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The history of Automobili Lamborghini SpA

The history of Automobili Lamborghini SpA

By Mark Smeyers on September 1. 2015 in LamboNEWS.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was a self-made millionaire, he made fortune by building tractors from army surplus left behind by the Allied Forces back in 1945 when World War II came to an end. He started this business from a small garage but soon was able to move to larger buildings because demand for his very powerful tractors rose.

He also started manufacturing oil burners and air-conditioning systems after his tractor plant started making lots of money, it turned out his second business also made big money so Ferruccio Lamborghini became one the wealthiest men in Italy. He could afford just about everything he wanted, including high speed GT cars like the Mercedes SL300 and a Ferrari he owned alongside the Jaguar he liked very much.

But his Ferrari started giving problems with the clutch, the local workshop couldn't fix this problem so Ferruccio decided to drive to Modena and confront Enzo Ferrari himself. Enzo, who was known for his arrogance, told this 'farmer' to take a walk, Ferruccio was furious and at that moment decided to show Enzo how he should build GT cars.

Of course this is a legend, and the truth about it could be a little different, it was obvious that Ferruccio had lots of money to spare and the GT car market was still open for new things, money could still be made by building high speed, well finished cars, so it is more likely this persuaded Lamborghini to start his own company.

The founding of Automobili Lamborghini SpA

The Automobili Lamborghini factory

Automobili Lamborghini SpA was founded in early 1963, Ferruccio bought a green-field site of 90,000 square meters in Sant'Agata, Bologna and construction work on this brand new, state of the art car factory started immediately. The buildings were erected in only eight months. This was a very modern factory using lots of open spaces and glass everywhere, but buildings like this cost money, about 500,000,000 Lire was needed to make Ferruccio's dream come true. The entire factory was surrounded by a road and in front of the main office building a nice garden was made. The large glass hall welcomed visitors and Ferruccio's own office was located right at the front of the central building.

A car factory needs people, so Sig. Ferruccio Lamborghini started looking for the top men in the business and was able to recruit Giotto Bizzarrini after he'd left Ferrari, to design and build a V-12 for Lamborghini. The engine was finished soon and was able to pump out about 400 Bhp at 11,000 rpm, but Ferruccio wanted a GT car and not a race car, so the engine was detuned to 'only' 280 Bhp at 7,000 rpm. Bizzarrini was made very clearly that there was no way he could make a race car for Lamborghini so he decided to leave again very soon after the final tests were completed.

By that time two members were added to the technical team at Sant'Agata, Giampaolo Dallara and Giampaolo Stanzani joined Ferruccio, and in early 1964 Ubaldo Sgarzi started working for the new Automobili Lamborghini SpA company. Ubaldo would remain at the firm for many years to come, and lasted even through the very rough times that were to come in the seventies.

Ferruccio had a fabulous team of engineers surrounding him to create his dream car, but a car has to be road tested so he made an offer to Bob Wallace he couldn't refuse. Bob Wallace became chief test driver for Lamborghini, he already had an extensive experience with racing both Ferrari and Maserati after he moved to Italy from his origins in New Zealand.

The original Lamborghini 350GT

The Lamborghini 350 GTV prototype was shown to the public on the 1963 Turin Auto Show, it was however not built in the new Lamborghini factory, because the tooling equipment wasn't delivered yet, so Ferruccio decided to finish this car in a secluded section inside his tractor plant in Cento di Ferrara. By 1964 the first 350 GT production cars were able to be completed in the new Lamborghini plant, Touring supplied the bodywork, the chassis and the engine were mounted together with the leather interior at Sant'Agata.

The future of Automobili Lamborghini SpA looked very bright during the sixties, the 350 GT was succeeded by the 400 GT and the 400 GT 2+2, which received a gearbox built in-house, later on the 1968 Islero and 1970 Jarama were developed to succeed the original 400GT design, but the best move Ferruccio allowed his engineers to take was the design and construction of the Lamborghini Miura in 1966. The 350 GT and 400 GT 2+2 made the Lamborghini name known throughout the world, but the Miura made it legendary, the name alone made people dream of supercars and road-ready race cars ... even 40 years later the Miura is still considered a masterpiece.

The legendary Lamborghini Miura SV

The Countach was shown in 1971 as the successor of the Miura, at the same time as the ultimate evolution of the Miura was unveiled, the SV would become the most sought after Miura ever, but back in 1971 it was totally overshadowed by the innovative Countach prototype.

Together with the 1968 Espada that had evolved into the Espada Series II by 1970, the Countach would keep the company alive through some very troublesome times, with the futuristic Countach, Lamborghini managed to build an extreme looking car that was usable on the road, this car made the name Lamborghini enter automotive history. Even if by some strange way, Automobili Lamborghini SpA was to disappear from the market, the name would remain known in history as one of the most extreme Italian car builders ever.

