Driving Experiences

These early cars are a blast to drive. They are low, noisy, fast, aggressive, and (often) illegal. When driven hard the car triggers your “Oh My God” needle in your brain cell. I live at about 5,200 ft above sea level, so the car typically runs rich and rough at low rpm. The car is not terribly fast from a standing start because of the severe valve overlap, high bore/stroke ratio (82/62 = 1.32), and the tendency for the 6 carburetors to hesitate (gag) at low rpm. [If a person wanted startling 0-60 and ¼ mile times they could rev the motor to 7,000 and drop the clutch. Some wheel spin of the Pirelli tires will occur but acceleration times would be in the low 5 second and 13 second range, respectively. I do not drive that way.] These are motors meant to rev; they are not real happy toodling through city traffic, however the car never overheats. These cars were made for high speed touring on the autobauns of Europe.

Once underway the acceleration and handling are stunning; the sounds of air going into the carbs and the sounds of the timing chains are deafening and thrilling. The early carbureted cars have an incredible sound when the engine is in the 5,000 to 8,000 (or 9,000) rpm range. The car is at its best on winding mountain roads in the high Rocky Mountains. Cornering is phenomenal. Top speed must be in the 175-180 range for a well tuned car at sea level. In spite of the wide front tires, the car never “tracks” seams or cracks in the road surface.

These cars attract a great deal of attention when either stopped or traveling. The styling is incredible; nothing like it has appeared in 33 years. It is very low (40.9 inches) and wide (79 inches) and short (163 inches). Being black, it appears even lower than it actually is and has a certain ‘meanness’ to it. People describe it as wicked or satanic or unholy or horny. The styling genius of Marcello Gandini shows as much now as when these cars were new.

Reality Checks

A substantial amount of misinformation was written by test drivers for major automotive magazines when these cars were new. Test drivers in their 30s and 40s complained that they could hardly get in and out of the car (paper cutter doors and wide sills) – these people must have been virtual invalids! Other writers raved about the total lack of rear quarter vision — what about the tens of millions of trucks and vans with the same issue? Test drivers commented that the vision to the rear was very limited; were they ever inside the car? Some drivers commented that people over 70 inches could not drive the car – I am 72 inches tall and have driven the car over 25,000 miles in the past 17 years.

Many testers claimed the clutch is very hard to depress; again, are these drivers complete weenies? The clutch in my car is heavier than a Saturn but is easily managed in stop and go driving by any normal driver. Other test drivers noted the poor gas mileage (actually, they should have said very poor gas mileage) – does one worry about gas mileage when buying or driving a V12 exotic car? One driver thought the seat was too narrow – how big a butt did he have? Still others commented on the “noise” from the engine and gearbox – such comments seem absurd to me.

Sir Sterling Moss, the British grand prix driver, drove a Countach for a 1981 test and said, “It has to be the worst car to sit in. I’m positioned so I’m looking down at my feet with my head scrunched against the roof.” He goes further, “Visibility is poor out the sides and the back … .” “It’s incredibly uncomfortable, hot, cramped, noisy and almost impossible to see out of. Not to mention the total lack of luggage space, the nonadjustable seats … .” While he has a right to his opinion (e.g., uncomfortable) he is in error about the total lack of luggage space (these cars have both front and rear trunks) and the nonadjustable seats (they are adjustable for and aft — what is he writing about?). It seems unlikely that his head was “scrunched against the roof” as he is not much over 60 inches tall; this could also explain his inability to see out the sides and back! Perhaps his report should have just said “it is very noisy on hard acceleration” as this would have been correct!

Virtually all magazines and books on the Countach list the height at 42.0 inches. No one measured these; I actually doubt that ANY of the models are 42.0 inches. My car is 40.9 inches. Many of the Series 3 cars were certainly higher by 1-3 inches. Not sure about the LP400 cars as they sat on 14 inch rims with high sidewall tires; unlikely that they were 42.0 inches either.

Having said that, I must say that these cars take some getting used to at first. Views to the front are panoramic, but one cannot see the fenders or anything else besides the frame of the huge windshield. Side views are good if you can look either over or under the horizontal bar separating the upper and lower parts of the side window. Views to the rear are fine; it is only the rear quarter views that are nonexistent. The car is very low and the car is difficult to navigate at first. It has no bumpers, either front or rear, so one must be very careful not to damage the aluminum body by the slightlest hit on a wall or another car. When backing up in tight quarters, one can sit on the sill and look backwards over the roof. The seats allow a semi-reclining position, the clutch and brake peddles are just slightly offset by the front wheel wells. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake and position and is quite comfortable once set up correctly. The overall driving position is very nice, especially compared to many other Italian cars of the era. Still, these cars are intimidating to drive at first.

The published 0-60 (5.6 sec) and ¼ mile (13.9 sec) times are not that great, at least by today’s standards. This is often a function of two things. First, Lamborghini rarely let magazine testers have a factory car to thrash. Thus, benevolent owners had to be coaxed into loaning their car for a test. Given the cost (parts and labor) of putting in a new clutch, few owners were willing to have their car revved to 7,000 rpm and watching the clutch dumped to achieve a good acceleration time. Tame starts resulted in modest acceleration times. Second, these cars are so different from others that test drivers needed a day or two to get used to driving the car at its limits. This limitation also applies to skip pad tests. Time to get aquainted with the car was simply not available to test drivers, thus the acceleration times appeared modest. It is unfortunate that the factory did not have one of its testers (e.g., Bob Wallace or Valentino Balboni) perform the acceleration, skid pad, and top speed runs using a factory car. Still, the posted times were excellent for the late 1970s and these cars were never designed to be drag cars. No car was faster (top speed) than a LP400S in the late 1970s.