A Brief History of Lamborghini’s V12 Supercars:
The Murciélago is the first true V12 Lamborghini of the modern era, with advanced tech onboard and a modern design language.
In Part 5 of our “Brief History of Lamborghini’s V12 Supercars series”, we’ll cover the legendary Lamborghini Murciélago — a car that diligently followed the Italian brand’s philosophy of in-your-face styling coupled with a fire-breathing V12.
As discussed in the previous article, Lamborghini was already well committed to creating attention-grabbing supercars, popularly known as the “ultimate poster cars,” a moniker coined due to kids worldwide favoring Lambos as their vehicle of choice to decorate their bedroom walls.
In my opinion, that’s probably the best compliment a carmaker can receive. Of course, I may be slightly biased here, considering I was one of those kids with Lamborghini Murciélago posters everywhere. Still, six-year-old me had no idea what the name of that sharp-edged orange supercar was — that little guy only cared about the doors opening straight up and those enormous side intakes, which looked more spacious than my own room.
As said last time, the Diablo may not have been Lamborghini’s most popular V12-powered supercar. Still, it played a crucial role in cementing the brand’s reputation of building obnoxious supercars defying practical and social norms. And, of course, despite their lack of convenience in a real-world setting, you still can’t help but love them.
Before we start, it’s important to mention that stakes were unusually high for Automobili Lamborghini when developing a proper successor to the Diablo. Firstly, the new model needed to be good enough to become the Italian supercar manufacturer’s first flagship car unveiled in the 21st century and set the mood for decades to come. Secondly, the frequent management changes at the brand were finally a thing of the past. After the Chrysler Corporation left, the company underwent a few more ownership changes before finally ending in the hands of the Volkswagen Group in 1998 — great news for a company that had more new owners than models.
Now you might think “At last, Automobili Lamborghini’s incredibly talented engineers and designers were given a stable higher management.” In other words, there’s no excuse this time for the new car to be anything but outstanding, right?. Well, you would be dead wrong. The Chrysler Corporation merely asked for a redesign, while the VW bosses scrapped an entire project that was already in advanced stages when they came in.
Work on the Diablo replacement started around 1995, under the ownership of an Indonesian conglomerate — Volkswagen and Audi AG didn’t come into the picture until much later, in 1998. The Lamborghini Canto was initially slated to be the Diablo’s replacement, but VW boss Ferdinand Piëch reportedly wasn’t a fan. Despite several revisions, he still wasn’t convinced the Canto had that Lamborghini flare everyone had grown to love over the years. As a result, he scrapped the entire project just a few months before it was supposed to be unveiled and ordered the development of a new car from scratch.
Lamborghini Murciélago (2001-2010)
The Diablo’s development period was plagued by high-ranking Chrysler execs putting severe constraints on the Lamborghini team to build the car according to their vision. However, the VW Group went a step further and did away with years of development. Still, I can’t say I’m mad at Mr. Piëch — the Canto was kinda weird.
Which brings us to the car of the hour — the Lamborghini Murciélago. In line with Lamborghini’s tradition, the Murciélago was named after a famous Spanish fighting bull of the 1800s. Nonetheless, there were many differences compared to previous Lamborghini flagship supercars. For starters, the Murciélago was more than just a mean machine with a screaming V12 squeezed in; the Audi ownership meant every button did what it was supposed to do. Well, most of the time.
I genuinely believe the Murciélago is a different beast from the V12 Lamborghinis that came before. It ain’t easy to find the right words to describe what’s so unique about it, but it has something to do with modernity. Indeed, if ten people were to look at the Murciélago and the Diablo side by side, nine would think the Murciélago came decades later. The Murciélago looked like a proper 21st-century Lamborghini, and we can only thank Ferdinand Piëch for that.
Also, Lamborghini was positioned in the VW Group under the Audi brand, meaning swanky Italian design could now be combined with reliable German engineering. What’s more to ask?
Early Murciélago models
After going back to the drawing board and coming up with a completely new design from scratch, Lamborghini finally launched a Diablo replacement in 2001. The Murciélago was finally there for the world to see, with the coupe model launched initially, while the Roadster followed in 2004.
This time, the base price was approximately $280,000, about 40 Grand more than the Diablo. If you think that’s steep for a supercar in the early 2000s, the Roadster model had a price tag of nearly $320,000. Still, it was worth every penny.
