The V-12 engine in these low body cars is a work of art. The aluminum engine is cast with many effective cooling fins to increase surface area and add strength to the block, heads and sump. The peak horsepower is at 8,000 rpm and is the highest revving engine made by Lamborghini since 1973. The LP400S stands for “Longitudinale Posteriori” meaning that the engine is placed ‘north-south’ rather than in the ‘sidewinder’ position as seen in the Miura. The 400 relates to the 4 litre engine, and the ‘S’ means “pushed” or “fast.”
The engine holds 18.5 quarts of 20W50 racing oil. The 4 piston ATE brakes use 12 inch ventilated disks allowing the car to go from 80 to 0 mph is 226 feet; this is about 11 feet longer stopping distance than the Lamborghini Murcielago roadster. This is due primarily to the difference in weight: 2,900 pounds for the Countach vs. 4,300 pounds for the Murcielago roadster – 1,400 pound difference!
The wheels were made in sand cast magnesium and are very strong, light, and extremely expensive. These wheels reportedly cost $2,000 each in 1978 money (that is approximately $6,500 each in today’s economy).
The space frame was hand made by Marchesi in nearby Modena, Italy. 110 meters of special round tubing, in 4 different diameters, was used for the frame, making it very light weight, strong, but very expensive to manufacture.
The car is now fitted with Pirelli P-zero asimmetrico tires (good for 200 mph) and also made in Italy. In the late 1970s the cars were fitted with Pirelli P7 tires – the state of the art at that time. The front uses a 205/50/15 tire, while the rear wheels take a special made 345/35/15 tire. This is still the widest tire made for a production car.
The car is fitted with a special ANSA Sport exhaust system. In the mid- and late-1970s, Lamborghini and ANSA worked cooperatively to develop a free flowing exhaust system with a good sound. I was able to buy one of the last such systems on the planet and have it fitted to SN 112.1094. It saved 13 pounds and sounds like a Formula 1 car when the engine is turning 5,000 to 8,000 rpm.
The car is not too loud inside when driving at constant highway speeds. Very substantial exhaust sounds can be heard inside the car when accelerating hard; however, the main sounds come from the big 45 DCOE Weber carburetors sucking air into the motor and the 2 camshaft chains toward the rear of the motor.
Suspension design was done by the famous engineer, Giampaolo Dalara specifically for the very wide and very low profile Pirelli P7 tires. Dalara returned to complete the redesign under contract. The photo shows the rear suspension with two parallel lower links, and two coil over shock absorbers. The entire aluminum hub carrier was redesigned, bigger anti-sway bars installed, and suspension points altered. This suspension was state-of-the-art in 1978 and due, in large part, to Walter Wolf of Formula 1 fame. It can be argued that BMW paid for much of the suspension work!
These cars were never meant for practicality. They were inspired only by performance and designed to run at very high speeds on the autobauns of Europe. They are very aggressive and have superb handing qualities. Only 50 or 51 Series 1 cars were made, making them the rarest of the Countach line. These cars are fast, awesome, horny, and rude. The Countach is perhaps the most photographed car in the world.
In very early 1980 many changes were made to the LP400S models. These cars have been called Series 2 cars and began with about serial number 112.1100 to 112.1104. The most noticed change was the wheels were a dished design – still made by Compagnolo in Italy. Some of these cars sat about 3cm higher than the Series 1 cars. This made driving much more practical as the front spoiler was very low on the Series 1 cars. Eventually, the height of the roof was increased to provide more headroom. Even the shape of the doors evolved during the 1980s. Many Series 2 cars were detuned a bit and many used smaller Weber carburetors and/or less wild camshafts. These Series 2 cars were rated at 353 hp at 7,500 rpm. Some cars were imported into the USA and “federalized” through an elaborate and very expensive process; these were rated at 325 hp at 7,500 rpm. A number of smaller changes were made (e.g., at least one car had small vents in the roof and some cars were fitted with small side-marker lights) and these all varied from car to car. The order in which the cars were finished did not correlate well with the serial numbers, making it difficult to track the chronology of changes. In addition, buyers could often specify certain changes. Finally, many cars have been altered (e.g., a wing or exhaust system) by successive owners; thus it is hard to determine the exact specifications for any particular car as it left the factory (unless it is a one owner car).