In 1970 another milestone in the history of Lamborghini was shown, after building some of the most extreme super cars ever and very luxurious V12 Grand Tourer Ferruccio decided it was time to offer his customers something totally different ... the Urraco P250 V8 was created, Ferruccio even expanded the original factory by 500 square meters to create an additional assembly line, after being shown at the 1970 Turin Auto Show the orders for this new V8 quickly followed.

The first problems started in 1971, when Lamborghini Trattrice received a major setback with a massive order for tractors being cancelled, Ferruccio lost a lot of money over this issue, he already upgraded the tractor factory to be able to build the numbers required and bought most of the raw materials needed to do so. His personal fortune was still large, but in 1972 he decided it was time to sell the tractor factory to SAME, who eventually was taken over by Fiat years later ... do note Lamborghini tractors are still being built today.

The Rosetti / Leimer period

During the early Seventies, Automobili Lamborghini Spa was producing the Miura, in 1970 they even built 400 cars in Sant'Agata, the factory was making money for the first time in ten years, and it was becoming very attractive to possible buyers. Ferruccio lost interest in doing business after his tractor factory got into trouble and subsequently sold a controlling interest of Automobili Lamborghini SpA to Georges-Henri Rossetti, a Swiss industrialist, in 1972 for a rumored $600,000.

Ferruccio stated he would still remain at the factory to run it, but the oil-crisis of 1973 made things even worse for Ferruccio and his passion dwindled further, soon after this he sold the remaining 49% of his shares to Rene Leimer, another Swiss resident. From this day on, Automobili Lamborghini SpA had nothing to do with her founder anymore, fortunately the new owners did keep the name, and they didn't have the bad idea of changing it.

Rossetti and Leimer couldn't get the glorious times back at Lamborghini, even with the Countach LP400 selling at a steady pace ... the problem was the money to pay for materials needed to build the car, some buyers had to wait two years before they would receive their car, and more often than not their cars would be used on shows all over Europe before it would be delivered to the dealer. EmilianAuto in Bologna and Achilli Motors in Milan, two major Lamborghini dealers actually paid the Countach ordered by them in advance, just to ensure getting one finished for their customers.

By 1974 the Jarama was no longer being produced and the Urraco grew to a 3 liter V8 model, but sales were low, and a boost was required, so Lamborghini asked Bertone to create a new model based on the Urraco ... the Silhouette would be shown at the 1976 Geneva Show, the first production car from Sant'Agata with a removable top.

A bright moment came in 1976 when Automobili Lamborghini SpA managed to get the building contract for the new BMW M1, a mid-engine road car that was ultimately designed for Group 5 racing. But they used the funds received from BMW to design and build the Cheetah, a car that looked promising for military use but didn't live up to the expectations. By then it was too late to save the BMW M1 project and the German car manufacturer took his business back to Germany where Baur would produce the M1.

Automobili Lamborghini SpA is declared bankrupt

By now things looked really bad and Rossetti and Leimer tried to sell the factory again, sadly it didn't work out and during 1978, Automobili Lamborghini SpA was officially declared bankrupt by the Italian court. In 1978 the company was run by Dr Alessandro Artese, appointed by the courts to try and get the famous raging bull back on its feet to be able to pay their suppliers. In the meantime he also tried to find a capable buyer for this company of artisans, the Lamborghini car factory made Italy famous again just like Ferrari did, so it was very important to keep it from going under.

By 1978 the Lamborghini Espada was no longer being built, the Urraco production was halted too and in 1979 the Silhouette, after only 52 units was abandoned too, Dr Artese attracted Giulio Alfieri, a former technical director from Maserati to manage the Countach LP400 S project and to get the a new V8 model into production.

The innovative Countach S

During 1979 the company was led by Raymond Noima and Hubert Hahne, the latter also being the importer for Lamborghini in Germany, at that time Automobili Lamborghini SpA was converting Fiat 127's into an off-road version, just to stay afloat and to keep the artisan people from leaving or being laid off.

The world famous race team owner Walter Wolf came into the picture, his personal custom made Countach was a great way to try out new things, and eventually would lead into the production of the Countach LP400 S back in 1978. But Mr Wolf also tried to buy the company in early 1980, for some reason his offer was declined, the Italian court decided against it.

On February 28th, 1980 the receiver Giorgio Mirone and the commissioner Artese decided to wind up the factory, nothing else could be done ... they offered the factory back to Sig. Ferruccio Lamborghini for a rather small amount of money, but he refused, something he would most likely regret afterward.

The Mimran reign

The Swiss based Mimran brothers were able to save the factory, although at first they were only allowed to manage it as a test of their capabilities. In July 1980 Patrick Mimran, the youngest of the two brothers entered the factory after his 'financial value' was verified to be 'unlimited' by his Swiss bank. The name was changed into Nuova Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini SpA, and Patrick Mimran, although he was very young to be a manager did get Lamborghini back to where it belongs, at the top of the exotic car market.