Under the skin
Being the Lamborghini’s flagship model, the Murciélago came with a fiery V12 engine in the middle. However, the powerplant was different from previous iterations. For starters, displacement was increased to 6,192 ccs from the Diablo VT’s 5,999 ccs by extending the stroke length from 2.8 mm to 86.8 mm, while the bore diameter remained unchanged at 87 mm.
Furthermore, a freshly-designed dry-sump lubrication system allowed the boffins at Lamborghini to mount the engine two inches lower, providing a lower center of gravity for better handling and stability.
But those who buy a Lamborghini are generally more interested in how fast the supercar can go. Hence, the numbers that matter end with “horsepower” & “lb-ft,” and in the Murciélago’s case, we are talking about 572 & 479, respectively — nearly 100 hp more than the Diablo!
Power went to all four wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic. But don’t worry, you could still have a little fun with it since 70% of the power was directed towards the rear axle. Of course, we are talking about the early 2000s here, so there weren’t any sophisticated vectoring systems to change power distribution depending on which wheel has the most grip. Nevertheless, Lamborghini did pull off somewhat of a technological marvel by integrating the rear differential within the engine’s structure itself. The front axle also got its viscous coupling differential to distribute power appropriately.
Although your stereotypical Lamborghini driver didn’t exactly care about anything other than power figures, the new Audi owners did. As a result, the Murciélago was showered with the best technologies available to improve handling and the overall driving experience. For instance, the supercar had a tubular steel spaceframe chassis strengthened with carbon fiber in the middle section and underbody. This, combined with anti-roll bars for each axle, meant the Murciélago was 60% stiffer than its predecessor.
Moreover, stopping power came courtesy of massive 335 mm ventilated discs and four-piston calipers for all wheels. The 48/52 weight distribution also heavily contributed to keeping the car under control during heavy braking.
In 2004, the Italian brand launched the Roadster version, which remained unchanged mechanically. The only significant difference was the addition of a heavy roof mechanism adding 29 kg to the car’s total weight. As you might expect, the added weight and decreased rigidity also slightly affected performance, bringing the 0-60 mph sprint at 3.8 seconds (compared to 3.7), and the top speed to around 199 mph from the coupé’s 205 mph.
As said earlier, the Murciélago represented a noticeable shift towards modernity compared to the Diablo. The car’s design, right down to every flowing line, looked like it belonged to the 21st century, primarily because, unlike most previous flagship Lamborghinis, this one wasn’t designed by Marcello Gandini. Instead, a Belgian chap named Luc Donckerwolke was tasked with the responsibility — and no need to say that he smashed it out of the park.
The lines were more aggressive than ever, and the air intakes also grew in size. If the Diablo’s intakes could swallow a newborn baby, the Murciélago’s could eat pre-teens for breakfast and still have room to spare.
Looking at the front fascia, the trapezoidal headlights beautifully complimented the similarly funky-looking hood. I can’t imagine it could fit a lot of luggage, but its contribution to the overall design is much appreciated. In any case, it is common knowledge that “practicality” and “usability” aren’t the main focus of the Lamborghini manual — and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
The large air intake frenzy continues as we move towards the car’s side profile. Here, you have two gaping holes along the end of each side skirt to keep the massive V12 cool. Meanwhile, the exhaust on the first-gen cars came with dual pipes slightly angled upward, and needless to say, the sweet symphony coming out of there was to die for.
No one would look at the Lamborghini Murciélago and think: “hmm, I wish the car came with more cooling intakes.” Still, Lamborghini seems to have thought just that; the car got another pair of air intakes just behind each door and next to the engine. Popularly known as “Batwings” due to their outlandishly cool appearance, these active air intakes would only reveal themselves under certain conditions. For instance, the Batwings would automatically rise from the car when the engine got too hot at lower speeds. Of course, drivers could also choose to extend them manually using a button on the center console.
Murciélago LP 640 Series
Early 2006 saw Lamborghini unveiling a facelifted model: the Murciélago LP640. The new suffix stood for ‘Longitudinale Posteriore’ in Italian, or longitudinal posterior in good old English; these two words conveyed the placement (posterior) and direction (longitudinal) of the engine, while the following numbers (640) stood for the power output measured in PS (630 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque for those not familiar with the European power units).
As a result, it is hard not to miss the days when newer Lamborghini variants had more to offer than just 10-15 additional ponies and a few cosmetic changes — the LP640 was an entirely reworked car compared to the first variant, but let’s investigate further.
