Viva Italia: Lamborghini Countach LP400S
I was the kid with the poster over his bed: "Body by Lamborghini. High Fidelity by Alpine." Farrah's nipple was nice, but it was the curves of that red Countach I spent endless solitary hours tracing with my eyes. The car was pure pornography to me as an adolescent. Its name was one I dared not utter in front of my Italian mother, lest it mean something as dirty as it sounded, but saying it aloud with my friends, complete with squinty eyes and Don Corleone hand gestures, felt sinfully good. I fantasized about sliding beneath its scissors-style door and blasting off but, like many things I fantasized about back then, never thought I'd actually get the opportunity to do.
Twenty-odd years later, my luck's about to change. Parked in the garage of owner Tony Ierardi's Auto Italia shop in Naples, Florida, is a white-on-white 1981 Countach LP400S. It's been forty years since designer Marcello Gandini's lemon-yellow prototype debuted at the Geneva Motor Show, and the Countach -- the young Bertone stylist's follow-up to his Lamborghini Miura -- still makes everything else on four wheels look like the box it came in.
Despite a sixteen-year production run, there aren't many Countachs in the world. Finding a car in the States -- and an owner willing to let a mere mortal drive it -- was no small feat. Fortunately, Countach (and Lamborghini) owners tend to keep tabs on one another and their cars, and most happen to be members of Lamborghini Club America. So the club's president, Andrew Romanowski, generously offered to make some calls. Enter Ierardi, whose shop is dedicated to meticulous restorations and service of vintage Italian metal -- particularly Lambos. He's probably the country's foremost authority on the Countach, one of those guys who can cite the differences among all the 2000-ish Countachs built between April 1974 and July 1990.
I circle the car, peering into and under it, running my fingers over its aluminum skin and across the outsize wing on its tail (a $5000 factory option). I'm uneasy about the clutch, which I've heard is titanically heavy. Ditto the shifter, brakes, and steering. I'm worried that I won't fit inside-and that Iwon't be able to see out even if I do. Apparently, all this concern shows on my face. Ierardi saunters over. "It's just a car," he says as he hands me the key -- easy words from a guy who's owned five.
Gracefully getting behind the wheel of a Countach requires a degree of yogic pliancy I don't possess. The car is an exercise in horizontality. It stands a scant 42 inches at its tallest, and the windshield is raked within a few degrees of the angle at which internal refractions render laminated glass opaque. Even with my coif flattened against the headliner, forward visibility calls for a genuine leap of faith. And driving in reverse requires the driver to open the door and pilot the car while sitting on the sill.
The V-12 takes eighteen quarts of oil, so it's a good ten minutes of low-rider-style cruising before it's warm enough to play. By modern supercar standards, 375 hp is puny, but perhaps because I'm bouncing off my emotional rev limiter, it feels like much more. The engine is happy only above 4000 rpm, which works out well because that's where I'm happiest, too. Ierardi tells me that in an ideal state of tune and on an unpoliced stretch of road, an LP400S might see 180 mph; those old, unsubstantiated reports of a 200-mph top speed are just part of the car's mythology. Ierardi's claim of a 5.5-second blast to 60 mph, on the other hand, seems cautious. Fed by six carburetors, the engine howls beyond 7000 rpm, and as you stand on the clutch, shove the gated shifter around the dogleg into second, declutch, and push the throttle to the floor, the 2700-pound Countach hurtles forward with the urgency of a modern supercar.
By the time I wheel back into Ierardi's garage, I'm ready to jump up and down on Oprah's couch. I'm in love all over again. As a kid, I memorized mechanical minutiae about earthly cars like Mustangs and Supras, but I fastidiously avoided the Lamborghini's particulars, for fear I'd discover my imaginary lover was less than I'd imagined. But the Countach, the last Lamborghini created while founder Ferruccio still owned the company, is for real after all.
Lamborghini Countach LP400S
PRICE: $102,500 (1981)
ENGINE: 3.9L V-12
HORSEPOWER: 375 hp @ 8000 rpm
TORQUE: 268 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
WEIGHT: 2700 lb
0-60 MPH: 5.5 sec (per owner)
TOP SPEED: 180 mph (per owner)