Ferruccio vs. Ferrari:
Ferruccio Lamborghini already had two factories in Italy, one producing tractors and the other air conditioners, when he decided to take on Enzo Ferrari in the automotive realm. Lamborghini felt that Ferrari's cars were too Spartan, too noisy, and too close to the track cars. He wanted to build performance cars with interior refinements that equaled the technology of the engine. In 1963, Lamborghini started production on his dream cars, with the 350 GTV making its debut at the Turin auto show that year.
The Miura Makes Its Mark:
In 1965, auto designers drew up a car called the P400, with a rear-mounted engine and radical, sweeping chassis design. They presented it to Ferruccio Lamborghini expecting a quick no. What they got was a tentative yes, and with help from design firm Bertone, the Lamborghini Miura was born in 1966. Though he never revealed why he named his supercar after a line of renowned fighting bulls, Ferruccio was born in April 1916 under the sign of Taurus. He had, after all, used the fighting bull symbol for years in all his enterprises.
Ferruccio's Dream Comes True in the Espada:
According to Lamborghini: 40 Years, by David Jolliffe with Tony Willard, Ferruccio Lamborghini wanted "to build GT cars without defects--quite normal, conventional, but perfect." With 1968's Bertone-designed Lamborghini Espada 400 GT, he achieved this benchmark. It was a big hit over the next decade, with more than 1200 built at Sant'Agata in its decade of production. While driving enthusiasts appreciated the Espada, the brightly painted Lamborghini Miuras were as popular with wealthy playboys of the 60s as brightly painted Gallardos are with hip-hop stars today.
In 1970, New Zealand race driver Bob Wallace worked to lure Lamborghini into racing by modifying his own Miura S. He rebuilt the suspension, reduced the weight, and added spoilers to increase downforce, then welded and glued tubes and bent sheet metal to improve the car's rigidity for racing. When Wallace was done, the car weighed under 2000 pounds and raced from 0-62 in 3.6 seconds. Ferruccio turned Wallace's race proposal down and sold the prototype Lamborghini Miura Jota to an Italian enthusiast. The new owner completely wrecked the car--the only Jota ever built--within hours of taking delivery.
Selling Out in the Seventies:
Despite leaving the the 1971 Geneva show with armloads of orders for the new Lamborghini Countach, which debuted there as a prototype, Lamborghini was suffering the same economic crunch as the rest of the world. Gas prices were rising, there was a recession on, and parts were hard to come by. Ferruccio sold a majority of his shares to wealthy Swiss car enthusiast Georges-Henri Rossetti in 1972, and the rest of his shares to his friend Rene Leimer in 1973. Lamborghini Automobili continued on, but without its founder.
The rest of the 1970s didn't pan out very well for Lamborghini. The gas crises intensified, high-powered sports cars fell out of favor. The U.S. upped its safety requirements and made its tests more rigorous. Lamborghini tried to partner with both BMW and Mobility Technology International, an American company, but both deals fell through. Rossetti suffered from agoraphobia and rarely left his house, leaving the company in Leimer's inexperienced hands. By 1980, the Countach 400S was the only model produced in Sant'Agata. The company was running on fumes.
The French Save the Day!:
Lamborghini fell into receivership and was sold in 1980 to French brothers Patrick and Jean-Claude Mimran. Their first move--and it was a smart one--was to hire legendary engineer Alfieri, who had worked at Maserati. In 1981, when the newly reformed company made its appearance at Geneva, it had the restyled Countach and Miura plus the new Jalpa on display. Under the Mimrans, Lamborghini produced the off-road LMA series and the Lamborghini Countach Quattrovalvole. But by 1986, the year the LMA trucks finally saw production, the Mimarans wanted out.
Enter Lee Iaccoca:
In 1987, Chrysler, with Lee Iaccoca at its helm, bought Lamborghini for $33 million--$30 million more than the Mimrans had paid in 1980. That year, Chrysler reversed the legacy of Ferruccio Lamborghini and entered Lamborghini engines in Formula 1 racing, but the effort was abandoned by the early 1990s. Chrysler promised to increase production by 20%, build new production lines and a paint shop, and more. Instead, in 1994, it suddenly sold Lamborghini. The one good thing to come out of the partnership was the introduction of the Lamborghini Diablo in 1990.
The Modern Millenium:
Now owned by Indonesian investors, Lambo struggled for traction in the marketplace. Luckily, in 1998, Audi stepped in and bought Lamborghini. With an infusion of cash and a shared appreciation for technological innovations, the partnership produced the Lamborghini Murcielago in 2001. In 2003, the "baby Lamborghini," the Gallardo, debuted at Geneva. When the company reached its 40th anniversary in 2003, it had produced a mere 8,082 cars, not including prototypes. But by June 2010, the Gallardo was the most successful Lambo ever, with 10,000 cars produced.