Marcello Gandini - Automotive Designer

Charlie Magee Tim Andrew

Lamborghini Miura SV
A time-warp drive through Lamborghini's hometown in Gandini's breakthrough mid-engine sports car.
by GEORG KACHER | photography by CHARLIE MAGEE

The Lamborghini Murciélago is famously low, cramped, and difficult to drive at the limit. But it is by no means the most radical sports car to ever wear the raging-bull logo. For that experience, you need to leap back in time to the year 1972, when the yellow Miura SV pictured above was built.

The Miura is principally the work of three dedicated gearheads. Ferruccio Lamborghini was determined to create the ultimate anti-Ferrari. Marcello Gandini, who worked for Bertone at the time, designed eye-catching clamshell front and rear ends around a compact passenger cell, garnishing his masterpiece with such trendsetting styling elements as pop-up headlights and a large louvered rear window. Giampaolo Dallara made himself immortal by engineering the complete vehicle around a transversely installed 3.9-liter V-12 engine and five-speed gearbox. Thanks to the aluminum body and the thin-gauge stamped-steel monocoque, the curb weight was 2900 pounds. On a dry piece of straight road, the SuperVeloce version - of which only 150 were built in 1971 and 1972 - could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just over five seconds. Top speed claims varied from 175 to 185 mph, which suggests that some engines were spicier than others.

The Miura's cockpit is a minimalistic leather landscape featuring eight round instruments, a dished three-spoke steering wheel, a chrome open transmission gate, and two small bucket seats. A tinny, plastic-capped key makes the twelve cylinders fire instantly, but idle is rough, the gear lever is stubborn, the clutch indifferent, and the steering slack; meanwhile, visibility to the rear is practically nonexistent, and head- and legroom are seriously compromised.

Just before frustration sets in, the complicated mechanicals begin to warm up, and an all-embracing synchronizing process permeates the vehicle. The engine begins to respond and deliver, the steering seems to tighten its reins, the Pirelli tires develop enough grip to match the genius of the suspension, and the transmission and clutch allow themselves to be coaxed. The redline is a sky-high 8000 rpm, but the V-12 enters total ecstasy mode at about 3500 rpm, and its auditory celebration takes place only inches behind the driver's ears. The Miura isn't as taut and rigid and disciplined as today's Murciélago that wears the same SV suffix. Instead, it flexes and groans, heaves and rolls, wanders and meanders, smears and slides. This is a bull on the loose, its disc brakes liable to lock up at random on slippery turf, the fat fifteen-inch tires constantly struggling to convert 385 hp and 294 lb-ft of torque into traction. Yet somehow it remains always manageable - even when the nose runs wide during an optimistic turn-in, when the tail wags to shake off surplus torque, when the steering hardens in the course of a quick lane change.

Although it requires an adjusted driving style, the mid-engine crowd-stopper has lost none of the fascination that pushed the rivalry between Ferruccio Lamborghini and Enzo Ferrari to new heights some four decades ago. It may not be instantly accessible, particularly user-friendly, or exceptionally docile, but there's no doubt that very few sports cars can relay the experience of raw speed with more excitement, style, and drama than the Miura SV.

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