I’m cruising down the road from Bologna to Modena in northern Italy, feeling continental on my rented scooter as the missus plays GPS and yells directions into my ear. We’re looking for the Lamborghini Museum in Sant’Agata. It’s only 25 km from Bologna, but somehow that translates into about a 45 minute ride on Italian roads, with their 30, 40 and 50 km/h limits.
We spot the building – is that really it? If it wasn’t for the Lambo logo on the wall, it could pass for any other nondescript industrial estate. That feels out of place – after all, you’d never have to look for the logo on one of Lamborghini’s cars to know it was something special.
Likewise, for a company with such a proud and storied history, you’d expect the museum to be rich in information and tall tales – it’s not. Instead, it’s as simple and bare-bones as they come – a collection of cars, some bearing single-paragraph information plaques. It’s left to the visitor to do some homework, more or less, which is a pity. The staff seem pretty lackadaisical too – which is great, because we manage to wander in on somebody’s cigarette break and there’s nobody there to buy tickets from. Score!
For all the initial disappointment, the museum is still a pretty mind-blowing experience, featuring a number of historically significant cars and others that are pure cutting-edge trouser tenters. Here’s a few of our favorites – and there’s plenty more to enjoy in our photo gallery.
1964 Lamborghini 350 GT
This is the car that started it all. Ferrucio Lamborghini made his fortune selling tractors after the Second World War, and as a lover of all things fast and furious, he owned a Ferrari. Legend has it that his beloved sportscar developed a clutch problem, but when he took it back to Enzo Ferrari with a suggestion on how to improve the clutch, Enzo insulted him by saying, “What does a tractor maker know about supercars? Go back to your farm and leave the supercars to me.”
Lamborghini, being a wealthy and proud Italian, wasn’t taking this kind of treatment. He took his Ferrari home, fixed the clutch himself using tractor parts, and immediately started making plans to develop a new car company to knock Ferrari off its perch.
He started work on the project in 1962, got the company up and running by early 1963, and had his first car, the 350 GT, ready to show at the Turin Auto Show in October 1963. Well, almost. Owing to a dispute with the engine manufacturer, Lamborghini showed the 350 GT with a locked bonnet and a load of bricks under the hood to weight the prototype correctly for the show.
But it was enough! The 350 GT received a good enough response from the show for Lamborghini to go into production. Ferrucio bought a big plot of land – right where the museum and factory still stand – and started making sportscars.
The 350 GT was produced between 1964 and 1966 and a total of 120 were made. The two-seater featured a 3.5-liter V12 engine that made about 280 horsepower, and it addressed Lamborghini’s biggest complaint about Ferrari’s cars – that they were too racetrack-focused, and not comfortable or quality built enough for road use.
1966 Lamborghini Miura P 400 SV
Some of Lamborghini’s chief engineers thought the 350 GT was a little too road-oriented to be truly exciting, so while production refinements continued on that car, the company’s three top engineers started getting together after hours to put together an engine and chassis with a harder edge to it.
Ferrucio Lamborghini had instituted a strict no-racing policy. His feeling was that racing was expensive and too narrowly focused, and that his company should concentrate on producing elite, high performance road cars rather than chasing trophies. Still, when he saw the P 400 prototype chassis, he recognized the promotional value it might have, and showed the bare chassis at Turin in 1965.
The prototype seemed to capture the imaginations of a few show-goers, to the point where some slapped down pre-orders on the spot despite the P 400 not even having any bodywork. So Lamborghini decided to move ahead and put a body on it for the next year’s show.
He chose the Bertone company to style the car’s exterior. This was a fortuitous choice, as lead designer Marcello Gandini pulled a rabbit out of his hat and shocked the auto world in 1966 with a gorgeous design that completely cut the lunch of Ferrari’s 330 GTC debut and went on to become the fastest production car in the world.
