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Lamborghini and Gigliato: a Great but All-Too-Short Story

At the end of his career at Lamborghini, Luigi Marmiroli was invited to take part in a supercar project being launched in Japan. It could have been a unique opportunity for the Sant’Agata-based manufacturer, if the project hadn’t been blocked mid-way, ending up – as the engineer tells us – in the bottom drawer of broken dreams.

Photos courtesy of Luigi Marmiroli Archive

Towards the end of 1996, and at the end of my fantastic experience as Technical Director at Automobili Lamborghini, I was invited by the then-CEO to a meeting for the presentation of a unique supercar project: the ‘Aerosa’ by Japanese designer Nobuo Nakamura, president of Gigliato Japan. In addition to the project, those Italian-sounding names tickled my curiosity: Gigliato and Aerosa.

I must say that a few years early in Lamborghini we had been enthusiastically working to try and design a car, which unfortunately did not come to fruition, to replace the Diablo, so that this would not be the only Lamborghini on the market: the P140, which I will describe to Speedholics readers in another article soon. Styled by Gandini, it could have been worthy of the line-up of the Urraco, the Jalpa and the Silhouette. Unfortunately, the project was sacrificed during the transfer of ownership from the US Chrysler to the Indonesian Megathec.

After my job at Lamborghini, and returning full-time to my Fly-Studio in Modena - where I sought to maintain that raging bull imprinting - I thought that a partnership between Lamborghini and Gigliato could have been a solution to the problem of the Diablo as a single product.

I set off for Japan, enjoying an unforgettable “full immersion” in the ancient Japanese culture as well as their modern industrial and technological world. In this respect, I must admit that I quickly learned to perform the “ceremony” of exchanging business cards...

I must say that, thanks to my experience and background in Lamborghini, and Ferrari before that, all the doors opened for me, including those in the largest companies. And so, when I finally met Nobuo Nakamura, I realised how much talent he had expressed in the Aerosa and, beneath that typical Japanese veil of impassiveness there was that passion for supercars shared by Latin peoples.

When I returned to Italy, also with the agreement of Lamborghini, I threw myself into a preliminary technical and financial analysis of the Aerosa with a view to a joint venture between Italy and Japan.

The result was an incredible international partnership that was both challenging and fascinating. I had an underlying philosophy in mind: heading towards the end of the century, the world was becoming increasingly global, and this led me to think that supercars and racing cars were the ideal means for peoples of different nations and different cultures to share the same passion.

This is why Gigliato Germany was set up in Dusseldorf, to oversee the economic management of the project, and an agreement was signed with the UK’s Lotus to supply their new-born TYPE 918 Twin Turbo engine.

At the same time, agreements were signed with the Japanese giant Kobelco for the supply of extruded aluminium parts for the chassis, with the Italian company Tir for the body panels, and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Lamborghini Automobili and Gigliato.

However, what I was most interested in was the creation of Gigliato Italy in Modena; for me it was a great honour to be appointed as the design, prototyping industrialisation manager for the whole project.

We set up a workshop in the abandoned site where Lamborghini had produced its Formula 1 engines. I brought five Japanese engineers, CAD experts, to Modena and they worked at the design workstations along with some skilled local craftsmen with golden hands and brains who had already been involved in the local supercar world.

Needless to say, the greatest difficulties lay in the communication between them. The Japanese spoke an incomprehensible English, while the Modena guys preferred to express themselves not even in Italian but in local dialect. Some rather embarrassing situations occurred in this Tower of Babel, but the enthusiasm of working on a new project, supported by a few glasses of Lambrusco, helped them to overcome all misunderstandings.

But while I was looking forward to seeing the new Aerosa on the assembly line, alongside the Diablo, Lamborghini changed hands again and the project was ditched, and I had to file it in my drawer of broken dreams. A drawer that, alas, is already stuffed with many other wonderful unfulfilled dreams (and we will talk of these in the coming articles…), first and foremost that of the P140.

An interesting fact: when the Aerosa was presented to the press in Tokyo (with the agreement of Umberto Agnelli, then Ambassador for cultural and commercial relations between Italy and Japan), above our heads there were three flags: the Japanese, the Italian and the German, reminding of the countries involved in the project.

During my speech, it came naturally to me to refer to and distance myself from the infamous “Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis” signed during the Second World War. It is well known that this alliance led to huge disasters and infinite losses across the world and above all in Japan.

Ironically, I assured the journalists present that, in contrast to the previous one, this new agreement would have led to a peaceful, common passion for supercars.

But I got the impression that the historical reference didn’t go down well… I consoled myself with the thought that the audience, mostly young, must have deliberately cancelled that ugly page of history from their minds.


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