Origins of The Legend: Lamborghini’s First Step

In 1963, a new signature entered the gran turismo scene. Ferruccio Lamborghini’s first ever car was the only one to carry his autograph on the coachwork.

Last week Giotto Bizzarrini was under our historic microscope. With Ferrari’s 250 Spyder California, SWB, Testa Rossa and the 250 GTO on his resume, needless to say the engineer had prodigious talent.

After creating the GTO Bizzarrini’s fingerprints spread far beyond Ferrari, for his time at Maranello unexpectedly came to a halt in late November 1961. That’s when he and fellow engineer Carlo Chiti, Enzo Selmi (personnel), Romolo Tavoni (competition department) and more disagreed with a decision Enzo Ferrari made about getting rid of long time company sales manager Girolamo Gardini. Ferrari didn’t appreciate his generals’ friendly but formal rebuke, so they were all gone too. Within weeks Gardini, Chiti and Bizzarrini had wealthy backers to start ATS (Automobili Turismo e Sport), an effort aimed at tackling Ferrari on both the racetrack and the street.

Bizzarrini’s time with ATS was short lived though. The company decided to use a Carlo Chiti-designed 2.5-liter V8 instead of the V12 he proposed, and there was almost immediate friction between the shareholders. After leaving ATS Giotto concentrated on Autostar, his engineering and consulting company, and soon found himself as the ultimate “gun for hire” in Italy’s vibrant gran turismo scene.

An Industrialist From the Start

Automobili Lamborghini’s first ever car was the 350 GTV that debuted at 1963’s Turin Auto Show.

One of his first clients was new to the GT game, but his name would gain much fame within four years, thanks to the mid-engine supercar revolution ATS started. Ferruccio Lamborghini was an industrialist then in his mid-40s, and had a real passion for machinery and fast cars.

His first job was an apprentice at a mechanical workshop in Bologna, and later earned quite a reputation as a wizard mechanic during World War II. In 1949 he founded his tractor company, his offerings quickly gaining a reputation by winning tug of wars with other tractors in the town squares sprinkled throughout northern and central Italy.

By the mid-1950s Lamborghini was one of Italy’s biggest tractor manufacturers, and after a trip to America, he started a second company that made air conditioners and boilers. Ferruccio was again in the right place at the right time, for with Italy (and Europe’s) economy booming from the rebuilding effort after the war, Lamborghini Bruciatori (as his second company was called) also met with great success.

The 350 GTV had rakish styling, penned by the artistic Franco Scaglione.

Something Better Than a Ferrari…

The resulting mountain of income from two sources allowed Lamborghini to own a number of sports and GT cars, including Ferraris. Supposedly he went to Maranello to complain about a problem with his Ferrari, only to have Enzo leave him in the waiting room for hours. That caused the proud industrialist to storm off, declaring he would make a better car than Ferrari.

The tale makes for marvelous storytelling but according to those who were there at the time, there isn’t much truth behind it. In the early 1960s Franco Lini was one of Italy’s top automotive journalists, and had an extensive grapevine throughout the industry. Lini told me the reason Lamborghini started building GT cars was “He actually believed he would be able to do something better than anyone else…and make a profit at it.”

Famed Lamborghini test driver Bob Wallace concurs. “That story never happened,” he told me. “Lamborghini thought he could make money while gaining prestige by making a name for himself.”

Certain Specifications

Sporting sharp angles and creases, the 350 GTV had a design unlike any other.

The budding constructor’s path soon crossed with Bizzarrini’s, thanks to Modena-based engine builders Giorgio Neri and Luciano Bonacini. Lamborghini approached them about making a motor, and they contacted Bizzarrini. When Lamborghini and Bizzarrini spoke, “He made it clear he did not want a competition engine,” Bizzarrini told me. “He said, ‘I want a car like Ferrari, for the highway. Twelve cylinders is fine, but it must be at least 3.5 liters.’”

Bizzarrini traveled to the town of Cento, where Lamborghini had his tractor manufacturing concern. After the engineer was given a tour, the two men drafted a contract about the engine’s specifications: a naturally aspirated engine of 3.5 liters, and a minimum of 350 horsepower. A performance clause was also thrown in that stated for every 10 horsepower below the 350 benchmark, a specified amount would be docked from Bizzarrini’s pay.

They needn’t have worried. Bizzarrini took a 1.5-liter V12 he drew up while at Ferrari (and was proposed to ATS), and enlarged it to 3.5 liters. It was then built and run on the bench, where it produced 360 horsepower at 9000+ rpm.

Lamborghini’s 3.5-liter V12 was designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, and refined by Gianpaolo Dallara for the production cars. Here it is seen in the guise of how Bizzarrini originally created it.

A Rocky Start

But the path to that test had been rocky. Bizzarrini said one day Lamborghini had unexpectedly dropped by the blueprint shop he used, demanding copies of the drawings. “Because he had come by unannounced,” the engineer reflects, “the shop owner refused for he didn’t know who Lamborghini was.”

Giotto angrily confronted his employer, feeling that the industrialist might have been making an end run. “All you had to do was ask for them,” he told Lamborghini, “and I would have given them to you.”

Following that row, rightly or wrongly suspicion nagged at Giotto so he recommended Lamborghini hire Gianpaolo Dallara, a young engineer Giotto knew from his days at Ferrari, to finish up the engine and car.

These lovely instruments were seen on the earlier Lamborghinis; on the original bench test the V12 revved to 9,000 rpm.

Dallara was there when the V12 was bench tested. “Because the agreement between them was basic,” Dallara told me, “in typical frank, Tuscan style Bizzarrini said his job was finished, and he was ready to start another one. But Ferruccio Lamborghini was probably thinking Bizzarrini had more work to do, refining the engine. As both men had really strong characters, some sparks really flew.”

With that second confrontation, Bizzarrini’s work with Lamborghini came to an end. Dallara was soon making the V12 more tractable and civilized so it could handle daily use. He also designed a tubular chassis, and independent front and rear suspension.

At the same time, stylist Franco Scaglione was toiling away on the new Lamborghini’s coachwork. But the sailing wasn’t smooth there either, for “the company (Carrozzeria Sargiotto in Turin) that made the body did not have the experience to make a complete car,” Dallara said. “This was probably one of the first jobs for making a complete car .of this class.”

A sight no one saw back in the day, for the 350 GTV was a non-runner and actually had a palette of brinks under the hood so the ride height was properly level at its introduction.

Until the Last Second

That very first Lamborghini was the 350 GTV, and before and during its debut at Lamborghini’s still-under-construction factory, Ferruccio and his men were extremely nervous. “The car arrived after all the journalists were there,” Dallara explains. “Not because it was organized that way, but because it was finished the night before! This was not a last minute job, but a last second job!”

Still, the fully trimmed prototype was a hit. At its factory unveiling and several days later at the Turin Auto Show, it got people talking—with much of the discussion about the car’s striking design, and that all new V12. So what’s it like to drive the first ever Lamborghini?

That’s where we will pick things up next week, along with piloting some other “firsts”…

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