The 300cc increase in displacement came from the expansion of the bore diameter and lengthening of the stroke — of course, this isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds. Automobili Lamborghini’s engineers also had to redesign most of the components to increase efficiency and reduce emissions and ensure the new engine met basic requirements. The modifications include new combustion chambers and cylinder heads, a rotary valve timing mechanism to replace the old two-step system, and a free-flowing intake manifold. Notably, the old crossflow multi-chamber intake was ditched in favor of a vertical downdraft piece forcing air through the inner tubes and into the combustion chambers via the valves.
Furthermore, thanks to Audi’s involvement in the company, Lamborghini could finally access sophisticated electronics and engine mapping software, which needed to be urgently addressed in previous models. Now, Lamborghini’s screaming V12s had the technological prowess of Audi electronics and engine management software, allowing for the utilization of all available power. Even the clutch on automated transmissions, known as ‘e-gear,’ was beefed up a little to handle the extra power and torque.
Unsurprisingly, the new engine’s various changes translated into better performance figures. Indeed, the LP640 could now go from 0 to 60 mph in merely 3.4 seconds, 0.3 seconds faster than the standard version. Even the top speed went up: 211 mph over the standard model’s 205 mph.
The LP640 received all the usual upgrades traditionally bestowed upon every other facelift model: redesigned front and rear bumpers, better infotainment systems, new headlights & taillights, and a few interior enhancements. There is nothing special to report here except that these changes made the Murciélago LP640 look even more modern.
The LP640 Roadster came a little later in 2006. First presented to the world at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the droptop supercar was an instant hit due to its sleek lines, especially along the rear buttress. Usually, when any manufacturer tries to chop the roof off and come up with a roadster version of a coupe, it almost certainly ruins the entire car’s aesthetic appeal — the car looks terrible with the roof up and merely acceptable (at most) when the top is down.
However, Lamborghini stands out from the rest in this regard. Indeed, Murciélago Roadsters look better than their coupé counterparts, mainly because Lamborghini doesn’t deal with complex automatic roof folding mechanisms taking up space and leaving little scope for designers.
Note: The LP640 Roadster in bright orange is a personal favorite.
Any Lamborghini model lineup is incomplete without a hardcore, bare-bones, race-spec limited edition model. Hence, the Murciélago received the legendary “Super Veloce” moniker, meaning “Super Fast” in Italian. Launched in 2009 at the Geneva Motor Show, the Murciélago SV was accorded the code LP670-4. As usual, the first two characters represented the engine’s position and displacement, followed by power. The new ‘-4’ stood for the number of wheels powered by the rumbling V12 powerhouse.
For the SV, displacement remained unchanged, but Lamborghini gave enthusiasts about a 30 hp power bump. The SV used the same engine found in the LP640, but the extra power came from a revamped valve timing mechanism and further improvements to the intake system.
But only real Lambo aficionados know that the SV badge represents a lot more than just a tiny increase in power. Indeed, it was pretty much a racecar for the road. Lamborghini put the LP640 through a rigorous diet and shaved off a neat 220 lbs. Add a large rear wing to the equation, and you have yourself a true track monster. And don’t think the wing was just for show; many automotive journalists at the time could feel the massive downforce difference. The SV’s rear end would stay firmly planted to the ground, while the LP640 could slide all over.
Before production of the first generation Murciélago ended in 2006, Lamborghini had built more than 2,000 units of the supercar, including around 1,788 coupe models, and 435 roadsters. Details about production numbers for the LP640 are scarce, but according to our estimates, Lamborghini produced around 700 coupes and 600 roadsters. The LP640 Coupe was priced at just over $350,000, while the fancy-looking roadster model would set you back another $30,000 to $40,000.
The SV variant was a special edition model and, as such, came with a hefty price tag of $450,000. Initially, the model was supposed to be a limited run of just 350 cars. Still, Lamborghini had to cut production short to prepare for the upcoming Aventador production line, and only around 180 units were produced, making the Murciélago SV incredibly rare.
But more on the Aventador in the next edition of this series, so stay tuned!
After a few turbulent years due to changing owners, Audi turned out to be just what Lamborghini needed to turn things around. However, many purists and loyalists still think Lamborghini lost its soul due to Audi coming in and fixing everything wrong with the cars. Indeed, they believe that those unique quirks are what gave previous Lamborghini V12 supercars their characters and made them enthusiast-worthy.
While Lamborghini slowly losing its soul is still up for debate even today, one thing is for sure: the Murciélago is as much of a Lamborghini as any other model before that came before. Sure, you can call it a little more “mature,” but it’s still filled with details making the driving experience, or even merely looking at one, genuinely unforgettable.