A Brief History of Lamborghini’s V12 Supercars:
Even today with the automotive industry undergoing an unprecedented transition into the realm of electric vehicles, Lamborghini is still producing supercars with a thunderous naturally-aspirated V12 engine—and for good reasons!.
V12 engines have been an integral part of Lamborghini‘s ethos from the very beginning. However, the Italian carmaker surprisingly only ever used two V12s; the first one was developed in the early 1960s and used for almost 40 years until the boffins at Sant’Agata Bolognese decided it was time for a change.
Throughout this six-part series, we will go through some of the most famous V12 Lamborghinis ever built. Along the way, we will also take an in-depth look at the numerous special editions and one-off models Lamborghini has produced.
So, hop on to the Lamborghini V12 train as the first stop in our journey takes us back to the brand’s inception in 1963.
Soon after the Second World War ended, a young and ambitious Italian named Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to start his own tractor manufacturing company in 1948. At first, Lamborghini Trattori was forced to build tractors from old war materials due to a lack of proper funding and expertise. Fast forward a few years, and the same company benefitted massively from Italy’s post-war economic boom and started selling more than 200 units a year.
Mr. Lamborghini, being the enterprising man he was, decided to expand his business into other fields like air-conditioning and heating systems. The successful businesses had made Mr. Lamborghini a very wealthy man, who could now afford expensive things for himself. Since Maranello was just down the road from his tractor factory, he naturally got his hands on a couple of brand-new Ferraris; a white one for him and another black one for the wife.
People close to Mr. Lamborghini said that he was not a very good driver and frequently kept burning the clutch on his Ferrari. After having it replaced for the third or fourth time, Ferruccio asked his chief mechanic to take a look at the car and see what he could do. The mechanic discovered that Ferrari used the same clutch plate found in Lamborghini tractors, while official Ferrari spare parts would be sold for a hundred times more.
The discovery left Mr. Lamborghini quite furious and led to a verbal spat with Enzo Ferrari. Both hurled several insults at each other, leaving Ferruccio Lamborghini more motivated than ever to make a better sportscar and beat Ferrari at its own game.
In 1963, Automobili Lamborghini was born, and the rest, as we say, is history.
Lamborghini 350 GT
Automobili Lamborghini’s goal was to create the ultimate grand tourer. According to Ferruccio Lamborghini, an excellent grand tourer must offer a powerful engine, a luxurious interior, good handling, and unmatched refinement compared to everything else on the road. He also thought that Ferraris were extraordinarily raw and unsuitable for long-distance driving. It only fitted that Automobili Lamborghini’s first car would be everything you couldn’t get from a Ferrari of that era.
However, before Lamborghini unveiled the production 350 GT at the 1964 Geneva Motor Show, it built a one-off prototype version called the 350 GTV. The 350 Grand Tourer Veloce prototype drew design inspiration from the Aston Martin DB4 and the Jaguar E-Type. Lamborghini fitted it with a 3.5-liter V12 engine designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, an Italian automobile engineer who had worked on the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO before joining Lamborghini.
Under the skin
Since the production version 350 GT was based on the 350 GTV prototype, the two cars shared several characteristics. However, since Bizzarrini’s 3.5-liter V12 was too close to a Formula One engine of the time, it was de-tuned to be fit for road use. The modified power unit produced 270 hp and 240 lb-ft torque; even though power was reduced by 70 hp compared to the GTV prototype, these figures were also considered quite impressive in 1963. The modified Lamborghini V12 did produce less power, but it was much more refined, smoother, and longer-lasting than before; all the right ingredients for a GT car.
Italian engineer Gian Paolo Dallara and New Zealand test driver Bob Wallace were assigned the task of creating an appropriate engine for road use. The first thing they did was to replace the prototype’s dry-sump cooling system with a cheaper wet sump configuration. Next, the compression ratio was reduced from 11:1 to 9.4:1 to increase engine life; Lamborghini wanted the production car’s engine to last at least 40,000 miles between services. Even the cam profiles were considerably softened to ensure the engine ran smooth enough for a Grand Tourer. In addition, the duo also made a few other cost-cutting modifications.
A 3,200-lb Grand Tourer capable of accelerating from 0-62 mph in merely 6.8 seconds would need some serious stopping power. Hence, the 350GT got Girling disc brakes for all four wheels that worked in unison with the Pirelli Cinturato tires to keep this Italian beast under control.
The real car geeks would know that even the most powerful engines are pretty much useless without good handling. To that end, the 350 GT featured advanced four-wheel independent suspension and a limited-slip differential to ensure superb handling. It even came with front & rear anti-roll bars so you could easily thrash it around a lovely country road without worrying about ending up in a ditch.
