A Brief History of Lamborghini’s V12 Supercars:
If you were a kid in the late 1960s, chances are there was a poster of the Miura on your bedroom wall. The Miura changed everything for Lamborghini; it was the supercar that kickstarted the brand’s reputation as the maker of what is, by far, the favorite poster cars, a prestige that stands true even today.
Despite being more than 50 years old, the Lamborghini Miura is still one of the most recognizable and highly regarded classic supercars—and for good reasons. Indeed, the Miura marked several firsts for the Italian marque. For one thing, it was a stark deviation from Ferruccio Lamborghini’s goal to develop the best grand tourer. Moreover, it was the car that started Lamborghini’s tradition of naming its cars after famous Spanish fighting bull breeds. Not to mention that it’s also widely considered as the world’s first supercar, a title that indeed carries some weight.
On its debut at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, the Miura prototype stunned everyone who laid eyes on it. A low sloping front hood and an engine placed in the middle was something the automobile industry had never seen before in a production vehicle. And of course, there is quite a story behind developing a car that forever changed the automobile industry.
You see, Ferruccio Lamborghini’s dream was to beat Ferrari by making cars that would be great for grand touring; meaning a powerful yet smooth engine, a luxurious interior, unrivaled comfort, and unparalleled refinement—no need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the Miura is the exact opposite of that.
After it finished development work for the 400GT, Lamborghini’s engineering team had some free time on its hands. The team was full of young and talented members who begged Ferruccio for a chance to design a proper race car for the road. After much deliberation, Ferruccio finally agreed to give the engineering team a free pass to develop a new car, but there was no guarantee that it would ever be mass-produced.
Nonetheless, Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani, and Bob Wallace worked overtime on developing a prototype layout for the new track-focused Lamborghini. The trio came with a rolling chassis that the manufacturer showcased at the 1965 Turin Motor Show. The Miura rolling chassis left everyone awestruck by its unique layout; Lamborghini even received a handful of orders for a car with no bodywork.
After witnessing the crowd’s extremely positive response, Ferruccio’s inner businessman saw a massive opportunity. He decided to further develop the car for mass production even if it meant abandoning his initial vision for the Automobili Lamborghini brand.
Lamborghini Miura (1966-1973)
In the early development stages, the prototype car was codenamed P400, short for Posteriore 4 litri. After the 1965 Turin Motor Show, Lamborghini decided to go ahead with further development, including giving the new car an external body. A full-size Miura with complete bodywork was showcased at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, where it received even more praise. However, the car was merely a dummy vehicle with a ballast where the engine was supposed to be. Lamborghini had barely managed to finish building the exterior in time for the show, which meant no one knew if a massive V12 engine would even fit in there.
Later in 1966 and through 1967, Lamborghini engineers worked to build fully-functional Miura ‘prototipo’ (Italian for prototype) vehicles for testing purposes. Reports suggest five ‘prototipo’ Miuras were produced, allowing engineers to test several innovative components such as a roof-scoop that was later ditched due to leaking issues.
Under the skin
As beautiful as the Lamborghini Miura may be, it was also an engineering marvel. After all, a rear-mid engine layout was something never seen before back then. It was previously limited to the motorsport world, mostly featured on Formula One and Ford GT40 racecars.
Of course, introducing the format into the world of mass production was no easy feat for the trio of young and enthusiastic engineers. It wasn’t as simple as taking a front-engined car and moving the powertrain further back. The engine, gearbox, and differential would take up a significant length when mounted longitudinally, thereby greatly increasing the wheelbase. Consequently, Lamborghini engineers thought to mount the engine transversely. Doing this had two major advantages, the wheelbase would be kept short, and a large majority of the weight would be put near the middle, thereby improving vehicle dynamics.
Speaking of the engine, the Miura used the Bizzarrini-derived 4.0-liter quad-cam V12 from the 400GT, tweaked to squeeze out a few extra ponies. The power was sent exclusively to the rear wheels via a ZF five-speed manual transmission and an in-house limited-slip differential. Also worth mentioning, due to the lack of space, the engine, gearbox, and differential had to be made into one unit using the same lubrication system. Such a setup was good enough for 350 hp and 279 lb-ft torque, marking a slight increase compared to the 400GT.
Interestingly, while engineers shifted the engine to the mid-rear, the radiator and other cooling systems stayed up front. The radiator had to be mounted at an angle to ensure the car could have a low sloping front fascia. Handling was taken care of by upper & lower wishbones on both axles along with coil springs and shock absorbers. It came with a unique reversed rear lower wishbone configuration that included a trailing link to absorb drive thrust.
