Perhaps today we’re a bit used to everything, but in 1971 the Countach LP 500, the prototype that gave rise to Lamborghini’s successful supercar, gave us a feeling of wonder.
In the era of the great Italian coachbuilders, the public only knew the name of the company manager, which in this case was Bertone. Nuccio Bertone. He was a skilled coachbuilder but also an entrepreneur and a great talent scout. Bertone was able to count on a person who wrote the history of Italian design: Marcello Gandini.
Gandini is the creator of the original Countach concept that had major implications for the evolution of supercars. It served as an inspiration for the subsequent vehicles of an entire brand, up to the current Countach LPI 800-4, half a century later. Let’s try to grasp the secrets of this design by looking back at its last 50 years of history.
A Shape Born Of Emotion
In the heroic era of Italian coachbuilding, groups worked day and night on an idea, with characteristics that certainly made people dream: few constraints on its realization, no limits to the imagination, and possibly a mechanical design that allowed the prototype to be seen in motion. The Countach arrived at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show in this spirit.
The period between the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s was one of technological developments. Innovations in fashion and industrial design brought bright colors and an emphasis on geometric shapes.
LP 500 Concept, Starting From A Line
The 1971 Countach LP 500 has a treasure trove of design secrets. A key element was the sharp line that formed the basis for the whole shape.
However, this general look with sharply inclined pillars was not exactly new. Bertone had already used similar shapes for concepts like the 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo, 1970 Stratos Zero, or the even earlier 1967 Lamborghini Marzal. It continued to refine the wedge-shaped design in less extreme-looking machines like the 1969 Autobianchi Runabout and 1972 Fiat X1/9.
At Pininfarina, Paolo Martin created the most extreme wedge car yet with the famous 1970 Ferrari Modulo, but it never saw series production. The Countach, on the other hand, was not just a prototype, but a production car, destined to replace a successful legend like the Miura.
Sculpture In Motion
For the Countach concept, the wedge-shaped profile had sides that were actually very simple and sharp-edged. There were slight variations along the fenders but without resorting to curving shapes.
The front end was a descending blade, increasingly tapered thanks to the retractable headlights. The bodywork rose just above the wheels. A central band defined the hood, and it had a difference in height that created a very subtle dynamic at the top that looked like a simple pencil stroke.
The front pillar was as angled as much as possible. The wide windscreen had a geometric shape. The doors had a scissor-opening mechanism. The windows were low, and gills in the rear pillar sent air to the engine.
The tail was a triumph of geometry and simplicity, set up aerodynamically and with a width suitable for the powerful V12. Also important were the lights that were enclosed in an irregular hexagon.
The clean shape without wings or protrusions makes this concept a true sculpture in motion, and it’s timeless.
LP 400, The First Production Model
Two years passed before the production-sped Countach LP400 arrived. Lamborghini and Bertone intended to keep the design features from the concept car and change only what was necessary.
Technically, there were big alterations like a tubular space frame replacing the aluminum monocoque. Stylistically, the machine was similar to the prototype.
A few necessary changes were for engine cooling. The Countach lost the gills in the rear pillar in favor of larger inlets protruding from the body. NACA ducts appeared on the back fenders.
These elements caused the Countach to lose some of its design simplicity, but they eventually became iconic parts of Lamborghini’s vehicle design.
Lambo raised the front end by a few centimeters. The hood became flatter and lost the inlet near the windshield. The company also got rid of the functional periscope rearview mirror that gave drivers at least an idea of what was happening behind the car.
However, early LP 400s still had the notch in the roof where it would have been. To distinguish them from the others, the few Countachs equipped with this top today are called LP 400 Periscopos.
The 1973 LP 400 is the production Countach with the purest design that remains most faithful to the original concept.
LP 400S: Wings Arrive
In 1978, the Countach LP 400S arrived, and the design gained bulging fenders and aerodynamic appendages. Some of these changes were for Lambo to fit new 15-inch magnesium wheels with wider Pirelli P7 tires.
The design of the protruding front fenders continued to a lower spoiler, under the thin frontal area in body color. At the back, the large wing was optional.
In 1982, Giulio Alfieri’s 5.0-liter V12 arrived for the LP 5000S, but aesthetically the car was more or less the same. There were some changes to the interior, including wraparound seats, higher central tunnel, and the availability of more luxurious upholstery.
The 1985 LP 5000 Quattrovalvole, with its 5.2-liter engine boating four valves per cylinder, also had a few aesthetic changes. The front track was 44 millimeters wider. The engine cover had a bulge for fitting downdraft Weber carburetors, instead of the original side-draft carbs.
The 1988 Countach 25th Anniversary had the final styling tweaks, which came from a young Horacio Pagani. The goal was to better adapt the aerodynamic elements to the external surfaces.
There were revised mudguards, side skirts, and spoilers. The rear intakes became somewhat rounder, there was a revised rear bumper.
What’s the secret behind these modifications? Many of the elements came from the engineering studies of the Countach Evoluzione prototype, and the more consistent aesthetic allowed for the best downforce and aerodynamic data in the car’s history.
Countach LPI 800-4: A Homage To The Myth
Fifty years have passed since the first Countach prototype, but today the Lamborghini team led by Mitja Borkert has tried to summarize the secrets of the original’s design for the limited-run Countach LPI 800-4.
It is very rare in automotive history for a manufacturer to use a single model as the reference point for all the brand’s subsequent vehicles, even as business leaders and design teams change. This sets the Countach apart.
Let’s look at a few details. The thin opening at the tip of the nose clearly comes from the concept car. Similarly, there’s a narrow opening in the hood near the windshield. Two folds replace the pop-up headlights, which are now useless because of LED technology.
It’s worth noting how well the lower section incorporates into the rest of the body. This is possible thanks to today’s production technologies but creates a link to Horacio Pagani’s design goals for the 25th Anniversary model.
The shape of the windshield is reminiscent of the original, but the front pillar is curved instead of angled. The NACA air ducts along the side take on even greater importance. While larger, their general shape is similar to the original design.
Hexagonal shapes appear in the openings in the wheels and profile of the mudguards. This design also shows up in the taillights.
The belt descends behind the front wheels and then rises in a curve to the tail. The large air intakes and big wheels take up more of the visual weight than on the original vehicle.
At the rear, the air intakes now integrate into the fenders like on the original Countach concept, rather than later production versions. The tail has a large diffuser with the exhausts near the center.
Thanks to the fact that everything needed for downforce integrates into the body, the design team sculpts a modern supercar with a design that harkens back to the past. The result is a gorgeous homage to one of the most important supercars ever.