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The "Speedholics man" and the ecological transition

In his long career he worked on over one hundred projects, many of which related to fast and racing cars: thinking about how many litres of fuel have been burned by his “creatures”, Marmiroli looks to the future, wondering how to reconcile the passion and very essence of sports cars with respect for the environment.

Photos courtesy of Luigi Marmiroli Archive

The passage from fossil fuel to electric for all cars of the future - including supercars and hypercars - is a given fact. Thinking back over my career, I can count projects for around a hundred cars. Mostly racing cars (Formula 1, Formula 2 and 3, Sports Prototypes, cars for Le Mans and Indianapolis, Developments of production cars, Challenges). And of course, supercars and hypercars.

In the early days, my tasks were minimal: calculating a spring or connecting rod for an engine, balancing a crankshaft, designing a spoiler. This was what I did in the Ferrari Studies Office in Maranello. Then, along with Giacomo Caliri, I set up the “Fly-Studio” in Modena, a consulting firm for racing cars. There, my experience and my influence in various projects grew drastically. Just think, at Lamborghini, working with a team of around fifty people, I completely designed a dozen supercars and type-approved seventeen versions of the Diablo, designing the whole car, from the chassis to the power train, from the bodywork to the electronics, from the engine to the four-wheel drive.

But throughout this history, something has always niggled me: that stressful search for absolute speed performance has always prevented me from seriously considering the fuel consumption of the cars I designed.

To confirm this, let’s look back at some of the most significant projects. The Formula 1 cars that I worked on held 220 litres of fuel, not always enough to complete races of just over 300 km. And this brings an anecdote to mind. The engines on our Alfa Romeo F1s were guzzlers. Engineer Chiti (who we will come back to later) invented fuel freezing, using powerful refrigerators, aiming to store greater quantities in the tanks. The problem was that it took a long time to fill the tanks at the start of the race, often in the sunshine. As it heated, the petrol swelled the tanks and, wearing their seatbelts, the drivers complained that it was hard to breathe because the passenger compartment was smaller... Other teams followed the example until the regulations forbid it.

Moving on to Automobili Lamborghini, we supplied exceptional “marine engines” to some teams taking part in the Offshore World Championship Class 1: 12 cylinders and 8000 cc displacement. Mounted in pairs on the competition hulls, these consumed 1000 litres of petrol for the race alone.

In its road version, the iconic 80’s LM002 off-road vehicle had two large tanks incorporated into the rear seat frame. The version developed to take part in the Rally of Greece, the Rallye des Pharaons and the Paris-Dakar had even higher consumption. We also made a racing version of the Diablo, and that increased consumption even further. The SVR allowed around thirty more or less expert drivers to race on international race tracks for the first time.

At the start of the inaugural race on the Le Mans circuit, the over 20,000 total horsepower of the thirty Diablos, with open exhaust, caused the stands packed with fans and spectators to tremble.

In addition, the chairman of the Lamborghini Club Japan had also developed some powerful racing versions of the Diablo, which competed in the Japanese championships for many years.

Sometimes I think that if today siphoned off the fuel consumed in all the races, as well as all that consumed by the thousands of owners of the supercars I designed, it would fill a mountain lake!

I must say that in the early 2000s, perhaps to make amends, I began to design electric, hybrid and bimodal vehicles, including a full-electric hypercar with really innovative technical solutions for its time. So, I think that I am qualified to express a technical and emotional opinion on the difference between petrol-powered and electric supercars.

As mentioned above, pure “speedholics” shouldn’t worry, as the technical and emotional difference is really not that great: in terms of speed and acceleration, the electric models are already far superior. With the developments in batteries, which are increasingly lighter, the road holding and handling will improve too. So the driving pleasure will remain.

The main difference in electric cars is the lack of that fantastic and electrifying (sic!) sound of a nice twelve-cylinder engine, with open exhaust, at 10,000 rpm. A sound that exceeds all other - rather ungratifying - noises generated by a car, which in an electric car can clearly be heard. I refer to everything that is generated by the indispensable mechanical components, the braking system, the air conditioning, the aerodynamic features, the rolling tyres and so on.

Somebody will certainly have thought of installing a sound system to simulate the sound of a combustion engine, someone else will have thought of replacing the roar of the engine with hard-rock music or a nice romance sung by my fellow citizen Pavarotti...

However, in future a problem could arise. Electric supercars and hypercars are moving quickly from analogue to digital, and ironically, will become more and more like four-wheel “smartphones”. Consequently, they will become obsolete very quickly.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Countach, and its lucky owners can still enjoy driving on normal roads. I wonder how many of the splendid hypercars being designed today will still be allowed on the roads in fifty years’ time? The example of smartphones and many electronic devices is not comforting. Let’s hope that the manufacturers and international bodies will immediately take steps to prevent electric supercars from being relegated to splendid museum artefacts.


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