The Countach made its public debut at the 1971 Geneva motor show. The design of the ultra low two seater sports car took the world by surprise. Its most captivating parts were of course the scissor doors, swinging up and forward. Over the years these famous doors have become Lamborghini’s trade mark right up to the latest MurciÃ¨lago.
The projected 5.0 litre V12 would be longitudinally positioned at the rear. This engine lay-out by the way was reflected in the prototype’s designation: LP 500 or Longitudinale Posteriore five litre. To improve weight distribution, the five-speed gearbox would be rather unconventionally mounted ahead of the engine, virtually between the seats. This meant that the driveshaft had to go all the way underneath the engine to the final drive. The proposed solution was to let it run in its own tunnel right through the engine’s sump. This in turn raised the engine position (and with it the centre of gravity) forcing the carburettors to be repositioned horizontally to fit under the bonnet. Fuel would be stored in two fuel tanks.
Another unique feature of the Lamborghini Countach development story is the fact that it had been designed around the then new Pirelli P7 tyre. Development of the latter got however behind and the new tyres would not appear before 1978. That is why the prototype and the first generation of road cars stood on rather modest 7.5x14 and 9.5x14 cast magnesium Campagnolo wheels shod with Michelin 205/70 and 215/70 respectively.
The 5.0 litre V12 project was abandoned after the engine exploded during tests. Instead Lamborghini reverted to a more reliable 4.0 litre version based on the Miura power plant. Still with four camshafts and six horizontal two barrel carburettors, the V12 delivered 375 bhp at an incredibly high 8,000 rpm and 368 lb ft of torque at 5,500 rpm. The prototype’s futuristic but very un-Lambo interior was done away with and replaced with a more traditionally styled leather-clad dashboard and seats.
The first batch of Countach LP 400 produced between 1974 and 1978 number only 150 cars before the first evolution appeared in 1978 when the Pirelli P7 tyres became available. With the help of Canadian F1 racing team manager and multiple Countach owner Walter Wolf, chassis designer Dallara developed the LP 400S. The new style telephone dial wheels were covered with 205/50 at the front and ridiculously wide 345/35 Pirellis. No wonder Lamborghini clinched the title for fitting the largest tyres ever on a production road car. Needless to say the complete suspension geometry and chassis set-up needed revision. To house the oversized rubber new wheel arch extensions were created, giving the Countach finally its famous squat stance. Another novelty consisted of the optional V-shaped rear wing. While this undoubtedly enhanced the dramatic styling of the Countach on steroids, it remains debatable whether it did actually improve the Countach’ aerodynamics.
Ironically the meaner and leaner but also heavier LP 400S proved actually slower in top speed (158 mph) than the LP 400, also because the engine had been left untouched. The LP 400S stayed in production until 1981 and some 235 cars were manufactured.
The next logical step of the Countach evolution consisted of stretching the V12 to a full five litres like had been planned more than a decade ago. In 1982 the LP 500S or 5000S as it became known in the USA was introduced. But despite the name the bigger engine only measured 4,754 cc. Still fed by six double carburettors, the V12 equally put out 375 bhp but this time at 7,000 rpm. Torque rose to 302 lb ft at 4,500 rpm. More grunt pushed the LP 500S over 164 mph and enabled a 0-60 mph sprint in 5.6 seconds. Some 321 cars were built between 1982 and 1985.
1988 saw the pinnacle of the Countach saga. To celebrate the mark’s 25th anniversary a special Countach was launched. Mechanically identical to the 5000 QV, the Countach Anniversary boasted a heavily restyled body work with additional air intakes, scoops and disgraceful looking side skirts. Chrysler had acquired Lamborghini by then and the Countach got creatures comfort like electric seats and windows. With 650 cars made, the Anniversary became the most popular of the Countach range.
By 1990 the last of the 2,000 or so Countachs had been sold before the new Diablo heralded the end of two decades of Countach supremacy. One living legend was replaced with another.
Countach LP 500
Lamborghini introduced the mind-blowing Countach on the 1971 Geneva Auto Show, as the Lamborghini LP 500 Countach. The LP stood for Longitudinale Posteriore 5000 cc, beacuse the car use a 5-Litre engine mounted longitudinally in the back.
The engine was built using a lot of magnesium even for the gearbox and differential, was completely designed and built by Lamborghini, while Bertone, more precisely by Marcello Gandini, executed the body design.
