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From the Countach to the Diablo: Courage and Emotions

On the 50th anniversary of the Countach, engineer Luigi Marmiroli remembers when he was called in to design the heir to the "Icon". In the Eighties, he was given the task – and the honour – of defining the lines of the car that was to represent the future of Lamborghini. And the style of this car could only have been put into the skilled hands of Marcello Gandini.

Photos courtesy of Lamborghini - Luigi Marmiroli Archive

First road test of the Lamborghini Diablo P132 Prototype. From the left: Patrick Mimran (shareholder in Lamborghini at the time), engineer Luigi Marmiroli, Emile Novaro (President), Ubaldo Sgarzi (Sales Manager).

In early May 1984, a F1 Grand Prix race was in full swing at the Imola circuit, then named after the son of the Commendatore, Dino Ferrari. At the time I was in charge of designing the Euroracing team single-seater: our Alfa Romeo 184T had a high-performance engine, but it had a few reliability problems, especially with the turbines, and, above all, it drank far more fuel that the competitor cars.

Our position on the starting grid wasn’t ideal, but we did have one car in front of Alboreto’s Ferrari. And I also fondly remember that Ayrton Senna - that’s the one – a rookie at the time, hadn’t qualified in his Toleman-Hart. That never happened again throughout his marvellous career, which ended dramatically on the same circuit, exactly ten years later.

The evening before the race, a friend came to ask me to join him at Lamborghini Automobili. I arrogantly kicked him out of the paddock. A F1 designer would never go so low as to designer supercars for the road.

And true to this principle to the end, seven months later I joined Lamborghini in Sant’Agata Bolognese. I was hired by the young shareholder Mimran, and given a “mission impossible”: to design a flagship supercar to replace the Countach, then nearing the end of its career. While the Miura had been considered Lamborghini’s childhood car, the Countach embodied its adolescence, allowing the company to survive one of the darkest periods in its financial history.

The Countach, designed by Marcello Gandini, had a unique, inimitable character and style, which made it such a photogenic car. Because of the very limited production, it was extremely rare to see one on the road, but the photographic shoots published in the media were – and indeed still are – spectacular.

Alpine, the historical sponsor and supplier of Lamborghini’s on-board entertainment systems, had created some fantastic advertising posters. These hung on the walls of young fans’ bedrooms around the world, and particularly in the United States. In fact, at the time, many people thought that the name “Countach” was the name of the manufacturer, and this made a huge contribution to Lamborghini’s worldwide fame.

With the Countach, Lamborghini’s romantic period came to an end, and a new era began, involving me personally on both a technical and emotional level.

This was a more technical and less “crafted” phase, aiming to meet the increasingly strict international standards that made the Countach difficult to type-approve. For example, to meet the US standards, a huge and horrible bumper had to be added on the front, drastically changing the line of the car. Everyone agrees that the Countach LP 500, Marcello Gandini’s original model, remains one of the “icon” cars of the century. Unfortunately, over time, all the changes made to the initial design, required for engineering purposes, damaged the car’s pure lines, but, in our opinion, without every completely destroying it.

As we told in the article on Ferruccio Lamborghini, he was the man who embodied the philosophy of his supercars, and using the same criterion I felt that there was only one person who could design the Countach’s heir: Marcello Gandini. Before the new shareholder Chrysler arrived, the prototype of the P132 (the technical code for the Diablo) was already running with Gandini’s original design. And to be honest, I think that the pointless debate at the time over the influence of the Style Centre in Detroit on the Diablo’s original design not only didn't change the concept but in fact made it survive longer.

Confirming this, the Diablo is the only supercar that bears the signature of its top stylist: Marcello Gandini.

During the whole P132 design phase, we were always thrilled and indeed obsessed with keeping within the Lamborghini philosophy, of which the Countach was a marvellous expression, despite all the technical difficulties in obtaining type-approval. We borrowed the engine lay-out and the longitudinal gearbox from the Countach, because this was the ideal base for developing a highly original solution for a four-wheel-drive car. The Diablo VT (Viscous Traction) was in fact the very first supercar to adopt a 4WD solution. A viscous coupling mechanically transferred the torque from the rear to the front axle on wet or dry surfaces, thus significantly increasing the car’s safety and road holding. The design of the bodywork was based on the unusual concept of coupling different materials to optimise all the technical characteristics: steel, aluminium alloys, carbon composites...

We also transferred one major component from the Countach to the Diablo: the bull emblem in the centre of the front bonnet.

The huge success of the famous presentation of the Diablo in Montecarlo confirmed all the technical and stylistic efforts that went into achieving that – certainly difficult – result of creating a worthy heir to the Countach. A car that instantly went straight from the road into collections and museums.

“The King is dead, long live the King”.


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