There is no clear demarcation between the so-called Series 1 and 2 cars and factory records for the entire LP400S line were destroyed in a fire at the factory some years ago. I believe the bulk of the Series 1 cars (i.e., cars prior to about 112.1104 made in very early 1980) were fairly homogeneous (i.e., about 50 cars: 10 in 1978 and 40 in 1979). The cars made after about January, 1980 seem much more variable: wing or no wing, end plates on the wing or not, mild cams or not, 45DCOE carbs or smaller, Jeager instruments or not, magnesium or aluminum wheels, low vs. higher clearance, low vs. high roofline, etc., etc. There are many exceptions to any rule here and many cars have been modified in various ways to further cloud this issue (e.g., wings have been added in some cases). Several different spoiler/bumper systems arose during the 1980s – most of these were to satisfy various safety regulations that were emerging in many countries around the world. Note, most road tests of the day were made with Series 2 cars. The LP500S cars began production in early 1982 and these seem to be somewhat less variable in specifications.
It could be mentioned that the demand for the LP400S cars was overwhelming in the late 1970s. Many people across Europe and the Arabian Peninsula were wealthy and desparately wanted a Countach; the cars were illegal in the USA but more than a few cars entered the country in various ways. Due to this high demand, several owners of LP400 cars had their cars converted to LP400S specs by the factory or by a few specialized shops in Europe. Some cars were totally upgraded with new suspension, wheels, tires, flares, spoiler, etc., etc. while others were done only for the items that showed most (wheels, tires, flares and spoiler). Many Series 2 cars had the rear wing fitted; these were called a “Hyundai” wing as they cost more than a new Hyundai at the time (a little over $5,000 at that time).
If one had the influence and money to purchase a LP400S in 1978-79, the ‘official’ cost was often given as $85,000. This equates to a 2012 cost of $335,000. However, just having a huge sum of money did not mean you could call the factory and have one sent over. Many cars sold for much more than the official price and many people waited for more than a year before taking delivery of their car. Still others resorted to the courts to assure that they got the car they put money down on. Influence and power were essential in acquiring a Countach, a large pile of money was not sufficient.
In 2005 dollars, the cost of a 1978-79 LP400S would conservatively be about $300,000. This cost is comparable to a 2005 Murcielago roadster that would cost about $320,000 when new. Lamborghini did nothing to advertise the LP400S cars, however, hundreds of magazines around the world carried stories about these exciting, state of the art cars. The car advertised itself!
I visited the factory in May of 1982 as the new 500S Countach was being built. A few LM-002s were also being built and things were looking financially bright at the factory. The space frame and the major aluminum body panels are placed in a fitting jig to assure proper alignment. Everything is done by hand by skilled Italian craftsmen.
Partially finished LP500S Countach moving along the line on a small wheeled cart at the factory in 1982. Much remains to be done but this car is already taking shape. The flooring is of glass fibre to reduce weight and avoid rust problems.
Serial number 112.1094 in Monterey, California in August, 1996. The car is less than waist high and brilliant in the sun. Note the window is down as far as it will go. The plate at that time was OUTRAGE; I had wanted CLERGY but that was voted down. The car now has Collector Car plates as it is more than 25 years old and exempt from various Colorado emission issues.
Same trip, stopped along the famous 17 Mile Drive near Carmel By the Sea. Marine mammals ½ mile away dove into the water as we pulled up near the beach! I enjoyed high speed drives through the deserts of Utah and Nevada on I-80 on this 3,100 mile trip.
The door to novelty is always slightly ajar: many pass it by with barely a glance, some peek inside but choose not to enter, others dash in and dash out again; while a few, drawn by curiosity, boredom, rebellion, or circumstance, venture in so deep or wander around in there so long that they can never find their way back out.