Paolo Stanzani was responsible for the engineering at Lamborghini.For the Countach the transmission was put directly underneath the gear lever, so no complicated linkage was necessary for it, the gearbox was linked with the rear mounted differential through a long shaft in the bottom of the engine, the engine, gearbox and differential were mainly built from magnesium to reduce their weight.
Marcello Gandini executed the body styling. Its upward and forward swinging doors were inspired on the Carabo, which was based on an Alfa Romeo chassis, these doors together with a periscope rear view mirror mounted in a tunnel in the roof were only a few of the main attractions on the Countach.
The carlooked like a futuristic prototype, a one-off, but the critics were wrong, the Countach was destined to go into production, and shortly after the introduction, Ferruccio Lamborghini halted the Miura SV production, to be succeeded by the Countach. ’Countach’ means something like stupendous, magnificent, splendid and is in fact a Piedmontese dialect.
Several legends surround the origin of this name, but the official factory version is that it was Bertone’s first word when he saw the result of Gandini’s pen. Ferruccio Lamborghini himself was present at the time and decided that this name would fit the new Lamborghini perfectly.
Bertone used experimental digital units for the first Countach, the dashboard did not have the normal analog instrumentation, the entire car was a real show car. A first edition of the check computer was installed, monitoring all the important areas of the car like the different fluids, the brakes, etc... Later when Bob Wallace was testing the LP500, he had the digital instrumentation replaced with normal ones. The orders started coming in, at that time it was not even sure the car would actually be produced, but after Ferruccio saw how much people were willing to buy a Countach he decided to build it in small quantities.
Finished in a bright yellow, the first prototype had only a short life, which was very hard. Various modifications were needed to transform the unique prototype into a production model, large air scoops were installed on top of the rear fenders to pull the air into the radiators, who were now mounted vertically.
A pair of NACA-ducts was cut behind the doors in addition, and various windshield wipers were tested, after several thousands of hard miles the car ended its life with a barrier crash test at MIRA in Britain.
After this first rolling prototype, two others were built to get the Countach into production, a red one that was still close to the original design but now with the big air intakes already built into the car from the start. On this red car, a test was performed with dual windscreen wipers, residing both to the left and right of the front windscreen, but this system proved to be inadequate under rain at high speeds.
Bob Wallace tested the second prototype during several circuit runs, but a third prototype was needed to be really able to get the Countach ready, this green example was later also used for the first official factory brochure offering the Lamborghini Countach LP400 as a production model, later another brochure was created with an actual yellow production car. The green car already featured the single windscreen wiper system that would be used on the actual LP400, the front bumper now was lowered a bit, and included driving lights like the LP400 would later on.
These late prototypes used the 4-Liter engine, which would be built into the actual production model, but the side window configuration of these prototypes never made it into production.
To bring Countach into even limited production, a lot of work still had to be done
The show car was only a prototype and the engine that was installed into blew up on the first tests. the car could be saved but the engine needed too much work to be made reliable enough for production, so they returned to the 4.0-Litre unit.
The engine cooling was another major problem, like tge previous Miura.With the horizontally mounted radiators, the engine immediately overheated. They had to change the entire cooling system, switching to vertically mounted radiators, but they now grabbed air through two scoops and two NACA inlets behind the doors.
Other outside changes were the installing of an effective windshield wiper system with one big wiper and a smaller one, and a rear view mirror was put on the bodywork. A change that was less well visible was the raised ’bumper point’ to reduce the nose slope, because at high speed the steering became very heavy.
Apart from these changes the LP 500 was right to start with, the car was very fast, looked stunning and offered superior handling over the Miura SV.
The first LP400 Countach prototype was shown on the 1973 Geneva Auto Show, painted in a bright red and with a black suede interior. It showed the air intakes and the NACA ducts and had the 4.0-Litre engine installed, on the inside, the digital gauges were removed and the periscope rear view mirror was abandoned.
Bob Wallace used this car to perform various hard road and track tests. These tests led to a second LP400 Countach, which now used the tubular chassis. Driving lights were built into the front bumper, together with air intakes underneath it for the front brakes, and the installed windshield wiper was the same as on the actual production cars, while the first, red prototype used two wipers.
The Countach was shown to the public on the 1973 Paris Auto Show with dark green exterior and brown upholstery. This specific prototype was used to construct the ’Master model’, a wooden construction that the panel beaters used to form the body panels on.
Some small changed were still made however. The body was made 13 cm longer, and the curvature of the rear mudguard was raised a few centimeters.The first production prototype was constructed entirely in the Lamborghini factory during the autumn of 1973.
