If you share the belief that the best comedy comes from the unexpected and the absurd, then you’ll love the trucks those lunatics at Lamborghini built twenty-some years ago. Loving it, however, still won’t quite help your brain reconcile what the vehicle is actually supposed to be.
From the cabin, you might think you’re in a Countach, except that the windshield is as big and vertical as a Times Square billboard. The aromatic leather makes you think you’re in an expensive handbag, and you’ll feel as cramped as you would inside a Fendi. Squeezed into the driver’s seat-one of four supernarrow, supportive buckets that were designed for someone whose posterior is smaller than yours-you’ll have a little, three-spoke Nardi steering wheel stuffed between your knees. The wheel is canted so the top of its rim is only millimeters from the instrument panel, leaving barely enough room for your fingers. And yet the tall gearshift lever is located what feels like two car widths to your right across a vast cabin. The engraved knob atop the shifter shows a five-speed pattern with a dogleg first (down and to the left), just like in the Countach.
The engine seems to say Countach, too-turn the key, and the starter motor’s monotonous whir suggests that there are twelve pistons being heaved up and down. The engine lights off and sends such a ferocious growl down the exhaust pipes that nearby pedestrians flinch. Engage first, drop the throttle to the floor, and let the tachometer needle wind its way toward 7000 rpm. Your synapses fire away in an attempt to process all of the seemingly contradictory observations: the deafeningly loud and unmistakably satanic wail of a Countach V-12 is met only with subdued forward progress. And-whoa!-the steering is slower than a Mack truck’s. Oh, and excuse me, but what are those winch buttons doing on the dash? What in the world is this vehicle?
You can climb out and look at the LM002, but that doesn’t help explain what it is. In fact, more than two decades after its debut, the LM002 still defies categorization. Or explanation. The LM002 is a four-door pickup/off-road monster/luxury car/Countach-type thing with a wood-and-leather-lined cockpit. You might be fooled into thinking that fiberglass and aluminum body panels would make it light, but thanks in part to a beefy steel tube frame and huge wheels and tires, the LM weighs an almost incomprehensible 6800 pounds. To be fair, nearly 500 pounds of that heft is in expendable liquid form-there are 76.6 gallons of gasoline sloshing around in the giant fuel tank. Best be careful uttering the phrase “fill ‘er up” near an LM002.
Those expensive gallons of high-test will be sucked up fairly quickly (one every eight miles or so) by a four-valve-per-cylinder V-12 found more often in a Countach Quattrovalvole. Massive filters residing under the huge hood bulges feed clean air to six dual-barrel Weber carburetors, and the result is 455 hp, 35 hp more than in the low-slung, exotic sports car. Despite its weight, the LM002 hustles to 60 mph in only 7.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 118 mph, according to contemporary road tests. Those figures were mind-blowing twenty years ago, and they’re still impressive by today’s truck standards.
Speaking of modern trucks, the LM002 outweighs the Hummer H3T Alpha four-door pickup featured elsewhere in this issue by 1700 pounds despite being almost twenty inches shorter in length. The Lambo and the H3T share more than their four-door-pickup layout, though-they’re actually distant cousins. As a direct descendant of the Lamborghini Cheetah, the comedic LM002 is the result of a pretty serious family drama. The Cheetah, presented at the 1977 Geneva auto show, was a prototype off-road military vehicle that used a rear-mounted Chrysler V-8 engine. Its biggest problem, other than an unfortunate tendency to become airborne at high speeds, was that it was suspiciously similar to the FMC XR311-another vehicle under development for military use. FMC threatened Lamborghini with legal action, and work on the Cheetah was stopped. The program for which these vehicles were conceived also produced the HMMWV, which was sold to the public as the H1, which eventually begat the Hummer brand.
A few years after the Cheetah’s smoke cleared, Lamborghini recognized a growing interest in military hardware and continued development of the LM, albeit for civilian consumption in the Middle East and elsewhere. The result is the Rambo Lambo, as it’s been nicknamed, that you see here. The big, butch LM sold for about $120,000 when it arrived in the U.S. in 1987-about the same price as the Countach that it could easily run over. Even today, the LM002 is expensive, with book values at least twice what a new H3T costs. But times have changed, and while a Hummer is a PR nightmare for all but the most environmentally unconscious, the LM002 remains the ultimate tanklike status symbol. Its hideous fuel consumption, flamboyant excess, and quirky compromises are easily nixed by its Italian heritage, scarcity, and impressive performance. And besides, how can you hate something you can barely describe?
Engine: 5.2L DOHC V-12, 455 hp, 368 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drive: Rear- and 4-wheel
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes f/r: Dual caliper discs/drums
Weight: 6780 lb
The LM002 is worth owning for the sound track alone-the Countach V-12 screams bloody murder just keeping up with other cars on the road. Or running them over. The Italian precursor to the Hummer is a blast to drive and fantastic to look at-and you’ll never see another one in the Whole Foods parking lot.
This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Automobile Magazine.