Monday, June 13, 2011

Car of the Moment-IV

With exception to perhaps the Ferrari Testarossa or F40, the Lamborghini Countach is the most bonkers, otherworldly thing to emerge from Italy since da Vinci's boat shoes and "aerial screw."  All you need to do to understand the essence of the Lamborghini Countach is to close your eyes and let its name slowly trip off your tongue.  Try it.  The word "Countach" (KOUN tahsh) is a Piedmontese exclamation one might utter after seeing a beautiful person enter a room; rumor has it, Nuccio Bertone gasped the word when he saw the design done by his student, Marcello Gandini.

Ah, countach!
The Countach was a revelation when it was released waaaay back in 1974.  Its angular styling was almost completely unheard of in the early 70s and the wedge-shaped appearance serves as an inspiration for nearly every other supercar since then.  Even the pedestrian Dodge Intrepid of 1994 owes a great deal to the space-efficient cab forward design that allowed the Lambo to still pack a huge V12 engine and a spacious-enough passenger cabin in a short footprint.

The cars suffered from hard, stiff brakes and wooly steering, problems that pervaded the series until it was discontinued in 1990.  The low, wide design was awful for outward visibility.  It's said that Valentino Balboni, Lamborghini's famed test driver and consultant, chose to open the vertical, scissor doors and perch his butt on the wide doorjamb to see behind the car whenever he reversed, instead of relying on the mail-slot rear window.  It was impractical, inefficient, unreliable, twitchy, and dangerous at speed, but Ah, countach!

The car pictured above and below is probably my favorite model in the Countach's germination.  This particular version is the LP500S, a model distinct from the LP400 and 400S by its larger V12 engine and the LP500 by improved suspension and engine tuning to reduce the tendency of the car to snap into a spin whenever the driver lifted his foot off the throttle midcorner.  It is, in my opinion, the best balance of the high performance of the 25th Anniversary Edition and the relatively understated grace of the earlier LP400 and 400S.  It still has that Lamborghini wing and those hefty, chunky wheels and tires, but it's free of the oh-so-80s white-on-white color scheme and grated frippery adorning the 25AE.

I will be the first to admit that Lamborghinis are vulgar, ostentatious vehicles, most of them destined for the garages of A-list pornographers and the cribz of NBA stars.  They're cars for people who wear chunky white sunglasses at night, cars for people who hear "Diesel" and think "fashion," not "fuel."  They're tossers' cars: loud, garish, and full of bravado.  

But, and I might just be trying to enable my addiction to them, I think the Countach has graduated from that frat house and into the rarified realm of the truly great cars.  If you're a car guy over 18 and under 35, odds are, you got your start by seeing a poster of a white Countach hanging in the local frame shop your mom dragged you to.  You owe your love of cars to this doorstop.  And that, as I see it, makes it a true classic.

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