This car featured the final side window arrangement using three pieces of glass instead of the previous two. In addition, the final interior styling was carried out; now the dashboard was equipped with American Stewart Warner instrumentation. This first production prototype was finished in a bright yellow with natural brown upholstery; the dashboard was covered with dark brown suede.
This car was shown on 1974 Geneva Auto Show and was featured in the factory folder and.
After three long years the developmnet team succeeded to convert the LP500 into a production car, but by this time, while the first LP400 Countach was shown on the 1974 Geneva Auto Show, Ferruccio Lamborghini sold his company to the Swiss Georges-Henri Rosetti and Rene Leimer. The future of Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini did not look as bright as the yellow Countach, but it was this single model that would keep the company alive over many troublesome years.
In April 11, 1974 the first production Countach left the factory and was delivered to a customer in Milan.This first production model of the Countach is considered to be the most valuable today. These cars were actually among the fastest Countach ever, even the QV that was introduced during the Eighties had trouble keeping up with a finely tuned LP400 model.
After the initial LP400 model the factory came up with every boys dream, the LP400 S, wide wheels arches, massive Pirelli tires and big wings, some even at the front or on the roof of the Countach.
The original LP400 Countach was the only ‘uncluttered’ model made of this exotic among super cars for the purists.No wings, no wide wheels, just pure lines … that’s all the Lamborghini Countach needed to become the best selling car Lamborghini saw until then, these LP400 models are considered to be the most interesting Countach these days from an investment point of view, only a handful remain, and even less are in perfect condition. A model that would remain in production for many years, until in the early Nineties the Diablo would take over the reign of the Countach … the latter still remains the ultimate car for an entire generation of people.
Many students had this Lamborghini featured on a poster in their bedrooms, with or without the usual female addition; there is probably not a single scale car collector in the world that doesn’t have at least one model of the Countach in his possession.
Countach LP400 S
Two special cars were prepared in 1976 by the Paolo Stanzani;-with engine revisions up to 400 Bhp, and using the then new Pirelli P7 tires.
Finished in a bright red, with a black interior the first car(nr.188) was delivered to an Italian customer, but the second, finished in a brilliant Bugatti light-blue, with a natural leather upholstery with gold colored wheels and pin striping became the famous Walter Wolf Countach.This specific car, nr. 202 was recently restructured by the factory and it still wears these original colors.
These two cars would in fact be considered to be the prototypes of what later would be developed into the Countach LP400 S production model.
The LP400 S was the first revision of the Lamborghini Countach, the differences between the LP400 and the LP400 S were not only visible on the outside, although that is where they were most obvious, but the entire suspension geometry had to be redone to cope with the very wide rear wheels.
Walter Wolf could actually be held responsible for the LP400 S to be launched by Automobili Lamborghini, he had two of his cars equipped with a custom built 5.0-Litre engine, just like the one Bob Wallace blew up in 1971. But what was more important, he also had wider Pirelli P7 tires installed on these cars, and had the complete suspension geometry redesigned by Dallara to be able to mount these massive wheels.
He convinced Lamborghini SpA to take a look at commercializing ’his’ modifications, when he bought his third personalized Countach. But they didn’t follow the Walter Wolf ’treatment’ completely, the wide Pirelli low-profile high-tech P7 tires were adopted, now mounted on new five-hole telephone-dial rims, as seen on the Bertone’s Bravo show car, the rear ones were 12 inch wide over a 15 inch height.
Dallara had to return to Lamborghini SpA and completely redesign the suspension of the Countach to be able to fully use the extra grip of these tires.The massive width of these tires it was necessary to keep them as horizontal as possible on the tarmac at all times.
Four large fiberglass wheel arch extenders were installed, the front ones connected by a deep chin spoiler, while the rear wing wasn’t available at the start of the LP400 S production, it was a popular option later on.
The 3rd Wolf car, which was used as the Geneva car show, didn’t have the rear wing during that show, it was mounted later, after he took delivery of the car.
Demand for the LP400 S increased and also the rear wing seen on Wolf’s cars became a highly requested item, later Lamborghini SpA was forced to offer it as on option on the Countach, at first it was a large wing mounted on two vertical fins, later two endplates were added at the outer limits of the wing.
These appendages, together with a slight decrease in engine power to 352 Bhp, to make the Countach easier to handle, made the LP400 S slower than the LP400, therefore Lamborghini decided to keep the LP400 in production along with the new S-type.
Some LP400 S models still had the original LP400 engine with 375 Bhp the original Weber carburetors with the high lift camshafts and higher compression, without any emission equipment, while later most cars imported into the United States had to be ’federalized’ and power dropped even further to 325 Bhp.
