Four decades ago when Lamborghini’s Countach came out, only one other production car—the Lancia Stratos—could realistically be viewed as "otherworldly." That the Lancia was also designed by Carrozzeria Bertone is thus no surprise, but I am willing to bet no Stratos test driver could ever tell a tale like the one you are about to read.
A Lamborghini employee I knew very well laid this one on me many years ago, and I planned on using it as the preface for a Lamborghini book I wanted to write in the late 1990s. I pitched the project to several publishers but no one bit; back then Lamborghini didn’t have the general interest like it does now.
The preface is ideal for illustrating how utterly astounding the Countach was when it hit the roads. I’ve changed names to protect the innocent…and not mentioned them to do the same for the guilty!
And now, here is a true tale that could only come from the heart of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, circa 1974:
The distant thunder didn’t faze the Farmer.
As his weathered hands guided his tractor’s worn steering wheel, his mind drifted back 15 years to 1959 and the day his friendly neighbor and fellow farmer Giuseppe was lecturing him about the tractor’s purchase.
“For generations our families have tended this land,” Giuseppe said, wagging his finger, “and we have always used horses for tilling. You know how much they eat, and how to take care of them. That newfangled device will bring you nothing but…”
The Farmer was jolted back to Spring 1974 with a start. Instinctively he knew something was amiss, and his experienced eyes scanned wave after wave of golden stalks.
“There!” he said to himself, seeing a speck of darkness in the shimmering field. “Someone has parked on my property!”
He angrily cranked the steering wheel hard to the left, and hit the gas.
* * * *
* * * *
The Farmer hit the brakes, and thrust the balky transmission into neutral. The tractor ground to a halt, idling unevenly.
Confronting him a number of meters away was a sinister low-slung shape, unlike anything he had ever seen. All he could do was stare, his mouth dangling open in amazement.
“Cristo,” he muttered out loud. “What in God’s name am I looking at?”
He dismounted the tractor, and cautiously approached the object.
* * * *
“Let me see if I can talk to him,” the driver sighed, knowing how testy the area’s old world farmers were about any incursion into their precious fields.
Though he was nervous, he could see the humor of the situation. Like most red-blooded Italian males, he had two weaknesses: beautiful women and fast cars. As the fairer sex had never been a problem, he satisfied his second passion by working at Lamborghini as an apprentice mechanic before becoming a test driver. He evaluated customer cars for several months then graduated to the envied rank of new car tester.
So who should he see on one of his first solo stints but Maria, she of dark hair, big eyes, and a body to die for. Beckoning him like a siren’s song, he hit the brakes, skidded to a halt, and drew her into his four-wheeled, 375-horsepower lair.
Almost all of Maria’s clothes were off when the tractor approached.
“Good luck,” she said, returning her attention to buttoning her blouse.
* * * *
The Farmer stared at the angular black form, unable to break his gaze. The dark object was considerably lower, slightly longer and much wider than his secondhand, boxy Fiat 1100 sedan.
What on earth am I looking at?!
That’s when his uncle’s story hit him, about the night he was out alone, and saw a light in the sky. Silent, like the stars and the moon, it moved in ways like nothing he had ever seen.
Goose bumps crawled up the Farmer’s arms and back. There was a name for such a light: disco volante—flying saucer.
* * * *
The test driver glanced at Maria one last time. His warm smile calmed her worried eyes, and he turned to open the door.
* * * *
The metallic “clack” snapped the Farmer back to attention. Something inside the object was moving!
With a slight hiss, the disco’s side suddenly opened, swinging upward towards the sky, and a humanoid figure stepped out.
* * * *
The test driver simply stood, amazed at what happened next. The Farmer turned white as a sheet and, after the briefest hesitation, sprinted back toward the idling tractor. In one fell swoop that belied his age he was in the driver’s seat, gunning the engine, the gearbox grinding in protest.
The tractor lurched, then hurried away.
The test driver turned, briefly eyeing himself in the narrow windows’ reflections, then the Lamborghini’s black paint. Maria opened the other door and stood.
“I guess he has never seen a Countach!” she laughed.
* * * *
As an exclamation point on how revolutionary and pure that design was, Lamborghini’s all-new Aventador just debuted at the Geneva Auto Show. It uses the same silhouette, and has the same volumes in its shape, as the LP400.
No doubt Orson Welles would have loved this shape, and that "disco volante" story!