Mr Mimran was smart enough to keep Giulio Alfieri and Ubaldo Sgarzi at their current positions, Angelo Morandi was able to salvage the company, after he completed this difficult task he left and was succeeded by Emil Novarro who was already working for the Franco-Swiss family, he was put at the helm of Nuova Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini SpA. Under his management the company continued to develop the Countach, first into the LP500 S in 1982 and later on the impressive 1985 QuattroValvole, it is therefore save to say the Countach kept the company alive once again.

In 1984 Patrick Mimran was finally allowed to buy the factory for 3,850,000,000 Lire, about 3 million US dollars at the 1984 exchange rates. The ill-fated Cheetah was further developed into the LM004 and LM002 in 1986, the latter being sold to the public and some Middle-Eastern armies, and last but not least the 1981 Jalpa became a relative success under the Mimran management. Patrick Mimran even ordered a Spider version to be designed on the Jalpa chassis, but this 1987 prototype, which was actually built, never made it into production.

During the late Eighties, several developments of the Countach were made under direct supervision of both Patrick Mimran and Giulio Alfieri. The 1987 Countach Evolution was developed by none other than Horacio Pagani when he worked for the Lamborghini Composites Department, that same year the L150 Restyling prototype was built, the former was destroyed in a crash test while the latter is currently located in Japan. It was deemed the Countach lasted long enough by now and something new was needed, work on Project 132 began in 1987, it was again to be designed by Marcello Gandini, a gray painted fully drivable prototype was constructed long before Chrysler arrived.

Chrysler takes over

The Nuova Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini SpA was making money again, but suddenly on April 23rd 1987 Lee Iacocca, president of Crysler Corporation, announced he bought the Sant'Agata company from Patrick Mimran for $25,000,000. Why Mr Mimran decided to sell the company remains unknown but he couldn't have chosen a better time, the supercar market was at the top and the Countach was selling very well in the United States and prices for exotic cars were booming at that time, second hand cars costing even more than their new counterparts. At this time it wasn't unusual to get about $ 10,000,000 US for a Ferrari 250 GTO, an amount which soon dropped after Japanese investors lost interest in these exotics but would rise again later on.

Chrysler changed the name back to Automobili Lamborghini SpA but kept the winning team together, Emil Novarro stayed at his position, together with Daniele Audetto, Liugi Marmiroli, Gianfranco Venturelli and naturally Ubaldo Sgarzi who were allowed to keep managing the Italian factory. Public Relations was headed by Sandro Munari, when he joined Lamborghini he already was a world famous rally driver and multiple world champion, a cash injection of $50,000,000 was made by Chrysler to modernize the factory.

The first car to emerge from this purchase was the 'Portofino', although this car was entirely built in the United States, it never even entered the Sant'Agatha factory. Before the 'Project 132' was ready to go into production the Countach received a final update, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Automobili Lamborghini SpA, the Countach 25th Anniversario was build. Intended to be a limited production car at first, the orders began pouring in, and Chrysler decided to keep it in production until the successor was ready, the 25th Anniversary became one of the most successful Countach types ever.

Chrysler decided to halt production of the Jalpa in 1988 and the LM002 was being built in larger numbers than ever, this massive off-road racer hybrid was becoming a very hot commodity in the States, a head turner completely without competition. During the Chrysler ownership Lamborghini also started to build Formula One engines, Mauro Forghieri created a V12 3.5 liter engine to comply with regulations, but by 1990 the F1 era for Lamborghini came to and end when the Modena F1 Team had to withdraw.

The 1990 Lamborghini Diablo

Lee Iacocca didn't like the Gandini design for the P132 and decided it had to be redesigned by his own American based designers, still the Italian management was able to get him to compromise between the Gandini design and the US designs, so in the end Marcello Gandini did put his signature on the most drivable Lamborghini since the Espada, the 1990 Diablo.

In 1990 sales of the Diablo boomed, and Automobili Lamborghini SpA once again showed a profit in the books, that same year a new distribution network was set up in the United States and by 1993 the Lamborghini Diablo VT was unveiled, the 'Viscous Traction' four-wheel drive system would become standard fitment on all flagship Lamborghini models from that moment on.

Lamborghini goes to Far-Eastern owners

Chrysler decided to sell Automobili Lamborghini SpA after it became obvious to them the management of a small Italian supercar manufacturer was in no way comparable to that of a mass-producer like Chrysler, in 1993 only 215 cars would leave the factory doors in Sant'Agata.

