Classic Car Heroes: Ferruccio Lamborghini

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By Ben Selby

Who would have thought that one of the fiercest Italian automotive rivalries began merely out of spite. Were it not for wanting to get even with Enzo Ferrari, Ferruccio Lamborghini may never have decided to create a line of cars which, over the generations, have become some of the most coveted exotic cars in the world.

With a film depicting the career of Ferruccio Lamborghini having just been released, let’s have a look at this exceptional man and his mission to create the perfect sports car.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was born in Renazzo Di Cento on April 28, 1916. His childhood was spent in his family’s vineyard in northern Italy. Here he developed a keen interest not so much in helping in running the farm, but in the machinery they used.

It was this interest which led to him to study mechanical engineering at the Fratelli Taddia technical institute in Bologna. When Italy entered WW2 in 1940, the young Lamborghini was sent to the island of Rhodes to work as a mechanic on Italian trucks and other army vehicles.

After the deposing of Italy’s Fascist Leader, Benito Mussolini, coupled with the allied advance through Italian provinces, Lamborghini found himself working on British and American vehicles as well as Italian equipment. This involvement with allied engines would prove a great help to Lamborghini after the war.

Returning home to Cento at war’s end, Lamborghini opened a garage and began fixing and maintaining a variety of machinery. He even modified a Fiat Topolino to compete in the 1948 Mille Miglia. However, his withdraw after 600 miles of the 1000 miles road race resulted in Ferruccio coming to the conclusion that being a racing driver wasn’t really his thing.

What had sparked Ferruccio’s interest was a demand in post-war Italy for simple farming equipment and tractors. He managed to purchase a consignment of British army Morris truck engines and modified them for use in tractors. His early Caprioca designs could be run on petrol rather than diesel which led to early Lamborghini tractors becoming quite popular in the Emilia Romagna region.

In 1948, Ferruccio founded “Lamborghini Trattori” and began mass producing tractors on an industrial scale. The company went from strength to strength, taking full advantage Italy’s post war economic boom. Demand for Lamborghini tractors was high and remained so.

By the early sixties, every kind of tractor variant was being produced, from heavy duty units to small mini tractors for vineyards and fields. Lamborghini also began to diversify into central heating systems and even marine engines for pleasure boating.

As a result, Ferruccio Lamborghini became one of the wealthiest industrialists in Italy. He was able to buy the very best and owned a collection of fast cars, including several Ferraris. He drove them all hard, particularly the latter. Ferruccio saw Ferrari as being a great car, but not quite durable enough for his standards.

He would have frequent clutch problems with his 250 GT California. He asked one his tractor mechanics to examine it and to his horror, found his Ferrari was using the same kind of inexpensive clutch that he was using on his tractors. This made Lamborghini very upset. He had spent a lot of money on his new Ferrari and was none too pleased to find it using a tractor clutch

Soon afterwards, Lamborghini visited Maranello and confronted Enzo Ferrari about the clutch problem. Ferrari response was something along the lines of, “go back to your farm tractor-boy and stop complaining about my cars.” Ferruccio Lamborghini was furious. He decided then and there to show Enzo how a fast expensive car should be built, “I will show you how to make a sports car,” he said. A fierce Italian rivalry had begun.

In 1963, Automobili Lamborghini was born. After spending millions on building a purpose-built factory, he enlisted the help of engineers and designers such as Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani and New Zealand’s own Bob Wallace. He also needed a symbol for his new automotive arm. Ferruccio Lamborghini’s zodiac sign was Taurus the Bull. It was this and his interest in bull fighting which resulted in this bit of prime beef as his chosen logo.

The 1963 Turin Motor Show saw the debut of the engineless Lamborghini 350 GTV. That said, it wasn’t until the Geneva Motor Show in 1964 that Lamborghini showcased his first production model, the 350 GT. The 350 GT featured a 3.5L V12 engine designed by engineering genius and Ferrari defector, Giotto Bizzarrini. Dallara was responsible for the chassis and the styling by Milanese styling house, Touring. The 350 GT would grow into the 400 GT in 1965. However, it was the 1965 Turin Motor Show where Lamborghini previewed the template his cars would be forever linked with.

