Car names rarely, if ever, tell us anything about the appearance of the car. Does a Mustang look like a “small wild horse” or a Corvette like a “small, highly maneuverable escort warship”? No. Then there are names that are wholly nondescriptive. What’s your mental image of a ‘”Flex,” an “XT5,” or a “CTS”? Only one car name ever accurately described the look of the vehicle – Countach. The word countach (say coon-tahshe) is a Piedmontese (Northern Italian) expression of astonishment – the reaction of everyone who saw one of the most astonishing production cars ever made.
Awesome Lamborghini Countach makes debut
One of the purposes of international auto shows or salons is to preview the best and most creative new auto designs. Even with this express expectation, it is unlikely that visitors to the 1971 Geneva Salon were ready for the latest design concept from Lamborghini, but there it was up on the Bertone stand—a car design unlike anyone had ever seen before. A product from the fertile mind of Bertone’s prolific designer Marcello Gandini, the Countach took the “wedge-shape” school of design to heretofore undefined limits. Shocked crowds acclaimed the design and urged its production.
And that was exactly what Ferruccio Lamborghini wanted to hear. Signore Lamborghini had approached Bertone for a replacement for the beautiful, but aging, Miura. But he didn’t want just any GT – Lamborghini was looking for a design that would be the most spectacular supercar ever made, and one that would create a bigger impact than the Miura. A design he hoped would give him the satisfaction of trumping arch-rival Enzo Ferrari once and for all.
His dispute with Enzo Ferrari began several years earlier, after the sales of his successful tractor manufacturing business and his heating and air-conditioning business had made Ferruccio Lamborghini was one the wealthiest men in Italy. Like any other red-blooded Italian magnate, he owned several exotic cars, including a Ferrari. Signore Lamborghini was unhappy with his Ferrari and requested a private meeting with Enzo Ferrari to discuss his car’s shortcomings and how they could be improved. Enzo Ferrari first ignored him and then absolutely refused to meet with Signore Lamborghini despite his prestige and status, tearing apart the relationship between the two. With a vow to build the best GT cars in the world, Ferruccio founded Automobili Lamborghini.
Countach replaces successful Miura
Automobili Lamborghini’s first production GT car was the 350 GT in 1964, followed shortly by the 400 GT 2+2. Both were good cars, but pretty standard with their front-engined, rear wheel drive layouts. It wasn’t until the Miura P400 in 1966 that Lamborghini excited the automotive world. The Miura was a 2-seat sports car with a transversely-mounted V-12 engine and a sleek body from Bertone that secured Automobili Lamborghini’s reputation. With the success of the Miura, it was only logical that Lamborghini would return to Bertone and chief designer Marcello Gandini when it was time for a Miura replacement.
The production Countach was visibly very similar to the concept prototype with the body made almost entirely of flat, trapezoidal panels, but to facilitate production, the semi-monocoque construction of the prototype was replaced with a tubular space frame and an aluminum body. The feature that everyone remembers about the Countach are the upwardly opening scissor doors, pioneered by designer Marcello Gandini on the Alfa Romeo 33 Carabo concept car in 1968. The doors do have a practical aspect, as the width of the Countach, almost 6.5 feet, made regular doors almost impossible to use in confined spaces.
Lamborghini Countach specifications and performance
The first Countach production series was designated as the LP400, the LP standing for “longitudinale posteriore” indicating the rear engine was longitudinally-mounted. The engine was also mounted backwards, with the front of the engine facing the rear of the car so that the five-speed transmission extended forward between the two seats. This gave more adequate room for the engine, while maintaining a better overall balance and allowing smoother shifting thanks to a shorter, less complicated mechanism between the shift lever and the transmission.
The four liter, double overhead cam V12 with six Weber carburetors produced 370 horsepower, giving the 2,350 pound Countach a top speed of 179 mph, a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.4 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 13.2 seconds with a terminal speed of 114 mph. Some reviewers believe Lamborghini overrated the engine output to irritate Enzo Ferrari, but the wild appearance of the Countach made it look like it was the fastest car in the world, so no one gave much thought to the official engine ratings. One hundred and fifty seven LP400s were built by the end of the 1978 model year, when the second iteration of the Countach, the LP400S was introduced.
The price of the Countach in the seventies was well over $52,000. It was fortunate that anyone who could afford this kind of car did not have to rely on it as their only means of transportation, as the Countach was not designed to be a daily commuter. With a body only 42 inches high, the interior of the Countach was cramped for just about everyone, and the storage space was virtually nil – an overnight bag used up just about all of the available luggage space. In an era before rear-vision cameras, the driver’s view to the rear was like looking through a mail slot. The recommended procedure for backing up a Countach was for the driver to sit on the door sill with the door open and the car in reverse, and look over his/her shoulder while at the same time steering the car. Don’t even think about trying to parallel park!
Media comments and awards
The appearance of the Countach was so outrageous that the automotive media had a field day testing and writing about it – a photo of a Countach on a magazine cover was almost a guarantee of selling out the issue. Road & Track magazine noted that, “It was the fastest car we’ve ever tested.” Britain’s Car magazine writers discovered the essence of the Countach when they said: “The Countach breathes naked aggression from every pore.” Journalist Pete Lyons was impressed by the Countach’s speed: “This car treats velocity with the same casual contempt it does society.”
Sports Car International (SCI) magazine rated the Countach number three on its list of “Top Sports Cars of the 1970s”, just ahead of its sibling, the Miura SV. SCI, however, gave Enzo Ferrari the last word on the ongoing Lamborghini-Ferrari disagreement by naming the Ferrari Daytona the top sports car of the seventies. Even Ferruccio Lamborghini couldn’t win them all.
We’d like to give Brandon Mason of DriverSource Houston a big TireBuyer “Thank you” for letting us use their fine Countach video. We all know that the Countach stands out at a car show even when surrounded by other exotic cars. But when seen in normal surroundings among people, office buildings and on a city street, it looks positively otherworldly.
How Stuff Works – http://auto.howstuffworks.com/lamborghini-sports-cars7.htm
Automobile Catalog – http://www.automobile-catalog.com/make/lamborghini/countach/countach_lp400/1974.html
Urban Dictionary – http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=countach