12. By the time the Countach run ended in 1990, a 5167cc (5.2 L) would sit under the hood.

Lamborghini Scissor doors
Lamborghini Countach LP400. It is the first production car to feature scissor doors. By Countachinfo.de – Own work, CC BY 3.0

Designing the Lamborghini Countach

Marcello Gandini of Italian design studio Bertone, developed the angular design of the Countach. Gandini also styled the Miura, a car widely considered to be the first super car. In the late 1960s, the designer was having a field day drafting auto designs that would foreshadow Lamborghini’s new hit. Among them, the Alfa Romeo Carabo concept, which featured scissor doors. This design element would end up as a key feature of the Countach, marking the first time this type of door would go into production. Today, many refer to this type of door on any car as Lambo doors.

The chief engineer on the project was Paolo Stanzani. He and company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini aimed to develop a mechanical design unlike anything built for the road before. With ultimate performance as the end goal, the new mid-rear engine, rear wheel platform corrected flaws known in the Muira. Enhanced high speed stability, an improved engine cooling system and superior weight distribution made the Countach a fierce machine. It should be noted, the concept grew from idea to reality in just one year.

lamborghini countach interior
Interior of the second Lamborghini Countach prototype. By Arnaud 25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

What is a Countach?

While many of Lamborghini’s previous models at the time, and those that would come later, carried names of famous bulls, Countach is something entirely different. The word comes from Piedmontese, a language spoken by about million people, mostly in Piedmont, a northwestern region of Italy. While Countach translates directly to plague, native speakers often use the term as an exclamation of admiration. Here is designer Marcello Gandini’s version of how the car got it’s name:

When we made cars for the car shows, we worked at night and we were all tired, so we would joke around to keep our morale up. There was a profiler working with us who made the locks. He was two meters tall with two enormous hands, and he performed all the little jobs. He spoke almost only Piedmontese, didn’t even speak Italian. Piedmontese is much different from Italian and sounds like French. One of his most frequent exclamations was ‘countach’, which literally means plague, contagion, and is actually used more to express amazement or even admiration, like ‘goodness’. He had this habit.

When we were working at night, to keep our morale up, there was a jousting spirit, so I said we could call it Countach, just as a joke, to say an exaggerated quip, without any conviction. There nearby was Bob Wallace, who assembled the mechanics—we always made the cars operational. At that time you could even roll into the car shows with the car running, which was marvelous.

So jokingly I asked Bob Wallace how it sounded to an Anglo-Saxon ear. He said it in his own way, strangely. It worked. We immediately came up with the writing and stuck it on. But maybe the real suggestion was the idea of one of my co-workers, a young man who said let’s call it that. That is how the name was coined. This is the only true story behind this word.”

Marcello Gandini, Not Just Bulls: the Creator Tells Us the Story Behind the Name Countach.
25th Anniversary Countach. By Thesupermat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Lamborghini Countach Production Numbers

Between 1974 and 1990, four different variations of the Countach rolled out of the Lamborghini factory. The first was the LP400, followed by the LP400 S. Then came the LP500 S, featuring a 4754 cc V12. The 5000 QV 25th Anniversary edition would be the last of the line. It came equipped with a 5.2 L V12. In total, Lamborghini built 1,999 Countachs. What came next? The Lamborghini Diablo. Then in 2021, Lamborghini released the Countach LPI 800-4, a mid-engine hybrid-electric sports car. Only 112 made it to the streets in honor of the Countach’s 50th anniversary.

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