The Great Lamborghini “What If”: 350 GT vs. 3500 GTZ

In 1965 when Lamborghini made the 350 GT (background) and 3500 GTZ, the marque was very much the newcomer on the sportscar/gran turismo scene. Production of the 350 GT was barely a year old when the 3500 GTZ debuted.

The Miura was the model that truly put Lamborghini on the map, but what most people don’t know is Lamborghini could have taken an entirely different tact and produced its own “Ferrari 275 GTB.” Back in 1965 when Ferruccio’s firm debuted the P400 chassis at the Turin Auto Show, it also had a direct competitor to that marvelous Ferrari. The 3500 GTZ was a more sporting, shorter wheelbase version of the 350 GT, and two were made for Lamborghini super dealer Gerino Gerini; it was he who commissioned Zagato to make the berlinetta body.

That backstory had me quite curious on how the GTZ compared to the refined and well-mannered 350 GT, let alone the competition. Luckily, I was blessed to find a very proper 350 GT, one of the two 3500 GTZs, and then got them together for two glorious days of driving and shooting.

In 1965 Lamborghini’s biggest dealer was the Milan-based Marquis, Gerino Gerini. He wanted a more sporty version of the 350 GT, and got his wish in the Zagato-bodied 3500 GTZ that broke cover in the second half of the year.

The 350 GT Character

The exteriors and interiors reveal each car’s character. The 350 GT is comfortable, commodious, with an expansive greenhouse and loads of elbow and legroom. It fits me beautifully, like when you wear a proper suit and put on an overcoat before going out for a night on the town. All the gauges are easily legible (the top of the speedo is hidden behind the wheel’s rim in the GTZ), the seat back is higher than its sportier stablemate, and the seat cushion is more firm so it offers better leg support. Plus all-around visibility is stupendous, the greenhouse having slim A-pillars.

In the 3500 GTZ, it’s obvious Gerini didn’t have tall Americanos like me in mind. With the seat all the way back and the backrest sloping rearward, I need to contort my 6’3” frame by putting my neck and shoulders at a strange angle to fit under that low slung roofline. My knees wrap up around the glossy wood steering wheel, and I’m shoehorned in so tightly that my left kneecap bumps against the window crank. To engage the clutch I have to put the crank straight up or down!

A Classic Whirr

The 3500 GTZ is a stellar performer, with more oomph than the 350 GT. Which makes sense, for it is nearly 200 pounds lighter, and has a more aerodynamic shape.

It’s worth putting up with such foibles, though. Both Lambos have that classic mechanical starter motor whirr when you first crank the key. While the 350 catches and idles contently, the Zagato is quiet for just a moment then erupts to let you know it’s ready to rumble. Both are tractable at low speeds, and the GTZ’s long pedal travel means you really need to prod the accelerator to get it up and moving. Do that and the Zagato is one serious sprinter, like Usain Bolt kicking in the afterburners to blow off the rest of the field at the Olympics. The V12 never comes on cam but instead delivers one long continual pull that gets more furious the higher the revs go.

And your grin gets larger along the way, for the accompanying noise is something to behold. Back in the day magazines such as Road & Track described certain Italian V12s (typically Enzo’s) as “ripping canvas”; well, if future dictionaries ever become audible and need that exact sound, the search is over with this Lambo. The symphony is exquisite as the tach climbs, the exhaust bellowing just below your shoulder, the engine gloriously howling in front of you.

The 350 GT has a different type of exotic appearance and doesn’t look like anything else, even today. Its most distinctive style feature was the unusual single headlight treatment.

The Lambo Composure

The rear hunkers down nicely while blasting through mid-range sweepers, and feels quite planted exiting under hard acceleration. The composure is impressive, and if the 3500 GTZ demonstrates just one thing, it’s Lambo chief engineer Gian Paolo Dallara and crew knew how to make a fabulous suspension. “Compliant” sums it up beautifully, where you feel road surface but bumps are properly absorbed so they never jar the occupants.

Most remarkable with both cars is how the ride gets better the faster you go, and that is front and center in the 350 GT. The GTZ is more nimble than the Touring-bodied Lambo, thanks in great part to 200+ pounds of weight savings, but the latter’s longer wheelbase and greater production numbers result in a much more refined and livable machine than the Zagato.

Continent Crusher

The 350 GT’s interior (top image) is much more commodious than in the Zagato. Head and legroom are superior, and there is a true package tray behind the seats, perfect for luggage. Both cars have a great greenhouse.

Lamborghini’s 350 GT was a true continent crusher back in 1965, and the ideal “event car” today. With 120 made it’s much more rare than comparable Ferraris, Astons and Masers, its seats have more side bolstering than those in the GTZ, and surprisingly the accelerator needs even more effort than the Zagato to truly get it up and running. And while the 350 GT is indeed a capable performer, the GTZ would smoke it in a straight line, and the corners.

But that’s not this car’s character. It has much more of a James Bond “never let them see you sweat” kind of cool, for as you move into triple digit speeds the 350 GT is the epitome of tranquility for the mid-1960s. You really sense the car’s composure, and how that suspension was just as much a marvel as the engine. The ride is relaxed, and steering that was a bit heavy at low speeds lightens up nicely.

Plus the gearbox is buttery to use on both up- and downshifts—which is just another reason to have the 3.5-liter DOHC V12 sailing towards its 7,000 rpm redline. That expansive view out front is exemplary, and there is a decent package tray behind the seats, in addition to the boot.

The 3500 GTZ was an intriguing stablemate to the lovely 350 GT. As much as I truly enjoyed its sporty, invigorating personality (think Ferrari 275 GTB with a Lambo and Zagato twist) and feel it would have made a great offering, Ferruccio and his men were wise to focus their efforts on the mid-engine route. When the Miura debuted at 1966’s Geneva Motor Show, Lamborghini became the benchmark, rather than chaser.

In Closing…

The 350 GT and 3500 GTZ are two distinctly different flavors, and all those miles of delicious driving begged the question: was there enough room in the Lamborghini lineup for the GTZ? For a small production run (say 10-20) most likely yes, but Ferruccio and his men were right to focus their efforts and resources on the Miura.

As noted earlier both the P400 chassis and 3500 GTZ debuted in 1965, and the resulting Miura P400 that came several months later truly changed the game, rather than simply advancing it.But that’s what the 350 GT did—move the gran turismo game forward. It was more sublime and refined than any Ferrari at the time, a most impressive result made all the more astounding when one thinks that this was the first model by a start up company, engineered by a group of 20- and 30-somethings.

As CAR titled their 1965 350 GT road test, “This One Will Give Ferrari a Migraine,” and they were right!


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