The Countach now looked even more aggressive, ready to tear the road to pieces with it’s ground-hugging front spoiler and the widest tires in existence (345mm width still remains the widest available, even today) mounted at the rear.But all this special tacked-on items made the bodywork less aerodynamic.
Because most customers damaged the deep front spoiler, hitting the sidewalk with it, the suspension was raised three centimeters. During the 1981 production run, the wheels were changed to a simpler design, which would be used right up to the LP 5000 QuattroValvole, note however that the first 24 cars had magnesium wheels, which in the late Seventies were about US $ 2000 each, afterwards the wheels were made of aluminum, which were actually a lot cheaper than the exotic magnesium ones, the suspension was modified with new shock absorbers, way Assauto.
The dashboard was also changed, and bigger Jaeger instrumentation (the LP400 used Stewart Warner ones) was installed, the speedometer now started at 20 km/h instead of 40 km/h as on the earlier ones, also different steering wheels were mounted during the LP400 S production.
Later,the roof was raised another three centimeters on the inside, starting from chassis nr. 1121312, to improve the comfort of taller driver, but still nobody taller than 180 cm would fit into the tight cockpit, the tunnel in the roof, which the LP500 used for its rear view mirror, was actually removed and provided these three cm extra space.
The accelerator pedal became hinged from the top and the handbrake lever was moved to the right of the driver.
A silver-grey Countach was displayed on the Frankfurt Auto Show, with new rectangular rear view mirrors, which would be installed on several cars. Next to this car was a turbo-charged V-12 engine, but it was actually only a mock-up, it was never functional, and the Lamborghini factory never produced a turbo-charged Countach.
When the LP400 S was available for sale, the demand of the original LP400 dropped dramatically, and a new demand was unintentionally created by Lamborghini SpA, several owners of the original LP400 Countach requested to have their car turned into an S-series look alike, now here things start getting complicated, some LP 400’s got the front spoiler and wheel arch extension, but not the expensive wheels and different suspension, while other LP400’s were ’retrofitted’ with the entire S-series options.
The factory was also persuaded by several wealthy customers to convert brand new LP400’s into the LP400 S model, complete with front spoiler, wheel arches and massive rear wheels with the special setup suspension. You might wonder why? The answer was simple : these cars still had the 375 Bhp engine as mentioned earlier, so these would easily outperform any ’original’ LP400 S on the open road.
Ferrari unveiled their Boxer, which was faster than the Countach LP400S, so Lamborghini had to do the first new Contach LP500S
A turbo-charged version of the 4.0-Litre engine,was tried but because of cooling problems, this project as abandoned in an early stage. Another option was tried out, but in the end, the best thing to do was to increase the displacement up to 4754 cc by enlarging both the bore and stroke.
The combustion chambers were redesigned, lowering the compression ratio and fitting revised cams and larger Weber side draught carbs.
A minor change was made to the side-mounted front turning indicators, and naturally the inscription on the tail panel changed, on some later examples this said ’5000’ instead of ’500’, a less well visible change was the use of OZ aluminum-alloy wheels instead of the Magnesium Campagnolo used on the early LP400 S models. These OZ rims were slightly heavier but retained the same design as on the later LP400 S edition.
The interior didn’t change much either, the lining used for the inner door became more luxurious with some added stitching, on the LP400S this panel was a single piece of leather with no stitching whatsoever, also the lock on the glove box was altered to remedy a problem with the earlier types.
The enlarged 5-Liter engine needed just as much fresh air as the 4-Liter unit, so the intakes behind the doors remained the same. On the March 1982 Geneva Auto Show, the new LP500 S was introduced, the old LP400 S remained available, but naturally did not sell very well anymore. The LP500S was a little heavier, about 290 Kg., but was still a lot faster than the LP400 S. This ’all-new’ Countach outsold its predecessors in only two years, in its three-year production run, the LP500S sold 323 units.
Countach LP500 Quattrovalvole.
TestaRossa was Ferrari’s reaction to the LP500. They had a car that pumped out 390 Bhp, but the Countach was again updated.
Lamborghini unveiled their answer at the the 1985 Geneva Auto Show, the Super-Countach, the QuattroValvole, with its 455 Bhp, it made the TestaRossa eat dust.
Even Ferrari’s limited production 288 GTO only managed 400 Bhp, so the Countach was again at the top of the supercar world.
