Lamborghini Countach (1974-90) | Brief History of Lambo’s V12 Supercars

A Brief History of Lamborghini’s V12 Supercars:

I couldn’t be writing this article at a better time as the legendary Lamborghini brand is celebrating the Countach’s fiftieth anniversary this year. And this is a big occasion as it was an extremely important car for the Italian carmaker. Indeed, the Miura and Countach were the cars that formed the backbone of Lamborghini’s swift move to global fame only a few years after its inception.

With the Countach, Lamborghini doubled down in its pursuit of producing the craziest supercar out there, something truly worthy of being up on every kid’s bedroom walls. The design was bold and more in-your-face than ever, in sharp contrast to its main rival Ferrari’s classier and more subtle approach. And of course, that’s precisely what drew everyone’s attention to the car and, ultimately, the brand.

By the time Lambo unveiled the Countach prototype to the world, there were two main things the brand was famous for — out-of-this-world styling and a fire-breathing V12 engine.


However, it’s important to mention that Lamborghini didn’t launch two back-to-back masterpieces in its early days as a car manufacturer. In fact, there were three other V12 models before the Countach and after the timelessly beautiful Miura. The first one was the Espada four-seat grand tourer. Ferruccio Lamborghini had initially set out to make luxurious grand tourers with powerful engines, and the Espada was the continuation of his dream vehicle, after the 350GT and 400GT.

Alongside the Espada, Lamborghini was selling a slightly different grand tourer called the Islero, the true successor of the famous 400GT. However, the Italian marque produced the Islero for only two years and sold just 225 units.

Next in line came another 2+2 grand tourer; launched in 1970, the Lamborghini Jarama was the last of the V12 grand tourers from Lamborghini, at least for a few years. The Jarama was in production from 1970-1976, but since it already had several models in production, it only produced approximately 328 units.

At the 1971 Geneva International Motor Show, merely five years after unveiling the Miura at the same venue, the Italian stallion was back with another grand launch, sure to leave the audience in awe. But first, let me take you back a year when Mr. Lamborghini sanctioned a new project to develop a worthy successor to replace the Miura. Indeed, the Miura had been praised and received with incredible warmth by the global supercar industry, so coming up with a replacement was no easy task. As a result, the Italian carmaker had no other choice but to bring out the big guns. Then came Paolo Stanzani, then Lamborghini’s chief engineer, tasked with developing project “LP112” with the help of his talented team, while Marcello Gandini, from the Italian coachbuilding company Bertone, worked on the design.

A year or so of intense hard labor later, a prototype version dubbed the Countach LP500 came to life. The first prototype still required a lot of work, and Lambo made significant changes on the second prototype, presented two years later at the 1973 Geneva Motor Show. Still, it wasn’t until 1974 that Lamborghini was able to reveal a near-production spec Countach to the public.

Lamborghini Countach (1974-1990)

As mentioned earlier, the internal codename for Miura’s successor was LP112, with the official “Countach” moniker only gaining traction later. The name was pretty unique for the Lamborghini brand at the time; until then, company policy was to name all new models after famous Spanish fighting bulls. However, the name Countach was derived from a word in the Piedmontese language, commonly spoken in Italy’s northwestern region.

Before finalizing the production model, reports suggest Lamborghini built three prototype vehicles. The first yellow car, the LP500, was extensively used for crash testing in England and subsequently destroyed. The second car, which Lambo first painted red for the Geneva Motor Show and then green for the Paris Motor Show, featured improvements to the aero and a slightly smaller V12.

The final prototype was also considered a pre-production model, despite being significantly closer to a customer-spec car. Engineers still made numerous subtle changes to the exterior and interior, mainly aimed at easing the manufacturing process of specific components.

LP400 & LP400 S

The final production model Countach carried the codename LP400 in 1974. Much like the Miura, the Countach was an instant hit at motor shows. However, the ongoing oil crisis made a massive dent in Lamborghini’s sales figures. As a result, after having been sold for about six years, the Italian automaker had only managed to sell less than 160 Countach LP400.

In a desperate bid to generate more orders for the Countach, Lamborghini launched an updated LP400 S model in 1978. The new car featured more subtle cosmetic & mechanical changes and sold marginally better compared to the LP400.

Under the skin

After noticing the overwhelming public feedback to the Miura’s new rear-mid engine layout, Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to keep it almost unchanged for its successor. Chief engineer Paolo Stanzani and his team were tasked with creating a new version of the Lamborghini V12 engine first designed by Giotto Bizzarrini in 1963. They developed a 3.9-liter power unit producing 370 hp, slightly lower than the most powerful Miura. Interestingly, Lamborghini originally planned to develop a new 5-liter powerplant exclusively for the Countach, but later changed course due to the unreliability of the prototypes.

Like in the Miura, this V12 engine was also placed in the car’s rear-mid section, but the engine was mounted longitudinally this time. The engineering team headed by Stanzani did this to improve weight distribution and bring the center of gravity closer to the middle. Thanks to this, the engine’s output shaft could now be directly connected to the 5-speed manual gearbox without the need for any other attachments. This new layout was unprecedented as it was only used in racing cars until then.

Since mounting an enormous V12 engine longitudinally would take up a significant length in itself, the clutch assembly and transmission were mounted at the front, taking up a small portion of lower cabin space. So, suppose you ever get the (incredible) opportunity to drive a Countach and find yourself wondering why the gearshifts feel so precise; it’s thanks to the transmission’s closeness to the gear shifter allowing for smaller linkages, and resulting in crisp and satisfying gear shifts.

