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Why the Lamborghini LM002 SUV Might Be the Most Insane Car of the 1980s

And the ’80s had more than its fair share of insane stuff.

In the 130-odd years of the automobile’s existence, there really hasn’t been anything quite like the wacky, wild, and wonderful Lamborghini LM002. Leave it to Lambo to out-crazy its own Countach with a gargantuan, V-12–powered, military-spec rock crusher that was as likely to be spotted on Rodeo Drive as in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The Italian supercar maker only assembled around 300 of these monsters between 1986 and 1993, so when Lamborghini recently offered us another chance to drive in its wrapper-fresh black LM002, we jumped. Here are just a few wild LM002 facts that we learned during our brief experience:

The LM002 almost never happened. Initially envisioned as an honest-to-goodness military transport vehicle, the LM002 began life in 1977 as the much-maligned Cheetah concept. Rear-engined and packed with odd engineering, the Cheetah suffered from poor handling characteristics, leading any interested parties to pass on placing an order. A decade of further development eventually refined the design, moved the engine up front, and resulted in the LM002 we know and love.

Yes, it really does have a Countach engine. That’s no hyperbole—the V-12 under the bulging hood is indeed almost mechanically identical to the mill found under the contemporary Countach’s rear decklid. More specifically, it’s the 5.2-liter V-12 from the Euro-spec 1984 Countach Quattrovalvole, spitting out a heady 455 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque. If this wasn’t enough, ultra-wealthy buyers could spec a 7.2-liter V-12 developed for offshore racing boats.

Who needs an automatic? Every LM002 left the factory with a dogleg five-speed manual transmission, sending power to either the rear or all four wheels, depending on what type of terrain the driver wished to conquer. There was one notable exception—Tina Turner had a tuning shop rip out the Lambo V-12 and manual for a Mercedes-Benz V-8 and automatic transmission for easier cruising.

That power isn’t just for speed. It’s actually a necessity. With more than 6,700 pounds to motivate, 455 horsepower feels more like 200. Contemporary tests returned a zero-to-60-mph sprint of 7.7 seconds, though, which seems respectable.

It was designed for warzones. Not wanting all that R&D to go to waste, the Rambo Lambo is exceptionally capable when the going gets dusty, muddy, rough, and rocky. It’s capable of attacking a 120-percent grade, and is particularly known for its skill in the sand dunes.

It almost went racing. It’s said two LMs were stripped out and tuned for even more power in order to run the Paris-Dakar rally, only to see the cash reserves run dry at the eleventh hour. One did end up competing in the Rallye des Pharaons in Egypt.

It’s shockingly luxurious. Aside from some glaring ergonomic issues, the interior is beyond reproach for mid-1980s standards. Every square inch is covered in either leather or wood, with the exception of the rubber, weather-sealed buttons and controls. Remember, this was decades before anything resembling infotainment was available, so luxury amenities were usually limited to the materials, the sound system, and maybe a champagne bucket.

It’s not easy to drive. This isn’t terribly surprising. Compared to the Countach, visibility is more than adequate, but the primary controls are unbelievably stiff in operation. All three pedals—throttle, clutch, and brake—require an extremely strong foot. That means you should abandon all any hope you might rev-match your downshifts, as pressing the throttle is like trying to make a snow angel in semidried concrete. The steering is high-effort as well. It doesn’t help that the wheel is essentially bolted directly to the dash, requiring an occasionally uncomfortable driving position.

There’s a battery kill switch from the factory. In case you need to leave your LM002 in the marina parking lot for a month or two, a bright red battery kill switch is installed on the floor to the left of the driver’s seat. There’s also an assortment of other buttons that have labels like “Winch” and “Stop.

There’s finally factory support. One of the biggest headaches with owning an LM002 after it went out of production was the availability of parts, specifically the lack thereof. Before Lamborghini opened its Polo Storico restoration division, replacement parts and tires were basically nonexistent, requiring creative solutions and careful operation. Now the factory is there to help.

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