A lot has been written about the Countach SS, a Lamborghini with a removable roof section making it the only available 'convertible' Raging Bull in the Eighties that was built by Al Mardikian, so it wasn't a factory built car to be honest, but it still looked really amazing anyway, do note that the factory officially stated removing the only steel panel on the tube chassis of the Countach, being the roof, wasn't a good idea, but Mardikian still persisted.
Some would argue this is a one-of-a-kind Lamborghini, but it isn't, there have been more than one built by Mardikian … how many you might ask ? We honestly don't know, and I'm almost sure only Al really knows, but at least three different ones have been documented both in writing and in photographs, two red ones and a blue over white leather one (we know a black one has been seen floating around in photos on the internet, but the black one was a re-spray of one of the red ones, while other sources argue there was only one car and it has been recently restored and offered for sale in France)
Anyway, the Countach SS is a very special and rare car, as mentioned earlier it was built in the United States based on a regular Countach, naturally the bodywork was heavily altered, some sources state this was done by Giacabone's Executive Coachcraft, to incorporate a Targa-style removable hard-top while they also cut the doors. When the roof was fitted the doors were complete, but when you removed the roof you could also remove the top section of the doors, making them much lower and no sills remained, completing the look of a true Spyder.
A nice touch, but I doubt there was room to fit the roof and the door sections somewhere inside the car, note that on the Ferrari 328GTS for instance the roof went behind the seats, but on a Countach the central tunnel is way too high to allow this. So a sudden rain shower could become an issue when driving this car in some countries, however as it was originally sold in the US I'm sure possible customers didn't see a problem leaving home without a roof on the car.
Rumor state that at least one of these Countach SS cars was sold to none other than Rod Stewart, that's right, the famous singer, who also owned two Miura, later bought a Diablo and more recently drove a dark red metallic Murciélago and a baby blue Gallardo Spyder, so he has a taste for fast Lamborghini. Also note this car that was once owned by Rod Stewart was a rhd version, while the two others where original lhd cars. A red over tan lhd model could have been built on chassis number 1120158 … it was used a lot for publicity reasons, at one point people even insinuated it was fitted with a twin turbo system, but I couldn't find any documentation on that statement.
This was the car that was acquired by Alpine Electronics, they installed some amazing audio and communications equipment into this very special car and used it for shows all over the United States. During the Alpine ownership the interior was fitted with red leather instead of the original tan shade … after Alpine turned attention to another show car the Countach SS went to Tim Meseke who used it as display car … he tried to have it registered for road use, but failed, Alpine bought it back and as far as I know the car went to Central America … years later it would surface again, now finished in Black.
But back to the Rod Stewart Countach SS, it sure was fast, rumor has it the car had chassis number 1120262, which would mean this was an original LP400 narrow 'periscope' body delivered in RHD form in mid-1977, however Mr. Stewart had it imported into the US where subsequently it was modified into an SS model.
In July 1980 I found a road test of the Countach SS where Mardikian claimed to have pulled out the original 4-Liter engine and completely rebuilt it, he also states to have increased the displacement to 4.4 Liters by reworking the top end with genuine Lamborghini parts, increasing horsepower to 510 Bhp at 8000 rpm and torque to 325 Lbs.Ft. at 5500 rpm, very impressive figures for a car like this without reverting to turbo charging the V12. A bold statement that was questioned several times by Lamborghini as they only ever built two 4.4-Liter engines as a test bed, one was totally destroyed in an accident and the second engine remained in their own prototype … no parts were ever readily available to increase displacement to 4.4 Liter, so how did Mardikian manage this ?
We don't know, and we don't question this either, the figures sure didn't lie : documents from that time mention an estimated top speed of no less than 205 mph (330 Km/h.), but this kind of performance came with a hefty price tag, $ 205,000 back in 1980 was a lot of money, even for a Lamborghini Countach SS, but that didn't frighten Rod Stewart apparently, as he was the first owner of a red over tan Countach SS, it is however unclear if this was a second car or the original car Mardikian intended to keep for himself … that's $1,000 per Mile if you think about it, by the way, did you know Al Mardikian once had plans to buy Automobili Lamborghini SpA ? That's right, when the Sant'Agata builder got into financial troubles in the early Eighties, Mardikian was playing with the idea of getting some investors together and buy the entire factory in one go ... this plan never materialized however.
Creating a convertible based on the Lamborghini Countach isn't as easy as it might seem, as the roof is an integral part of the tubular chassis, cutting it away is effectively cutting away an important section of the chassis itself, and without proper reinforcements the car would just 'bend' together the first pothole you hit with it. So the rather complicated tubular frame had to be strengthened, something Trend Imports Sales of Hermosa Beach Ca (Mardikian's import company specialized in importing Ferrari Boxer and Lamborghini Countach legally into the United States at that time) to accomplish, while they were at it they also modified the suspension as this initial car wasn't an S model yet, so it came with the narrow tires. Fitting that massive Pirelli P7 at 345mm on the rear axle did require a few substantial modifications to retain decent handling in this high performance car.
Naturally the original, narrow body of the Countach LP400 couldn't fit those massively wide rims (12x15 inch at the rear) Mardikian mounted, so he put wheel arch extensions on the car, but not like the factory would do from 1078 on, Mardikian had them completely molded into the bodywork, no black line between the bodywork and the arches … on the Countach SS it all looked completely integrated into each other, you love it or hate it to be honest.
