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When I Met Ferruccio Lamborghini

Called to manage the design of the Lamborghini, I felt the need to meet Ferruccio. That was the only way I could absorb that authentic spirit of the cars from Sant’Agata, and find out about the secret of their founder: the obsession for speed.

Photos courtesy of Luigi Marmiroli Archive

United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

It was January 1985 when Mimran brothers, shareholders in Lamborghini at that time, called me to Sant’Agata Bolognese offering me a job as technical director of the company which, under their jurisdiction, had been renamed “Nuova Automobili Lamborghini”. Eleven years earlier, in a moment of economic difficulty due mainly to Lamborghini Trattori, the founder Ferruccio had sold off shares in his car manufacturing business.

Thereafter, he gave it all up, never looked back and retired to a large estate called “La Fiorita”, in Panicale, in the province of Perugia, a lovely little place near Lake Trasimeno. After so many years, the aura of his persona in any case continued to be felt in Sant’Agata Bolognese. His memory remains in the models designed under his management, still in production, as well as the historical cars that came to the company for servicing.

Questioned by me, the skilled engineers, workers and managers spoke of him with enthusiasm and warm sentiment. A notice still hung on the wall by the final station on the assembly lines, a message he had put there to encourage quality in everyone’s work. It read: “The next test will be done by the customer.”

So I decided to go and visit Ferruccio, to understand the spirit that drove him to create those splendid cars, which I had both the honour and the duty to continue designing.

And so, one sunny Easter Monday afternoon, I turned up at “La Fiorita” pretending to want to buy a few bottles of his wine, advertised on the billboards along the roads nearby. Of course, I didn't tell him who I was, not only a new employee of his old business but also an ex-Ferrari engineer from Maranello. I knew the whole story of his row with Commendatore Ferrari. Legend has it that, due to a poorly working clutch mounted on Ferruccio’s own “Prancing Horse”, Ferrari told him he would do better to think about his tractors. At that point, Ferruccio challenged him, saying that he could build much better cars if he wanted to. However the story actually went, Ferruccio really couldn’t stand Ferrari’s arrogance towards him.

As Easter Monday is a bank holiday, Ferruccio was on his own at La Fiorita and was more than happy to have someone to chat to. He invited me into the kitchen and offered me a glass of wine. He seemed very proud of his farming origins. He told me how, when he came back from the war, he started to spend time in the ARAR camps (which sold off war materials confiscated from the enemy or war surplus supplies, TN) where the military vehicles abandoned not only by the Germans but also the Allies were stored. He wanted to start building tractors. I told him that, like many farmers from Emilia, my father-in-law had also built a strange self-propelled vehicle using the same components, which he named after the first Lamborghini tractor, “Carioca”.

When I got him talking about cars, his already bright eyes lit up even more. He too was a real “Speedholic”!

Indeed, and rightly so, he immediately boasted that his cars were the most beautiful and fastest in the world. Ironically, he said they should be fined for speeding even when they were parked in a car park.

I instantly realised that this was the first principle of his philosophy that I absolutely had to take on board. What he wanted was for his cars, with their unique, aggressive style, their technology and performance, to stand out against all the other more famous sports car brands of the era. This was the second principle.

When he took me to see his garage where, in addition to some of his tractors, on show there were a white Countach and a Miura, he gave the impression that he still owned the company in Sant’Agata. Of course, this wasn’t true, but it was hard for him to admit it. The pride of all he had done in the car world had led him, charmingly, to call the wine he made “Sangue di Miura” (“blood of Miura”).

So, the third principle was pride: the pride of belonging to Lamborghini, the pride of designing and building cars that transmitted the glory and thrills of the brand. I left “La Fiorita” with my bottles of wine, which I almost left behind, so pleased for having met a man who was as simple as he was brilliant.

As I write these notes, I look through fresh eyes at the painting hanging on the wall opposite. It is dedicated to Ferruccio, from a great friend of his, and now a good friend of mine, Giorgio Gnesda. The drawing is done with great virtuosity, using just a biro. This painting technique is in fact known as “Hyperrealism Ballpoint Pen Drawing”. In a single glance, the painting sums up the life of Ferruccio Lamborghini, who we can certainly place amongst the highest ranks of the automobile stars of the 20th century.


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