The engine was larger, the displacement became 5167 cc by enlarging the stroke to 75 mm, the compression ratio was 9.5:1 and, for the first time on the Countach, downdraft Weber carburetors were used. Because of these carburetors, the engine lid received a large hump in the middle, making the rear visibility even worse. Another change were the front tires, they became a little larger and therefore the suspension was altered to suit.
The rear tires were still the massive 345/35-15 Pirelli P7’s, which were actually created especially for the Countach, just like the four-piston brake calipers which ATE made exclusively for this Lamborghini. On the inside nothing much changed, only by now air-conditioning was usually installed.
The Countach was again exported to the United States by 1986. Special ’crash’ bumpers were installed to front and rear, and a new Bosch KE-Jetronic fuel injection was used instead of the Weber carburetors, to meet demands by the DOT and EPA regulations. SAE horsepower was still 420 Bhp, only eight percent below the European specifications cars, a difference nobody really noticed, and it was still more than any Ferrari.
In late 1987 the Countach Quattrovalvole received small bodywork changes, new streaked sills incorporating rear brake cooling vents were added. The interior was now equipped with central-locking, modified heater controls and much improved ventilation. The huge rear wing could still be ordered on the Quattrovalvole, and few Countach’s left the factory without one, but it is however completely useless. The Countach does not suffer from aerodynamic lift at high speeds, so the rear wing only adds drag, a lot of cost (it was still an expensive option at about US $ 5000) and most important, a lower top speed.
The Countach Quattrovalvole’s built before 1987, so those without the sills and cars without the massive rear wing, are believed to be the best looking Countach ever. It is also the most powerful one, and it is said that this is how the Countach should have been from the beginning. The latest Countach, the 25th Anniversary, used the same engine, but the bodywork was much less aggressive-looking, so if you want to buy a Countach, buy a QV.
Countach 25th Anniversario
Automobili Lamborghini took this masterpiece one-step further, even if the Countach became a legend in its own time.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Automobili Lamborghini SpA they designed and built what would become the ultimate Countach.
This ’celebration’ model was intended to be sold in limited numbers only, but it turned out to be the best selling Countach ever made reaching a total of 667 units before it was replaced by the long awaited Diablo in 1990.
Actually, the Diablo was intended to commemorate this anniversary, but its prototype was in no way ready for presentation in 1988, so at Lamborghini they decided to use a completely new Countach for this event.
The Anniversario was in fact a ’new’ Countach, they redesigned as much as possible, but had to avoid new homologation for this model, so the base of the Anniversario was the then current QuattroValvole chassis.
Only a few items remained from the QV, the front spoiler/bumper was redesigned, now with extra cooling vents for the front brakes, and sills were mounted with cooling streaks for the rear brakes like we already saw on the late 1988 QV models.
In addition, the scoops on the rear wings were redesigned, now much more incorporated into the shoulder, but still effective enough to keep the engine cool, which also received a new hood by the way.
The new panels and the front lid were now made of composite materials as used on the Evoluzione prototype. The rear lights became the same as on the US-specifications QuattroValvole model, and the body-design had a rear bumper incorporated in it, eliminating the ugly black bumpers used on the same US-spec cars. The massive front bumpers were however retained on cars going to the United States, but these were now painted in the same color as the car.
The space frame was also retained, but the suspension had to be slightly modified because of the new Pirelli P Zero tires replacing the aging P7R’s, now mounted on redesigned multi-piece OZ wheels. These modifications were executed under the guidance of champion race driver Sandro Munari, they made the Anniversario more stable and safer, completely different from the ’normal’ Countach.
Also redone the interior use wider seats became wider and now offered electrical adjustments of both the seat and the back, and the design of the door panels was modified. The side windows were now electrically powered and the air-conditioning was again made standard issue. An interesting option was the possibility to mount sport seats, even thinner than the original seats, gaining much needed room for both the driver and passenger, however the Countach remained a little claustrophobic inside.
All these modifications made the Countach look less violent, the Anniversario would not shock anybody like the QV would, but with this latest evolution of the Italian super car, you could actually drive it every day, even in the city.
Painted in a silver metallic exterior with a light grey interior the last Countach Anniversario was nr. 12.085 . This final Countach was never sold but was intended to be put in the official factory museum at Sant’Agata, next to the 350 GTV, which was restored earlier.
This legend was in production for 17 years, and it always remained on top of the super car market, even if nobody actually knows how many Countaches have been made.
The Countach will always be remembered as the Lamborghini that kept the company alive and the Anniversario evolution was a very good way to end its production, the production of her Majesty, the Countach.