The resulting Miura Spinto Veloce (SV) was the first Lamborghini to take the name of a fighting bull – Ferrucio was a proud Taurean and presumably liked the idea of his raging bull trampling Ferrari’s prancing pony. Its V12 engine displaced just under four liters and produced a very healthy 385 brake horsepower.
The Miura originally sold for around US$13,000, but as many consider it to be the world’s first true supercar, a good one will cost you anywhere up to $1.7 million today. Its top speed of around 274 km/h (170 mph) was unsurpassed for the entire time it was in production – in fact, it was only knocked off its perch by its successor. If the motoring world was stunned by the Miura, absolutely nothing could prepare it for what came next...
1974 Lamborghini Countach LP 400
When we think of a supercar today, our mind immediately conjures up a great, wide, super-low wedge shape with extreme aerodynamic profile, prominent air ducts, butt-to-the-ground seating, weird doors and a massive engine in the rear. The fact is, most modern supercars owe their basic shape to this one extraordinary and outrageous leap in styling, made by Lamborghini and designed by Bertone in 1971.
The prototype still didn’t have a name when Ferrucio Lamborghini first showed it to members of the press in Piedmont. That was until one of them exclaimed “Countach!” – a term the local lads would say when a pretty girl walked past. Lucky the press weren’t Australian, I can’t see the Lamborghini Phwoar taking off in the same way.
The first production Lambo to sport what became the brand’s trademark scissor doors, the Countach was in many ways a highly impractical design. But it looked like a polygonal spaceship in a way that no car before it had done, and it broke the magical 300 km/h mark in top speed due to its wicked aerodynamics, 1,400 kg (3,085 lb) light weight and 4-liter, 375-horsepower, snarling V12.
Lamborghini produced a series of Countach models for some 16 years – culminating in the above silver 25th anniversary edition – until the Diablo superseded it in 1990. On a personal note, my own green Countach was also the crowning jewel of my crappy Matchbox car collection in the early 1980s. The green car pictured is the very first LP 400 that came off the production line in 1974.
2013 Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 Roadster
We’ll skip the Diablo, the Murcielago, the Gallardo and the Reventon and jump straight to a current model you can buy right now if you’ve got a spare $450,000. Right at the back of the museum, an Aventador Roadster hangs on the wall, the odd angle serving to highlight the Roadster’s very cool open top (it has a removable roof) and glassed-in engine compartment at the rear.
The Aventador is built around a carbon fiber monocoque frame, and its 6.5-liter V12 engine makes a massive 700 horsepower. It’s absolutely breathtaking in the flesh, but it’s also gained a reputation as the "friendliest" 700-horsepower supercar on the market to drive, for better or worse.
Lamborghini advertised the Aventador as having a 349 km/h (217 mph) top speed – amusingly, it was subsequently proven wrong by Sport Auto magazine, which clocked a test car at a blinding 370 km/h (230 mph).
2013 Lamborghini Sesto Elemento
In every collection of cars, there has to be a standout. For me, the most striking car at the Lamborghini Museum is the menacing Sesto Elemento. The name translates as “sixth element,” which is a reference to carbon’s position on the periodic table.
Basically everything that could practically be made in carbon fiber has been – the chassis, body panels, suspension components and even the drive shaft are carbon. It uses a 5.2-liter V10 Gallardo engine rated at 570 horsepower, but weighs just 999 kg (2,012 lbs). Only some 20 are being made, at a price of $2.2 to 2.9 million – and the Sesto Elemento can’t even be driven on the road. If it could, it would hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in the same 2.5 seconds as the Bugatti Veyron thanks to the magic of power-to-weight ratios.
I can say with some confidence that I’ll never drive a Lamborghini myself, so I’m picking my favorite car here based solely on looks. And from the moment my missus said, “I think that car over there wants to eat me,” I was sold.
There are plenty of other cars at the Museum, including the fascinating twin-cockpit Concept S and LM 002 off-roader, in our extensive photo gallery. Click through and enjoy!
And if this story has whetted your appetite for an in depth look at the history of Lamborghini, check out our retrospective celebrating 50 years of the raging bull.