Going Nowhere Fast: Lamborghini Supercars

Lamborghini's supercars are, by and large, immune to criticism. Their job description is simple: to be a rolling exclamation point, capturing the attention of everyone within eyesight and earshot. Rational concerns like the ability to provide transport from point A to point B are better left to lesser cars -- you don't even need a destination to take a journey in a Lamborghini. So when we were offered the opportunity to spend more time with the Aventador, we felt no need to take it on a contrived road trip. Instead, we orchestrated a family reunion on California's central coast, inviting a 1972 Miura SV, a 1988 Countach 5000 QV, a 1999 Diablo, and a 2006 Murcielago to join us. Five generations of Lamborghini supercars would spend the day together posing for the camera, filling the hills with hydrocarbons, and ultimately going nowhere. But very quickly.


The mid-engine Lamborghini supercar story starts forty-six years ago at the Turin motor show, where Lamborghini drew crowds with only the bare chassis of what would become the Miura. When the full concept appeared at the 1966 Geneva motor show, wealthy enthusiasts threw checks at Ferruccio Lamborghini the way their daughters were flinging panties at Tom Jones. The transverse-engine Miura wasn't meant to be more than a show car, but the public spoke and Lamborghini knew it needed to be built.

The first customer Miura was produced about a year later, but engineering development continued in parallel with production, so ongoing changes were made even as the cars were rolling off the line. The last 150 Miuras wore SV badges, for SuperVeloce. This ultimate Miura combined all of the running changes with wider rear tires (necessitating bulging fenders) and a 35-hp bump for the four-cam 3.9-liter V-12, for a total of 385 hp at a lofty 7850 rpm. A final update for later SVs separated the transaxle's oil supply from the engine's, allowing the fitment of a limited-slip differential. Weighing considerably less than 3000 pounds, the Miura SV is one fast car -- if you can get it moving.

Describing the Miura's shifter as heavy would be an insult to all other heavy shifters. First gear is an absolute mother to engage, requiring every bit of force your arm can muster; blame the shift linkage, which runs through the cabin -- and through the engine block(!) -- before finally reaching the transmission. The bottom-hinged clutch is no more forgiving, and the gas pedal (also bottom-hinged) is raked so far it's actually leaning toward the driver. It feels as if you're spraining your ankle when applying anything less than full throttle -- which isn't nearly enough, you learn, as the severely short-stroke V-12 stalls without so much as a fight.

A superlong first gear, a dearth of low-end torque, carburetors that want nothing to do with sudden fueling requests, and a lack of flywheel mass all require you to slip the clutch to get moving -- explaining those seemingly amateur Lamborghini drivers who always rev their engines uncomfortably high when setting off. At the soprano end of the tachometer, though, the Miura's cabin fills with 100 decibels of the loudest mechanical melange you've ever heard -- the four inches of polystyrene sound insulation on the firewall seem like a wasted effort, and the glass pane that bisects the mere inches between your ear and the engine's intake seems acoustically transparent -- or might actually amplify the sound.

The Miura's music is not loud and simple like a racing car's exhaust, it's a dizzying arrangement of noises that attacks your eardrums at every frequency, hypnotizing you into a trance in search of more speed, more sound, more dizziness. Then the car's owner reminds you that the Miura isn't just a fast car, it's a 170-mph sculpture that's worth as much as a whole Midwestern neighborhood. That's a sobering thought. After all, the car is also saddled with a legendary reputation for snap oversteer and is hampered by brakes that lack assistance. The steering wheel is so far away that you can't get the proper leverage to easily turn the front wheels -- power assist? ha! -- and the windshield is only inches from your nose, adding to the mounting sense of impending doom. Driving a Miura fast is an exhausting, exhilarating, and ultimately frightening experience that leaves you out of breath and wondering: how could Lamborghini ever recreate that kind of high?

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