1938 was a vintage year for Italian car designers. It gave us Leonardo Fioravanti, Giorgetto Giugiaro and Marcello Gandini. These three men, each in their own particular way, were responsible for the legendary Lamborghini Countach, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Of course, it’s Gandini. It always was. The Geneva Motor show of 1971 was Gandini’s finest hour. Not only did Lamborghini show the astonishing Miura P400 SV, it also unveiled the car that set a trajectory for the modern supercar that endures to this day.
Giugiaro didn’t care for Gandini. When the latter applied for a position with Carrozzeria Bertone in 1963, it was Giugiaro who blocked his way. Gandini was patient, and when Giugiaro left for Ghia two years later, the 27-year-old designer had better luck.
Now, consider the timeline. Gandini was hired as a junior stylist and one of his very first jobs was to work on clothing the rolling Miura chassis that Lamborghini had originally presented at the 1965 Turin Show. Sant’Agata couldn’t claim credit for inventing the mid-engined sports car, as Rene Bonnet had already brought the delightful Matra Djet to market, but the Miura moved things into a new realm and Gandini was responsible for creating the clamshell front and rear ends to wrap around the compact passenger cell. The louvered rear window and the flip-up headlamps were obvious Gandini garnishes. He even sketched the Miura badge, replete with bull’s horns and tail.
To this day, Gandini and Giugiaro disagree on much about the Miura. The latter feel that the Miura was his work and that Gandini merely completed what he had started. Naturally, Gandini has a different opinion.
“In the autumn of 1965, Ferruccio Lamborghini, Paolo Stanzani and Gianpaolo Dallara came to me and proposed that I work with them on a project,” he says. “I didn’t start straight away because I still had a few projects to finish, so in the end, I produced the first sketches in late November. I remember that by 10.00 pm on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1965, we had practically finished the model in wood and eco wood. We managed to beat Father Christmas to it by a couple of hours. Then the car was made in January and February and presented in March.”
Depending on who you believe, Gandini had seemingly come from nowhere, with no formal design qualifications to create the shape of the very first supercar within the space of twelve months or, well, he didn’t. That’s by the by. What we do know is that there’s no Giugiaro influence at all in what came next, the astonishing Countach. The extremity of its design was fuelled by Gandini’s desire to obliterate the influence of Giugiaro.
“The fact is that the Countach represented a clean break from some of the car industry’s consolidated practices. It didn’t refer to any other previous cars. It was not in people’s eyes; tastes had not been educated to appreciate it. Initially, it was a culturally alien form, but within a few years it became an object-symbol,” says Gandini.
Time tends to move slowly at Sant’Agata. It’s rarely been a place where there seems in much of a rush to get things done. In a market where buyers want the newest and shiniest things, Lamborghini’s supersports cars are the Huracan, which has been on sale for seven years, and the Aventador, which has been around for 10. It’s quite remarkable, therefore that the Countach appeared a mere 60 months after the Miura was unveiled, and instantly consigned its predecessor to the back catalogue.
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