Engineer Gianpaolo Dallara is seen outside his factory in a photo taken in the fall of 1995.
Long before the term “fake news” entered the lexicon, I held the belief it's best to find those who lived automotive history and speak with them, rather than relying on what other people have written. A perfect example of this and how much detective work can pay off was last year’s October 5 blog post when we examined in detail the fascinating exotic car story that De Tomaso's Mangusta was originally supposed to be an Iso—and how, after speaking with the principals in the adventure, that was decidedly not true.
Lamborghini’s first production car was the front-engine 350 GT. The coachwork was by Carrozzeria Touring, and they very much wanted to do a mid-engine car with Lamborghini.
Today, we are tackling a much larger and better-known legend: the origins of Lamborghini’s Miura. For decades it was believed and thus written in everything (and now, on the internet) that Lamborghini’s ambitious young engineers Gianpaolo Dallara and Paolo Stanzani, and test driver Bob Wallace built a sophisticated mid-engine chassis after hours and somewhat in secret in an effort to convince company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini to go racing. When they showed it to Ferruccio he supposedly said “no” to their idea, and told his young guns to turn it into a road car, which they did.
This is the scale model of Touring’s mid-engine proposal that was presented to Lamborghini.
For years I too was one of the tale’s disciples—that is until December 9, 1993. While I have been blessed to speak with Paolo Stanzani, Bob Wallace and the car’s designer Marcello Gandini, the one I have spent the most time with is Dallara, the individual the others acknowledge as the Miura’s father. We had conducted previous interviews before but on that December date, Dallara and I had a lengthy and wonderful discussion about his early years at Lamborghini.
One of my favorite interview questions is along the lines of “What was the inspiration for…” and then you sit back and listen, not knowing on where the road might lead. That was never truer than when I asked, “How did the P400 chassis and Miura car come about?”
Needless to say, I fully expected him to repeat the story seen above; after all, it was in every book and magazine article I’d read. Looking at the interview transcription, there was a long silence before Dallara responded, and went veering far from the tale widely accepted as truth.
These are two of the renderings Bertone showed Dallara and Ferruccio Lamborghini at the tail end of 1965. There is a litheness and tension that the Touring proposal lacked.
“The Miura was really something strange,” he said after that lengthy pause. “For the 350/400GT (Lamborghini’s previous model), it was just to make (it) drivable and construct a chassis for a front-engine car…For the Miura, there was this exercise to make something different, and the first attempt we just decided, probably in steel…to make a rear-engine car with the engine of the Mini, and three seats with the driver in the center. It was just an exercise.”
In other words, the real inspiration for the Miura was the Mini, and not racing! The original idea was to use that Mini’s ingenious front-wheel-drive engine and transmission and place it behind the driver to make a mid-engine car.
I then asked him who else was involved in what he called “this exercise.” “I decided how to make it,” Dallara replied, “and the man who made the drawings was Pedrazzi. He was one of the guys who was very fast in making drawings, and doing other things.” (As a side note, Pedrazzi would later work on Bugatti’s EB110.)
The inspiration for the Miura’s “heart” (a transverse mid-engine), and thus the whole car, came from the Mini, and not racing!
A little further in the interview, Dallara noted, “(This) was just a preliminary project. Therefore I said to Ferruccio Lamborghini, ‘Why don’t we go to Mini and ask them if they will sell (us) a group of components and we make some very nice mid-engine cars for young people?’ Then he said, ‘Why don’t we make something by introducing this idea for making a Lamborghini?’
“Then we made it (and) we're not thinking of making the body...At a certain point, Ferruccio Lamborghini said, ‘We bring it to the Turin Auto Show.’… In fact, that is how (the chassis) was shown (at 1965’s Turin Auto Show)—without the body.”
It’s quite obvious why Dallara felt “a big part of the success of the Miura was the shape of the car. For the time, it was fantastic.”
With the whole Miura origin story now turned upside down, I had to ask about the long-held belief that the chassis was made after hours, and Lamborghini didn’t know it. “Lamborghini was all day in the factory,” Dallara replied. “Can you really imagine you could do something without saying (anything) to him?”
