PEBBLE BEACH — Picture it. As the story goes, Ferruccio Lamborghini, who had been manufacturing excellent tractors since 1948, had bought a Ferrari about which he made complaints. His response from Enzo Ferrari came across as an insult when he said, “Why don’t you stick to tractors, and I’ll stick to cars.” Apparently Lamborghini replied, “I can do this as well,” and set about designing his own car.
Whether it’s just a good story Lamborghini liked to tell, four months later, in 1963, he released his first car, the 350GTV, just in time for an unveiling at the 1963 Turin motor show, to successful reviews. He later reworked the production model and released the 350GT.
This year’s Concours d’Elegance will celebrate innovative designs with, among others, the Marquis of Lamborghini, which celebrates its 60th anniversary.
(Graphic by Arianna Nalbach)
“Ferruccio Lamborghini’s idea was to create the greatest Italian sports car. At the time Ferrari was king, and we also had Alfa Romeo and Maserati, so it was a pretty big decision to get into that arena and try to be competitive,” said Concours d’Elegance Judge Paul Hageman, a third-generation car guy who, with his father, owns Hageman Motorcars.
Lamborghini’s approach to automobile design was unconventional in that most sportscar manufacturers use racing to support development and marketing, yet he had no interest in racing. Counter to Enzo Ferrari, he had neither the constitution for it, says Hageman, nor the inclination to send drivers out into harm’s way just to further his name. Conversely, Enzo Ferrari was renowned for being really quite callous, and drivers were, to him, rather dispensable.
The 1950s and ‘60s were, notably, an incredibly fatal era in racing.
As he developed his car company, Ferruccio Lamborghini accessed a significant network of engineers, chassis and engine builders, and designers from Italy, bringing them in house to design and build cars that were expensive, from a mechanical and performance standpoint, but also very striking. Their impressive creations typically caused quite a stir at the motor shows. And, they were selling.
“A lot of effort went into figuring out production, as well as marketing and sales,” Hageman said. “By the late ‘60s, what set Lamborghini apart was having figured out they could create an impressive car without it having to be the fastest or in direct competition with Ferrari in terms of performance.”
Focused more on design, which included some pretty wild car designs, Lamborghini came out with the Miura, considered the first contemporary supercar.
“The Miura had a monocoque or ‘single-shell’ chassis, meaning the chassis was integral to the body, with a mid-engine layout, set in sideways, behind the passenger compartment,” Hageman said. “This is something that was being used in out-and-out racing but not in sports car production. It’s the layout that today has proved to be most successful from an engineering standpoint.”
Focused more on design, Lamborghini came out with the Miura, considered the first contemporary supercar. (Kimball Studios courtesy of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance)
The Miura was Lamborghini’s first big success in creating something very desirable and marketable, followed by the Espada, a four-seat grand touring coupé. Built between 1968 and 1978, it was an outrageous design and great touring car.
“Going forward, the ‘70s were marked by really unusual designs. Lamborghini pushed the envelope in a lot of ways,” said Hageman, “and went against convention.”
What Hageman finds interesting about the success of Lamborghini as a brand name is that, while Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren won races, earning the respect of people interested in motorsports, with Lamborghini, it was never that. People saw one car and had to have one.
“Lamborghini became desirable,” he said, “through more of a luxury and design standpoint than through more typical channels of proving themselves as a race-worthy sports car.”