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When Outrageous Was Possible: History’s Greatest Lamborghinis

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Lamborghini Contage Door

Believe it or not, the first Lamborghini was a tractor. The company’s founder, Ferruccio Lamborghini, was born into a winemaking family in Cento, northern Italy, and after serving as an air force mechanic during World War II, began building tractors from surplus military machinery.

Ten years later, his tractor company, Lamborghini Trattori S.p.A, was one of the biggest farm equipment producers in Italy, and business was booming at his air conditioning and gas heater company. Not the glamorous origins you might expect.

The success of these businesses allowed Ferruccio to indulge his lifelong love of fast cars, and his garage overflowed with Alfa Romeos, Lancias and Maseratis. He bought his first Ferrari, a 250GT, in 1958—the first of many—though at heart he felt Ferrari was too noisy and rough to be a true road car. He believed Ferrari was a track car repurposed for the road.

On one fateful day in the early 60s, the clutch on Ferruccio’s Ferrari broke. Inspecting the damage, he discovered the clutch was the same he used on his tractors, so he asked Ferrari for a superior replacement. Ferrari laughed Ferruccio out the door, claiming his knowledge of tractors hardly made him an expert on sports cars. So Ferruccio set out to prove them wrong, launching his own car manufacturer to rival Ferrari. The name: Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini S.p.A. The vision: a grand tourer for the road, not for the track.

The first Lamborghinis were launched in the mid-60s to wide acclaim. The 1966 Lamborghini Miura sports coupé was lauded for its power and comfort, and the rear mid-engine, rear wheel drive soon became the norm for high-performance cars of the period. Hard times hit the company after the 1973 oil crisis and economic downturn, with three ownership changes in five years. The firm went
bankrupt in 1978 and lay dormant until Chrysler Corporation came to the rescue ten years later. The rescue attempt was short-lived, however, and it took several ownership changes before Lamborghini began seeing success in the 2000s under Audi.

While Ferrari has its prancing horse, Lamborghini has its raging bull. A Taurus himself, Ferruccio was inspired by a trip to his friend’s farm in Spain in 1963. The friend, Don Eduardo Miura, was a renowned breeder of fighting bulls, and lent his name one of Lamborghini’s most successful cars.

Later models looked to the bullfighting world for their nomenclature—Islero was the bull that killed legendary bullfighter Manolete in 1947, and Espada is the Spanish word for the matador’s sword. The later Lamborghini Countach has nothing to do bulls directly—‘countach’ is a word Italian men use when an attractive woman walks by.

So with all this hoof-stomping and catcalling, just how fast do these machines go? Let’s take a look.