The wheels were stupendously expensive magnesium Campagnolo units, similar to the ones used on the Bravo concept and later on the early Countach LP400S models, sometimes called Series 1 but also called the 'low-body' Countach, even the Silhouette and Jalpa used these wheels but not as wide as on the Countach S, finding these wheels today is very difficult and they are really expensive hence highly sought after.
There has been some confusion surrounding the Countach SS however. Recently a French based exotic car dealer (with a very good reputation in finding rare Lamborghini I must say) managed to locate the Rod Stewart car which many believed to have been lost over the years, we are talking about a custom made super car from the late Seventies that has been around for over 30 years now, so tracking its history isn't easy.
Apparently it was sold in the late Seventies to Rod Stewart, however Mardikian performed road testing of the Countach SS in July 1980 (with the same car or a second unit ?), later on Stewart's Countach SS was imported into the United Kingdom and received an R-registration (valid for cars registered between August 1976 and July 1977) where it remained until 2002 when it was sold to its second owner that had the engine and mechanics completely restored before it would go the Paris to be completely restored and offered for sale.
But I noticed a few inconsistencies in this car, for one I have red a road test of the original Mardikian car from July 1980 where I could clearly see the car being a 'periscope' model, however when we take a look at the images of the car that was offered for sale in France recently there isn't a 'periscope' roof anymore, the section just in front of the engine cover, the rear of the roof, is totally flush, apparently it was smooth out somewhere during its life to increase visibility through the small rear window … it can however be returned to its original shape if the owner would prefer this.
But that's not even all, the Mardikian car had a rear wing, after it was restored in France the rear wing wasn't mounted anymore, however fear not … it was still available when you bought the Countach SS, also the car was personalized over the years, when you look closely at the images from the Eighties the 'SS' was mounted at the right of the rear panel, next to the Countach script, when it arrived in France the double 'S' were mounted on the left, below the Lamborghini scripting, but after the extensive restoration they were back at the right were they belong.
Also note the turn signal covers just ahead of the pop-up headlights … on the original Mardikian Countach SS there weren't any covers mounted, the car offered in France did have them, which could mean the owner had to mount them for legal reasons, perhaps the Countach without these covers isn't street legal in France, do note that this car was completely restored in France, new paint on the outside, new leather on the inside complete with carpets and everything, along the way some items were changed, in some shots we see a red car with silver wheels and black side sills and a double 'S' next to the Bertone sign on the side, this was the state before the repaint … after the intensive restoration we see a completely red car with gold painted wheels and no more S's at the side …
They listed it as a Countach Spider with 375 Bhp, 1065 kg and a top speed of 315 km/h (195 mph), which isn't consistent with the figures Al Mardikian listed for his car, 510 Bhp, 1222 Kg and 330 Km/h (estimated), so it could mean that Mardikian was a bit too enthusiast about his car … the Rod Stewart car offered for sale in France did have all the paperwork that stated it was delivered to Mr Stewart and modified by Mardikian, invaluable for a correct value of this unique Lamborghini.
I have received images from an enthusiast in the US that was able to photograph a Mardikian Countach SS that was used by Alpine as a show car in 1986 registered on Kansas plates, again red on the outside, but over a dark red interior, so I don't think this is the original Mardikian car but a second unit … also I have seen images of a black Countach SS with a dark red interior, which makes me believe this is the Alpine demo car that has been repainted somewhere during its lifespan.
I honestly have no idea just how many replica's Mardikian actually built, so perhaps there are three different cars and the Rod Stewart car was in fact specifically built for him while Mardikian kept his original car, while the Alpine car was number two and Rod Stewart received a third, original Mardikian car after all ... still finding one will be a tough job, and probably a very expensive one too as these cars are very rare and difficult to locate, there wasn't a price listed with the car when it was for sale in France, but don't expect to get it cheap.
One of the rumors I heard from the person photographing the Alpine car in the mid-Eighties was this : Towards the end of the Alpine promotional campaign in 1986 they actually offered the car as a prize for anyone who would write a 25 word essay on what an Alpine stereo meant to them … the one with the best essay received the car !
This Alpine car was obviously an early 'periscope' model with the 'dent' in the roof, it featured silver wheels while the original Mardikian SS had gold painted ones, and naturally Alpine mounted the best they had for sale in this car. Massive amplifiers that took what little trunk space was available in a Countach, full sound system inside, Alpine's own security system and a cellular phone … as all this isn't listed for the Rod Stewart car I'm almost sure there are at least two Countach SS out there.
But there are others out there … in the January 1980 issue of Wheels we could read an article on another unique Countach located in Australia this time, owned by Paul Halstead who had it converted heavily too, as he was rather tall he had the runners removed underneath the seat, but that didn't quite cover it, so he also cut 3 inches into the floor and had a large, square sunroof installed … creating a kind of Targa-style Countach too, however he had it cut between the tubular section, so no need for extra reinforcements to the chassis.
As this was also a narrow body Countach he had wheel arch extensions mounted to cover his locally made Simmonds wheels (8.5 and 12 inch to the front and rear respectively) that covered special 305mm disks with Girlock Le Mans calipers … safe to say his Countach really stops when needed.
So the Mardikian built Countach SS is a very special Lamborghini, albeit not a factory built one, which might reflect on its value, for a true collector this car might not be too interesting, but as a standalone super car it is a very rare car nonetheless and I'm sure it would look very nice next to a standard Countach LP400S and a Quattrovalvole no matter how many were actually built.
The Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, first prototypes
(added on November 18. 2005)
January 19. 2012
Text © Mark Smeyers
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