Pressing further, I asked, “Was there ever any intention, or even a desire to design the Miura chassis for racing?” Dallara paused and then said, “We wanted to make something that had the architecture of a racing car. This was the Ford GT40—a mid-ship engine.” And for any remaining doubters about the competition link, moments later he noted that the Miura “was born with a wet-sump engine, and that means a streetcar.”
About that fateful 1965 Turin Show debut, “There was a big interest in the chassis because it was new. At the time there was also a big interest from Touring (who had done the 350 GT’s coachwork), and also the interest of Bertone.” At the time Touring was having financial difficulties because England’s Rootes Group wasn’t living up to a large contract, and that was part of the reason Lamborghini chose Nuccio Bertone’s carrozzeria to create the body for the chassis.
(As a side note to this conversation with Dallara, when I spoke with Ferrari coachbuilder Sergio Pininfarina about the P400’s Turin Show debut, “When I saw that chassis with its transverse engine,” he replied, “I was envious.” The reason was simple—for months he and Ferrari’s salespeople had been pushing on Enzo to make a mid-engine V12 road car, but “(Ferrari) kept insisting it was too dangerous. For racing, he felt it was fine. But for non-professional drivers, he felt it was too much…”)
The interior was also like nothing else that had been seen before, and just added to the allure of the Miura package.
Once Ferruccio Lamborghini agreed to have Nuccio Bertone’s carrozzeria design the coachwork for the naked P400 chassis, Bertone was given a number of chassis drawings, and he and his chief designer Marcello Gandini went to work. Interestingly, Carrozzeria Touring had shown Lamborghini a scale model for a mid-engine car, but as will be seen in a moment, it wasn’t on the same level as Bertone’s proposal.
A few weeks passed, and then Dallara remembers “at some point between Christmas and the first of the year when the factory was closed, Lamborghini called and said, ‘Tomorrow Bertone is coming with the proposals.’”
The men met in the silent factory, and when Nuccio revealed the renderings, “We immediately realized that this was something unique, something that happens once. Really, it was superb. So Ferruccio Lamborghini said, ‘Go ahead. Don’t change anything, just go ahead…
“While (Touring’s proposal) was indeed very nice, this was far beyond ‘very nice.’ It was something unique, with a shape that was a complete departure from any other production car.”
Lamborghini’s Miura is fabulous from any angle, and is the car that put the mid-engine configuration on the radar for every other road car constructor.
When I asked if the renderings generated excitement in the factory, once everyone returned to work, “Oh yes,” Dallara smiled. “Lamborghini, of course, showed it to all the main people working for him. Of course, everyone was excited because we knew it was a big, important job. And it could be something bringing Lamborghini to a much higher level.”
After three months of intense work, the non-running Miura prototype debuted at Geneva in 1966. Several weeks later the car was driven to the Monaco Grand Prix to show everyone it was now fully operational.
By then the Miura had done the trick, inside the factory and out, by putting Lamborghini on the map. “The chassis itself was nice, “Dallara reflects, “but you did not know what would come out of this project.” With a running car in hand, and out dazzling and bewitching the public, “In the factory (we) realized that we were going to a higher level than Modena (I.e. Ferrari and Maserati). Up to that time, everyone in Modena was thinking that (we) were the poor brother—or the third brother—while (we) were thinking, ‘Oh, we are going ahead!’”
Engineer Gianpaolo Dallara in 2017, taking a phone call in his office. At age 80, he has the energy and spark of someone half his age.
It’s startling to think Dallara was just 27 at the time, and how one individual could basically engineer an entire car, let alone one that became a true landmark. It’s thus no surprise that he looks back at that point in his illustrious career with great fondness. ”Being so young,” he says, “you didn’t realize how many problems there are, and they didn’t come all together so you didn’t have time to think too much.
“The point is, with the experiences I have now, I would for sure make it better, but it would take so much longer than it is possible that the interest (in the car) would collapse. So it was good at that time, for the customer was prepared to accept this kind of problem. Every impatient and rich man wanted to have this kind of car.”
And with that reaction, the Miura legend was off and running!