Octane
By Amos Kwon
on 7.8.13

Lamborghini never does things quietly — and that’s a very good thing, especially when the goal is to draw the rapt attention of the automotive world. But one model in particular marked the inception of Lambo’s radical styling flavor that would span decades, even into the present: the Countach. Angled to the nines, as angry as a giant bull whacked in the butt with a hot poker and as practical as a Kevlar dinner jacket, the Countach embodied the exotic supercar like no other automobile before it. Seeing one drive past is akin to witnessing a dozen Bengal tigers pulling a supermodel on a chariot. Unlike other Lamborghinis, it was not named after a fighting bull. It essentially translates to “wow, look at that!” And how apropos the name is.

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What It’s All About

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Created as the rightful heir to the Lamborghini throne, the Countach’s design was a radical departure from the swoopy and stunning Miura. Ferruccio Lamborghini had achieved design success with the Miura, but now he wanted something truly eye-popping (hence the exclamation-based name). The design was wrought by the house of Bertone and penned by a young designer by the name of Marcello Gandini. Oddly enough, he had also designed the Miura. Gone were the long curves of the Countach’s predecessor, replaced by the kind of body seemingly designed by someone armed with only a ruler.

What stands out most about the Countach is its sheer disregard for ergonomics, sacrificed (albeit not intentionally) for the purpose of creating a supercar like no other. Throughout its sixteen-year run, the Countach evolved from simply angular to a massively vented beast with scoops, haunches and a wing that wouldn’t be out of place on a military skunkworks project. Its signature scissor doors were an industry first and lent to the kind of impracticality that made the Countach both radically unique and somewhat painful to operate. The car’s width simply did not allow for conventional doors, but the scissor doors couldn’t be deployed without sufficient clearance. And due to the mail slot of a rear window, drivers had to sit on the door sill with the doors open in order to park the car in reverse. But with the money to buy it came a certain air of eccentricity, as well as a pronounced desire for attention from the general public.

Technical Rundown

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Gandini utilized a cabin-forward design in order to make room for a mid-engine (and a large one, at that) layout. Aluminum body panels over a tubular space frame provided both lightness (3,100 pounds — compared to the nearly 3,700-pound Murcielago) and structural rigidity. By modern standards, the car was pretty flat, with a mere 42-inch height. Its prototype, known as the LP 500, was displayed for all the world at the Geneva Motor Show in 1971. Not considered production ready, the LP 500 (for 5-liter displacement) had insufficient cooling due to small gill-like intake ducts on the rear quarter panels. The simple but still angular design was clean in its original form, but numerous aesthetic and functional changes had to be made to accommodate for the planned large V12 engine.

Angled to the nines, as angry as a giant bull whacked in the butt with a hot poker and as practical as Kevlar dinner jacket, the Countach embodied the exotic supercar like no other automobile before it.

For the first production model, the Countach LP 400, larger vents were added, including the famous NACA door vents, rear fender vents and a huge vent behind the driver, cutting the rearward visibility to virtually naught. Initial models used the same 4-liter engine as the Miura. The overall design, though now more complex than Gandini’s original design due to the cooling needs of the car, was conservative compared to the Countachs that would come later. The 4-liter V12 was mid-mounted longitudinally and facing backward for a better front-to-rear weight ratio, thereby improving handling. Due to the size and weight of the V12, the gearbox and the clutch were moved to a position in front of the engine so the rear weight bias wouldn’t be overly pronounced. The result was not only better balance but better shifting due to the decreased length of the linkage between the shifter and the gearbox. The sleek body of the LP 400 (no wing yet) and the narrow tires enabled the first generation to be one of the fastest Countachs made.

The second-generation car, the LP 400S, emerged on the scene in 1978 with numerous upgrades and changes. Visually, this is where the Countach began to make its more pronounced changes — the ones that linger in the automotive memory. Wider rubber, in the form of fat 345mm Pirelli P7s, was added, along with extended fiberglass wheel arches to house them. An optional v-shaped fixed rear wing that now seems inextricably tied to the model was also introduced. The wing naturally added stability, but the sheer size of the car and the resulting downforce reduced top speed, a small sacrifice for what many feel made for a better-looking automobile. In 1982, the Countach 500S added a bigger 4.8 liter engine, but the aesthetics of the car remained the same.

The Countach 5000 QV (or Quattrovalvole, which stood for the 4 valves per cylinder) was introduced in 1985. Once again, the engine displacement was increased to 5.2 liters. The six webber carburetors were moved to the top of the engine, virtually eliminating rearward visibility for the driver. Eventually the 5000 QV made use of fuel injection, replacing the carburetors altogether. Sadly, this reduced the output of the engine from a healthy 455 horsepower to a somewhat less respectable 414. One of the most significant changes also happened to be one of the worst aesthetic additions to the car, solely for the U.S. market. Tumor-like bumpers were added to the car, disrupting the design. Many U.S. buyers consequently had them removed as soon as they drove off the lot.

Its Place In History

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Though the Countach wouldn’t earn any design awards, nor would it ever be considered truly beautiful in the pantheon of memorable cars, it is stamped in our collective automotive memory as one of the most distinct and exotic cars ever made. It created fantasies that didn’t involve flesh for just about every teenage boy, blew our minds in Cannonball Run and still turns heads over forty years later. Sure, negotiating it in traffic is less than desirable and parallel parking is an exercise in futility (and contortion), but there is perhaps no other car in history that defines the spectacle of the supercar better than the Countach. Centuries from now, observers will see photos and exclaim, “Wow! Look at that!”

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