In addition to being extremely well-engineered, the first mass production Lamborghini was also a stunner. We like to think of the 350 GT as something James Bond would drive if he was Italian; that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the fact that the 350 GTV prototype drew significant inspiration from the Aston Martin DB4’s bodywork.
Lamborghini requested several changes to the original GTV body designed by Franco Scaglione, a famous Italian coachwork designer. The company tasked Carrozzeria Touring, an Italian automobile coachbuilder, to redesign and manufacture the grand-tourer. The coachbuilder ditched the quirky pop-up headlights in favor of regular fixed units and modified the overall design cues to suit mass production.
Even today, Automobili Lamborghini is famous for developing various one-offs and special edition models from its regular mass-production cars. Such a trend has always been integral to the brand since the beginning; even the 350 GT had two such models. The first one was a convertible version known as the 350 GTS. Lamborghini first showcased the car at the 1965 Turin Motor Show, where it received significant attention. Despite that, Carrozzeria Touring only produced two units; a black car with an elegant emerald green interior and another gold car with a brown interior. The 350 GTS was pretty much identical to the coupe version apart from the roof.
The second special edition based on the 350 GT was built by the famous Italian coachbuilder Zagato. It was the 3500 GTZ, an entirely redesigned 350 GT by Italian designer Ercole Spada and built by Zagato. Only two such examples are reported to have been built, and according to rumors, one of them was scrapped following a nasty accident.
Lamborghini 400 GT
Lamborghini has sold 120 units of the 350 GT V12 only a few years after unveiling it. To keep the momentum from dying down in its early years, the Italian carmaker decided to offer a larger and slightly more powerful 4.0-liter V12 engine for the 350 GT. Only 20 or so 350 GTs packed the larger power unit when Lamborghini ended production in 1966. Since an improved engine was already available for the new grand tourer, Carrozzeria Touring was again tasked with refreshing the 350 GT body. The result was Automobili Lamborghini’s second production car, the 400 GT.
With merely 23 units ever produced, the 400 GT lived a relatively short life. It was quickly replaced by the 400 GT 2+2 variant, an improved version specially designed to be much more practical and user-friendly. Since the base 400GT filled the gap between the 350 GT and the 400 GT 2+2, it is often referred to as the 400 GT Interim.
Under the skin
The 400 GT and its more practical sibling were mechanically identical to each other. The Lamborghini 4.0-liter V12 came with a 50 hp power bump taking the total output to 320 hp at 6500 rpm, while torque figures were unchanged. Make no mistake, the 4.0-liter unit was still the same engine designed by Bizzarrini, albeit with some modifications to suit the specific application. Lamborghini engineers increased the bore and stroke to 82x62mm from the 350 GT’s 77x62mm to increase the displacement. Furthermore, they increased the compression ratio to 10.5:1 to achieve the required power output.
By 1966, the three-year-old Italian automobile manufacturer had developed its first in-house gearbox, a five-speed manual, which was standard for the 400 GT 2+2. The new gearbox featured synchro rings on all gears for smooth running even under load. Lamborghini even developed its own rear-axle limited-slip differential for the 2+2 model.
In terms of the outer appearance, both 400 GT variants were quite similar to the 350 GT. However, to maximize the 2+2 model’s interior space, Carrozzeria Touring made subtle changes to the exterior bodywork. Since the 400 GT was a two-seat grand tourer, the roofline was modified to accommodate two additional seats at the back. The Italian coachbuilder had its work cut out as making room for an extra row of seats without compromising the exterior design features was essential. After all, Ferruccio Lamborghini was on a mission to take on the best in the business.
1966 proved to be an exciting year for the up-and-coming Lamborghini brand as it saw several new-car unveilings. In addition to the mass production 400 GT 2+2 that would later be a resounding success, the Italian carmaker also presented two exceptional one-off models. The Lamborghini Flying Star II came first; it was a concept car Carrozzeria Touring designed and built on the 400 GT Interim chassis. At its official launch at the 1966 Turin Motor Show, the car received mixed reactions due to its polarizing design and eerie proportions.
The second one-off, called the 400 GT Monza, was built by Neri and Bonacini, a small mechanic shop in Modena, Ferrari’s home turf. A wealthy American client specially commissioned the Monza to race in the Le Mans 24 hours. However, a change in homologation rules prevented that from ever happening.
What Ferruccio Lamborghini achieved within just a few years since Automobili Lamborghini’s establishment is nothing short of astounding. His first-ever production car sold in triple digits, while the second one doubled that figure. However impressive the number might be, the success Lamborghini achieved stands for something much more significant; it marks the start of a legendary rivalry that would result in many more icons over the coming years.