At the show sat a mid-engined V12 sports car with no bodywork. The story goes Lamborghini invited all the major styling houses to the show for a viewing in an attempt to sign them up to design the bodywork. All visited during the show, except Nuccio Bertone of Bertone Design, who arrived to inspect the car, codenamed P400, after the show had closed.

Lamborghini was keen to impress Bertone so much that he sent three 400 GTs for Bertone to test so that he would know that every Lamborghini produced was of the highest standard possible. Needless to say, Bertone agreed that his company would style the P400, and the final product was unveiled at the Geneva Motor show in March 1966.

Lamborghini’s new car was a sensation. Called the Miura after a famous breeder of fighting bulls, it was all anyone could talk about. A transverse mid-mounted Bizzarrini designed 4.0L V12 producing 360hp, a top speed of 170mph and looks from Bertone’s Marcello Gandini which put it amongst the best-looking cars ever built, the who’s who of the rich and famous flocked to Lamborghini showrooms.

Lamborghini Miura S: Credit: Lamborghini

Ferruccio even took a Miura to the Monaco Grand Prix that year and parked it in front of the Hotel De Paris. The crowds were three rows deep. After he revved it up, those crowds double in size.

For the remainder of the decade, Lamborghini added more models to the line-up, including the V12 four-seater Espada grand tourer and the Islero which replaced the 400 GT. The Miura was also updated with the Miura S with added power and refinement.

With the dawn of the seventies, the bull pen consisted of the V12 Jarama, the Espada, the new baby V8 powered Urracco and the final rendition of the Miura, the Miura SV. Also, Lamborghini was already working on the Miura’s ground breaking successor. First show in concept form at the Geneva Motor show in 1971, the car was the Lamborghini Countach. It quickly became the bedroom wall poster car for a generation of school boys and came to symbolize the seventies and eighties.

Lamborghini Countach LP500: Credit: Lamborghini

However, the early seventies were a difficult time for Lamborghini. Both his car and his tractor businesses were beginning to struggle due to rising oil prices and a changing economic landscape. People were after economy cars and a thirsty V12 supercars were not a priority. The Bolivian government also cancelled a large order of tractors which had already been built.

With rising costs and not much in the way of profit, Ferruccio sold the business to a rival firm and his controlling stake of Automobili Lamborghini to Swiss Investor Georges-Henri Rossetti. Then in 1974, Ferruccio grew disinterested in his car business and sold the remaining shares to Rene Leimer, a friend of Rossetti.

Ferruccio Lamborghini retired to a luxurious estate on the shores of Lake Trasimeno in Castiglione del Lago. Here is spent the later part of his life on his golf course, pursuing other business ventures and making his own wine, “Bulls Blood.” He also tended his own vineyard on his Lamborghini tractor and would be frequently seen tearing around the region in his own white Countach or red Miura SV.

Automobili Lamborghini endured a troubling seventies and early eighties, passing through the hands of a number of owners before being bought by Chrysler in 1987. The American giant oversaw the production of the Diablo, the Countach’s successor and a Formula One engine programme which lasted until 1993. After a brief stint in the hands of Indonesian company Megatech, Audi purchased Lamborghini in 1998.

Since then, the raging bull of Sant Agata has been financially stable and continues to be prosperous today. Howeever, its founder would not be around to see it. Ferruccio Lamborghini passed away on February 20 1993 after a heart attack aged 75. To celebrate his life, his son Tonino created the Museo Ferruccio Lamborghini. This museum to his father opened in 2014 and contains every aspect of Ferruccio’s career.

The Lamborghini story can be summed up in two words, “determination” and “grit.” Through hard graft and a belief in oneself, Lamborghini has become an inspiration to business people and car buffs alike.

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