As the LP400 S was introduced in 1978, Lamborghini decided to reduce power output further by around 20 hp. Despite this drop, there seemed to be greater interest in the Countach than before, which could be partly attributed to better handling and performance characteristics due to wider tires all around.

Styling features

The first two production Countach models may not have been very mechanically appealing, but they were indeed a treat to the eyes. Extremely pleased with his work on the Miura, Ferruccio Lamborghini again entrusted Bertone with designing a successor.

Once again, Marcello Gandini spearheaded the entire project, deciding to go down a different route this time. The Miura was a thing of beauty and sheer elegance with perfectly defined curves. The Countach, on the other hand, had a purely aggressive design with sharp lines and body panels that could cut you if you aren’t careful enough. But hey, I’m not complaining at all — this radical new angular design was carried over for decades in every flagship Lamborghini vehicle.

Initially, Lambo planned to use steel to create a partial space frame chassis. However, as prototypes were tested and development progressed, engineers decided to go with an advanced full space frame chassis made from 1 mm thick steel tubing instead (rumors suggest this move was meant to impress customers with the chassis’ complex design). Meanwhile, Bertone fabricated the body panels using an aluminum alloy to keep the weight down.

Thanks to the Countach, the Italian wedge shape became extremely popular among the masses. The low tapering front fascia and a thin grille were made possible by shifting the radiators to the sides, while fresh air was supplied to the monstrous engine via louvers and NACA ducts on each side. All this was very impressive indeed, but the Countach’s party pieces were the scissor doors — they made stepping into the leather-clad interior an occasion in itself.

LP5000 S & LP5000 Quattrovalvole

After four years and producing around 240 LP400 S cars later, Lamborghini had finally developed a road-worthy and reliable 4.8-liter V12 engine for the Countach. The new power unit was fitted to a new model launched in 1982 called the LP5000 S. Shortly after, another updated Countach named the LP5000 Quattrovalvole or LP5000 QV arrived in 1985 with an even bigger 5.2-liter engine.

Under the skin

The new V12 engine displaced 4,754 cc and managed to get the power output back up to 375 hp. Admittedly, the larger engine did not bring the LP5000 S a power bump, but torque figures saw a significant rise to 308 lb-ft from the LP400 S’ 263 lb-ft. Not much else changed on the mechanical side of things, apart from the fact that the addition of a humongous V-shaped rear wing reduced the car’s top speed by around 10 mph.

Meanwhile, the LP5000 QV offered many mechanical changes. The V12 engine was now displacing nearly 5.2-liters and came with four valves for each cylinder — hence the name Quattrovalvole (four valves in Italian). The new powerplant produced a respectable 455 hp and 369 lb-ft torque on full chat. Other changes under the hood included using six new Weber carburetors, now placed on top of the engine rather than the sides. Interestingly, a handful of cars came with Bosch’s fuel injection system from the factory.

Styling features

Regarding exterior styling, neither the LP5000 S nor the LP5000 QV came with any major changes. The interior received minor updates here and there, but there is nothing to report other than that. However, 1985 was the first year Lamborghini could officially sell cars in the United States after finally complying with federal safety and emissions regulations. Unfortunately, US-spec cars were fitted with larger bumpers that many owners and fans hated.

25th Anniversario Countach

As part of grand celebrations for the company’s 25th anniversary, Lamborghini released a special edition Countach model. However, the new car used LP5000 QV’s drivetrain setup almost unchanged. Horacio Pagani, who later built his own company by the name of Pagani Automobili, worked on this model’s exterior and tried to set it apart from previous Countach models. He made nearly all side air intake ducts bigger to allow more air to come in. At the same time, it allowed more space for the airboxes to be longitudinally placed, thereby further improving aerodynamics. The car also featured Testarossa-style fins just ahead of the front and rear wheels.

In addition to the cooling system changes, the 25th Anniversario Countach also used ultra-lightweight materials such as a Kevlar hood and engine cover, now modified to accommodate the new ducting arrangements.

The 25th Anniversario Countach was an apparent hit, with Lamborghini managing to sell over 600 units in merely three years.

Countach LPI 800-4

To mark the Countach completing 50 years in 2021, Lamborghini revived the legendary name by creating a special series of 112 cars. Launched in August 2021, the Countach LPI 800-4 is the modern embodiment of the iconic supercar. It is based on the current Aventador platform and fitted with a sophisticated hybrid system to make it kinder on polar bears. The new drivetrain produces 803 hp and 531 lb-ft torque in a car weighing around 3,500 lbs — it might have lost some of the original Countach’s spirit but one can’t deny that it’s still a pretty nice car!

Last Words

The Countach was the car that arguably changed everything for Lamborghini —it literally redefined the brand. The Italian carmaker went from making comfortable and luxurious mile-munching grand tourers to no-compromise track monsters with massive V12 engines. And that same legacy stands true even to this day.

Despite many financial woes in the 1970s, the Countach managed to keep the brand afloat. Ferruccio Lamborghini sold a controlling stake of the brand to his dear friend in 1972 but kept working closely with the company. Still, the Countach was the last car developed from scratch under his guidance, making it even more special. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find an excellent example for the right price, but if you do, I would suggest you hold on to it — they just don’t make them like they used to anymore.

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