Wild Italians: The 580-HP, Lamborghini V-12-Powered Fiat 500
The 1971 Fiat 500 with a giant V-12.
"It's impossible!" argued father Gianfranco Dini and son Leonardo, but once again, Gianfranco wanted to show his over-enthusiastic offspring who possessed the mechanical know-how in the family.
The young Dini's mistake was to suggest to his father—a master mechanic and founder of the legendary Oemmedi Meccanica—that he should shoehorn a Porsche 911 flat-six motor into the rear of a 1970s Fiat 500. The challenge had been issued, and in true father/son rivalry, there was no backing down.
The exchange took place more than a decade ago, and the Porsche-engined Cinquecento has since been parked. Not because it didn't work, but because the old saying "Madness is hereditary; you get it from your children" runs particularly deep in this family.
You see, after building the Frankenstein Fiat/Porsche 500 and thus upholding his honor as a red-blooded Italian male, Signore Dini succumbed to a madness of his own making: he began work on a second car. This time, he eschewed the "foreign" motor for the flat-plane-crank V8 from a Ferrari 308, installed transversely in the 500's rear.
By the time we arrived at Oemmedi Meccanica's workshop on the outskirts of Tuscany, the Ferrari-engined Cinquecento had already been eclipsed by an even madder creation.
As we walked the line in a corner of the workshop, it was apparent that while the gray, Porsche-engined machine didn't look too radical from the outside, the black, Ferrari-engined version definitely had the overtones of a pumped-up racer.
What we weren't prepared for was the car at the far end of the line. The sheer scale of the changes that this poor, unsuspecting 40-year-old Fiat 500 endured in the creation of Signore Dini's latest work left us speechless.
It was immediately obvious that the physical size of a 580-hp Lamborghini Murcielago motor stuffed into the rear of the car had required a radical rethink of its structure and external appearance. This is, with no exaggeration, a very small car built around a very big engine.
"It was the result of a bet," Dini Senior confirmed. "Some smartass in Northern Italy, who knew about my two previous cars, suggested I put a 6.2L Lamborghini V12 into a Cinquecento. Ten years ago, I'd have laughed it off, but after my experience with the other two cars, it was a challenge I accepted with relish," he explained.
It wasn't easy, of course, but two years and 3,000 man-hours later, the Lambocento was rolled into the Italian sunshine.
Since the Fiat 500 was inherently too short and narrow for the Lamborghini drivetrain, the specification called for both the wheelbase and track to be significantly extended. The result: a car nearly twice as wide as the original Fiat, with the hub centers of the huge Murcielago wheels now practically where the front and rear bumpers would sit on a stock 500.
A tailored space frame chassis was fabricated. It incorporated a subframe cradle to mount the engine and transmission. Significant torsional reinforcement came from the steel bulkheads front and rear, as well as a steel floorpan, whose box-section transmission tunnel acted as the car's backbone.
The relevant parts of the '71 Fiat 500 monocoque—in effect the side panels, roof, and its pillars—were welded to the new chassis and all the new body parts, including the huge wheel arches, were fabricated from steel.
As Gianfranco is allergic to plastic, the entire dashboard and center console were also fabricated from steel plate and covered in leather, further reinforcing the scuttle. Even the door mirrors are handmade from steel.
There was no way the car would be able to deploy 580 hp through its rear wheels alone, so Lamborghini's AWD transmission was adapted in its entirety, with a shortened propshaft and custom driveshafts.
The car has a flat bottom for aerodynamics, with cutouts to aid ventilation of the finned sump and gearbox, and an air diffuser at the rear under the stainless steel Lamborghini exhaust silencer.
The double wishbone suspension uses modified coilovers all round and an anti-roll bar at either end. The rear units are inclined 45 degrees and mounted to pickup points on the rear subframe, while the fronts are inclined at about 10 degrees and their top mounts are connected by a tubular steel strut brace.
The brakes are the Murcielago's 355mm rotors all around with four-piston calipers and even the working ABS system. There's also a giant Lamborghini master cylinder up front, taking up almost half the space in the tiny front compartment.