Automobili Lamborghini presented a new Miura at the 1968 Turin Motor Show. Codenamed P400S, the new car was pitched to potential customers as an updated version with more features. It offered a 20 hp power bump, while torque increased by 6 lb-ft, thanks to slightly larger intake manifolds and redesigned cam profiles.
After Carrozzeria Touring had to shut down shop in 1966, due to financial troubles, Ferruccio Lamborghini found himself looking for a new coachbuilder to design his cars. The Italian carmaker then decided to partner with Bertone, an automotive company based in Milan. The first product out of this newfound partnership was the Lamborghini Miura.
At Bertone, the Miura’s design was assigned to Marcello Gandini, a young Italian car designer with a burning desire to be one of the Greats. The highly motivated young man came up with a timeless design—the Miura still looks like it was designed yesterday.
The Lamborghini Miura was an instant hit, with many experts calling it the most beautiful car ever made—not a small feat.
The design was striking and extremely bold, especially for the time, a trait that would become the norm for all future Lamborghini supercars. The base P400 Miura featured a low front end with pronounced fenders and pop-up headlights surrounded by unique trim pieces, making it look like it had “eyelashes.” The hood area offered two air intakes for the front-mounted radiator, while intakes behind the door fed air to the massive fire-breathing engine. All P400 & P400S models came with a steel chassis and doors, while the rest of the bodywork was crafted from aluminum to keep the weight down.
At first glance, one would think that the interior designers seemed to have missed the memo stating Lamborghini was building a racecar for the road this time. The interior was adorned with plush leather-wrapped components, complete with thick floor mats but not an iota of lightweight exotic materials. Still, the Miura adopted a bare-bones approach when it came to all the creature comforts—even air conditioning was only available as an optional extra, and only in the P400S.
Since Miura S variants were selling like hot cakes globally, Lamborghini unveiled a special limited run of highly performance-oriented models. The Miura SV or P400SV was introduced in 1971 as a variant sitting above the P400S. It came with a reworked engine that now produced 380 hp and 294 lb-ft torque as a result of improved carburetors and a new valve timing setup. Moreover, around one-third of all Miura SVs produced had their engine blocks modified to incorporate a separate lubrication system for the gearbox.
In addition, Lambo completely reworked the SV’s suspension setup. Gandini tweaked the rear-end to accommodate wider track and tires. Owing to these mods, the Miura SV handled way better than any previous variant.
Lamborghini’s developmental test driver, Bob Wallace, created a one-off Miura in 1970, trying to build a racecar that would compete in FIA motorsport events. The Miura Jota was a striped-out, lightweight, and race-ready version, meant to serve as a test mule for several modifications. The V12 engine was modified to produce around 440 hp by increasing the compression ratio and adding more aggressive cam profiles. It also came with a dry-sump lubrication system and a freer-flowing exhaust system suited for racing applications. Sadly, the Miura Jota lived a short life as it caught fire following an accident in 1971.
Even though the Miura Jota was destroyed, Bob Wallace’s desire to build a hardcore race-spec Miura was still very much alive. Analyzing the Miura Jota testbed learnings, Wallace took a handful of Miura SVs and modified them to Jota spec cars—the Miura SV/J was born and all were snatched up rather quickly by several high-profile clients around the globe.
By now, we are all well aware of Ferruccio’s obsession with comfortable yet elegant mile-crushing grand tourers. So, when his employees got their way to build a racecar for the road, he commissioned Bertone to create a one-off roadster variant that would feature some of the lost GT abilities. As far as we can tell, the Miura Roadster was based on the standard base P400 variant and was unveiled to the world at the 1968 Brussels Motor Show. Unfortunately, the car was mainly meant as a PR stunt to gather more attention towards Lamborghini and not a lot is known about it today (if you do know more about it, let me know. I want to know more lol).
With the Miura, Automobili Lamborghini has set off on a course utterly different from what the founder had planned. The Italian marque was officially a supercar maker now. The brand would go on to make many such cars that were in no way practical or even comfortable—rational minds would even claim that there is no reason for Lamborghini supercars to exist. Still, not many carmakers can boast to have adorned every young boy’s bedroom walls, pretty much throughout its existence, to be honest.
Coming back to the Miura, there was a lot of speculation about the exact number of Miuras officially manufactured by Lamborghini. As a result, the Italian marque finally set the record straight in 2005, issuing a statement mentioning the exact production numbers, according to the company records. Officially, Lamborghini would have produced 275 P400, 338 P400S, and 150 P400SV, for a total of 763, not including one-off and special edition models.
However, it is worth noting that several experts in the field claim varying production numbers for each variant—but that’s not the point. The Miura simply changed the game for Lamborghini, and for every boy (and pretty much any car enthusiast ever) who would now dream of driving a Lamborghini one day.