Lamborghini built sports cars to exact revenge on Ferrari

A 1971 Lamborghini Miura is displayed. (March 12,

A 1971 Lamborghini Miura is displayed. (March 12, 1997) (Credit: AP)

The importance of listening to your customers can not be overstated. Many cases in which I get retained arise out of the fact that a shop owner thought that they knew what a customer wanted, and therefore did not pay attention to what the customer actually said. Whenever I get involved in one of these cases, I can’t help but think of the story of Ferruccio and Enzo.

In the late 1950s Ferruccio Lamborghini built tractors. Enzo Ferrari built racecars. Some of these race cars were thinly disguised as road cars and sold to the public. Lamborghini had become very wealthy building tractors, which offered him the opportunity to own some of the finest performance cars of the era, including Alfa Romeos, Jaguars, Maseratis, and of course, Ferraris.

Lamborghini thoroughly enjoyed the performance of the road going Ferraris, but he did not like much else about them, including the poor ride, spartan interiors, constant need for service, or the substandard way in which he perceived the service to be performed. In other words, everything that made a Ferrari, well, a Ferrari. His main complaint was that Ferraris’ clutches were inferior, which required constant trips to the factory in Maranello for replacement.

As a builder of tractors, Lamborghini knew more than just a little bit about clutches, so he decided to approach Enzo about the problem. But Ferrari, whose distaste for his customers was already legendary, rudely dismissed him. Ferrari viewed his customers as a necessary evil. He knew that he needed them to buy his cars, but he felt that they were buying them for the prestige, not the performance, and this did not please him.

Lamborghini was not used to being summarily brushed off. After all, he had started out poor and had become a successful, wealthy industrialist, who just coincidentally built a product that also had an engine, clutch and drive-train.

Driven by anger, he decided to modify his own 1958 Ferrari 250GT into the vehicle that he wanted, but felt Ferrari could not or would not build. The modifications worked so well that it gave Lamborghini the idea that he should start building his own high-performance Grand Touring car. I suspect that the idea of revenge also played some role. As an added bonus, Lamborghini realized that many of the components that were already being used in his tractors could also be used in his cars, saving on development time and yielding higher profits.

Lamborghini believed that his cars should pick up where Ferrari left off. He felt that a Grand Tourer should have high performance, excellent ride quality and superior interior appointments. Most importantly, it should not be a repurposed racecar that was constantly in need of service.

Automobili Lamborghini was incorporated on October 30, 1963. Work began in a 500,000-square-foot facility that Lamborghini purchased at Via Modena 12, in the town of Sant'Agata Bolognese. This was practically Ferrari’s backyard. Coincidence? I think not.

Lamborghini’s first car, the 350GTV, was designed and built in only four months. He initially hired designer Giotto Bizzarrini, of Ferrari fame, to build his engine; and his chassis designer was Gian Paolo Dallara, also of Ferrari. But when the car debuted at the 1963 Turin Motor Show as the 350GT, it did so without an engine. Lamborghini had fired Bizzarrini because the engine design was too similar to Ferrari’s racing engines, and Lamborghini had wanted an engine designed purely for road use. By the time the car went into production it included a detuned version of Bizzarrini’s engine. The completed car was introduced at the 1964 Geneva Motor Show and received positive press reviews for its refinement, power and comfort. Each one of the 13 cars produced that year was deliberately sold at a loss so as to take sales away from Ferrari. Remember what I said about revenge?

Over the next two years Lamborghini sold about 130 350GTs, considered at that time to be a great success. The 350GT was followed by the 400GT, and the 400GT 2+2. But what came next would make the name Lamborghini no less than legendary in the world of exotic cars.

In March of 1966 the completed Lamborghini Miura debuted at the Geneva Auto Show, and things have never been the same. The car was stunningly beautiful yet aggressive. But more importantly the engine was transversely mounted, something that up until then had only been seen in Formula 1 racecars. Ferrari could not help but take notice.

Ferruchio Lamborghini named the Miura after the famous Spanish line of fighting bulls that would go on to become the company’s logo. Ferrari only had a horse. More irony? Today the company remains one of the preeminent builders of exotic Italian sports cars. I can’t help but wonder how different things might have been if Ferrari had just changed Lamborghini’s clutch.  

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