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Countach: Four Generations

Quattro Generazione

The Countach evolved massively during its 17-year career. Which is the best version today? Lamborghini’s legendary test driver Valentino Balboni decides

countaches

Yellow LP400 leads the pack, flanked by LP500S (white) and QV (red), and trailed by silver Anniversary.

The Countach, darling of teenage bedroom walls throughout the 1970s and ’80s, is possibly the most misunderstood of all supercars. Until recently it was lambasted by those who’ve never driven one and dismissed as a toy for poseurs experiencing the full effects of mid-life crisis, but this Lamborghini’s time has come. Its place in history as the ultimate high-performance car of its era is now secure.

The Countach lived a long life, remaining in production from 1974 to 1990 through some very tough years at Lamborghini. But its appeal as the ultimate fantasy car remained undimmed. You can’t help but admire a model created with just two very clear aims: to go faster than all others, and keep Ferrari firmly in the shade into which the Miura had cast it back in 1966.

Rolling out the original LP500 prototype at the Geneva Auto Salon in March 1971 might have seemed premature, especially as it shared the limelight with fellow show debutant the Miura SV. Yet although the concept’s transition to production car was far from sealed while it was put together at Bertone’s studios in Turin, given the amazing styling and avant garde mechanical layout, it was a foregone conclusion that potential buyers would be clamouring for a machine that rendered its predecessor obsolete overnight.

New chief engineer Paolo Stanzani decided to improve on the Miura’s flawed weight distribution and stability by mounting the LP500’s engine longitudinally, with the gearbox between the front seats. This was a brilliant reversal of conventional thinking, and meant that the prototype was shorter in wheelbase and length than the Miura. It was nominally more powerful, too, with a claimed 440bhp, though, of course, it didn’t matter whether that figure was true or not. This was a show car, and it needed big numbers to match its amazing Gandini-penned styling.

In the wake of the model’s debut, Stanzani and Kiwi test driver Bob Wallace turned the LP500 into a production reality. In short order the plan for a larger engine was dropped, and development concentrated on turning the surprisingly capable prototype – with its tubular structure – into a useable supercar. Cooling was the major issue and, as development continued, bulky air scoops aft of the side windows replaced the original car’s elegant gills. NACA ducts were added to the scissor doors, and the rear flanks gained slatted grilles. This was a wedge with attitude!

Two years after the original showing of the LP500, a more production-ready Countach LP400 was previewed. Despite the onset of global economic meltdown and downward pressure on speed limits, and although the car had a more conventional interior (in contrast with its dramatic exterior), it still attracted huge attention. Lamborghini claimed a maximum speed of 315km/h (198mph), making the Countach the world’s fastest car. On paper, at least.

When the series production version rocked up at the Geneva Auto Salon in 1974, and sales were underway, it was soon abundantly clear to seasoned road testers that, as impressive as the Countach appeared, it was never going to get close to the double-ton. But then, when it looked this good, who cared?

And that’s all part of the continuing myth of the Countach. Exaggerated top speeds became the car’s calling card – figures that were as dramatic as the ever-widening wheels, expanding engine capacities and Walter Wolf-inspired aftermarket wings that adorned the ’80s cars.

But which of the Countaches is the best: the pure LP400 Periscopo, the wide-bodied S, or the fearsomely powerful Quattrovalvoles? Lamborghini’s own test driver Valentino Balboni will help us decide.

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