Details like the electrically opening engine cover and retractable rear spoiler add to the car's overall finesse, and you can't help but admire the attention to detail, even if some of it falls more on the practical side than the stylish.
Opening the door, you drop into the custom bucket seat and can immediately tell Gianfranco is a wheelman: Every instrument, including the frighteningly optimistic 250-mph speedometer, is located on the console, while the large, yellow rev counter is positioned in a hole carved into the MOMO steering wheel.
As with the Murcielago, the redline starts at 7,500 rpm, but with the Lambocento's power-to-weight ratio of around 600 hp/ton, you'd have to be extremely brave or stupid to wind out the motor in each of the six ratios.
A bog-stock Fiat 500 isn't a spacious car, and sitting in the tiny cabin with the Lamborghini V12 in a plexiglass case behind your head is like sharing the bomb bay of a B-17 with a full load of high-explosive bombs.
The sound of the engine is deafening yet spine-tingling at the same time. The din is tremendous but sends waves of delight passing through every cell in your body. The Lambocento melds heaven and hell into an infernal machine.
Paddle shifters? That would be too easy. No, this is a driver's car, so you have a heavy clutch and a proper gearstick to row, the old-fashioned way, before you can scare yourself silly.
The massive wave of V12 torque throws the car down the road; you instinctively short-shift into Second, and then Third out of both fear and wisdom. Even at a mere 4,000 rpm, the car—which carries 1,544 pounds less dead weight than the Murcielago—gives the impression that its 335/30 ZR18 Pirelli tires are trying to either rotate on their wheels or melt the asphalt. This is stark-naked insanity in its finest form.
"The speed potential is there, but the problem is the driver not the car," Gianfranco shrugged. "It reaches 187 mph so easily, but I've never dared to open it up all the way!"
We burn rubber through the Oemmedi Meccanica compound, imagining what it would be like to drive the car at Imola or Mugello. On track, it would be open season on Ferraris. You could probably pass them on opposite lock with all four tires smoking.
Unfortunately, our courage faltered between the workshop sheds, where the road surface is as crumbly as an old Parmigiano.
At sane speeds, we have the chance to see the reaction of other drivers to this mutant Bambino Mostro, as the locals have nicknamed it... At a stop sign, other cars come to a stop, their drivers staring in shock and awe. As we pull away, eyeballs follow, their brains still paralyzed. If Batman were Italian, this would be his daily driver.
Word of this car has spread beyond Tuscany. Since Gianfranco exhibited it at the '12 Bologna Auto Show, he's had plenty of good offers from Russia, China, Japan, America, and the Middle East. However, he's not sure he wants to be separated from the machine he built with blood, sweat, and tears. He considers the Bambino Mostro part of his family.
"A small production run of similar cars is a possibility," he told us. The years of developing the Frankenstein Fiats have resulted in a formula for creating miniature monsters. "We have a special double-frame platform that's stable enough to withstand insane power. It's also dimensionally flexible so we can fit any engine into the Cinquecento.
"Even a Bugatti Veyron W16?" we asked in parting. "As soon as somebody brings me one, I'll fit it!" he said with a laugh. We looked at him in surprise before Gianfranco uttered the immortal words, "You want to bet?"
Tech Spec: 1971 Fiat 500
Owner, Oemmedi Meccanica
6192cc Lamborghini V12 DOHC 48v, custom exhaust and mounts
Lamborghini Murcielago six-speed manual transmission, AWD with central viscous coupling, shortened propshaft, and custom driveshafts
Lamborghini four-piston calipers, 355mm rotors f&r, ABS
Lamborghini double wishbones, electronically controlled dampers, antiroll bars
Wheels & Tires
18x8.5" f, 18x13" r Lamborghini wheels, 245/35 ZR18 f, 335/30 ZR18 r Pirelli P Zero tires
Steel body panels around Fiat 500 monocoque, spaceframe chassis and rear subframe, steel floorpan and bulkheads, steel box-section transmission tunnel, retractable rear spoiler
Sports seats, custom instruments, plexiglass engine cover
Oemmedi Meccanica (www.oemmedi.it/en)
This story originally appeared at SuperStreetOnline.com