A fairly unknown group of three Far-Eastern companies bought Lamborghini for a rumored amount of 35,000,000,000 Lire (about $40,000,000), after the paperwork was finished on January 21st 1994, Ubaldo Sgarzi decided to leave the company. Megatech, the biggest of the three received 28243 shares, while Sedtco and V'Power both got only 3530 shares each. The new owners immediately fired the foreign managers put in place by Chrysler, even Tim Adams was laid off, while he probably was the best man for the job of president, but he was replaced by Indrajit Sardjono. These three companies were in fact all part of the same holding owned by Tommy Suharto and Setjawan Djody.

April 1994 marked the inauguration of a new president for the company, Michael J. Kimberly, former top manager for Lotus and Jaguar was attracted by the Indonesian owner to keep Automobili Lamborghini SpA at the top of the supercar market, one of his first decisions was to evaluate a plan to put the LM002 back in production after it was halted in 1992 ... however the LM002 would never return.

By June 1994 the first units of the special Diablo SE30, a model created to mark the 30th anniversary of the company in 1993, were being delivered, while in 1995 the Diablo SV and Diablo VT Roadster were introduced, the long awaited open top version of the Diablo became an immediate success and sales for the United States started to boom, the US based subsidiary of Automobili Lamborghini SpA was renamed to ALUSA, standing for Automobili Lamborghini United States of America, and was headed by Robert A. Bramer. But things started to worsen and the ALUSA encountered financial problems from the start, they were unable to pay their supplies from Italy.

Some problems became visible in Sant'Agata too, the 1995 Cala V10 prototype created by Giorgetto Giugiaro was frozen and Megatech sold all its shares to the other two, Mycom Sedtco got 22760 shares while V'Power received 34140 shares, this latter was now also owner of Vector Automotive, building the Vector M12 powered by the Lamborghini V12 from the Diablo.

The economic crisis started to hit the Indonesian owners hard and the much needed money for research on the Tipo 147 just wasn't available. The management tried to boost car sales with the Diablo Trophy single-make championship in 1996 by creating a Diablo SVR. In August 1996, Vittorio Di Capua joined the Board of Directors, he almost immediately got into a dispute with Kimberley who resigned on November 12 leaving the position of Managing Director to Di Capua.

The 1996 Balance Sheet showed a 17 Billion Lira loss and to make things even worse, in 1997 the ALUSA ceased payment completely and already owed the cost of about 30 Diablo to Sant'Agata.
Di Capua decided to freeze all deliveries to their US branch, luckily during January 1998 Platinum Motors offered to buy the ALUSA stock both in the United States and in Italy. Under the 'Excellence' name they became the new official US importer for Automobili Lamborghini SpA.

By now Liugi Marmiroli, Gianfranco Venturelli and Sandro Munari had left Sant'Agata, Marmiroli's place was taken by Ceccarani and Alberto Armiroli became the new External Relations Manager. Di Capua decided Automobili Lamborghini SpA had to grow if they wanted to survive, and the successor to the Diablo had to be finished as soon as possible. But building the Tipo 147 turned out to be far more expensive than calculated and the money was really running out in the Far East so it started to look very bad for this small Italian exotic car manufacturer.

AUDI AG steps into the picture

Towards the end of 1997 Di Capua started negotiations with Audi AG for the use of their 4.2-Litre V-8 engine together with the Audi A8 Quattro four-wheel drive to be used in the new 'Baby Lambo' since developing an all-new V-10 engine seemed impossible at the time.

Suddenly in 1998 Ferdinand Piëch, top level manager at Audi AG, offered to buy Automobili Lamborghini SpA, Di Capua managed to convince the Indonesian owner to agree and on June 12, 1998 a 'letter of intent' was drawn up stressing both partners to close this deal as soon as possible.

On July 27th 1998 Audi AG became the single owner of all Automobili Lamborghini SpA shares, the necessary paperwork was finalized on August 4, ownership of this amazing Italian car builder was once again changed, this time for $110,000,000.

The entire Board of Director was replaced by managers from Audi AG on November 4, 1998 and in early 1999 the company was renamed to the Automobili Lamborghini Holding SpA, managed by Franz-Jozef Pfaefgen who was also president of Audi AG. The holding controlled three subsidiaries: Automobili Lamborghini SpA (the car factory) headed by Vittorio Di Capua, Motori Marini Lamborghini SpA (the world famous off shore powerboat engine builder) and Automobili Lamborghini Artimarca SpA (dealing with license and merchandising).

In June 1999 Giuseppe Greco became CEO of Automobili Lamborghini SpA, that same year the first major evolution of the Diablo was also introduced, now with fixed headlights and a more luxurious interior the Diablo 2wd was dropped as a production model, only the SV, VT and VT Roadster remained in production ... for one year.

In 2000 the Lamborghini Diablo VT 6.0 was introduced, arguably the best Diablo ever, and with the limited edition Diablo GT being the street legal version for the single-make championship now running the Diablo GT-R sales once again boomed to nearly 300 units in 2000 ... but everybody knew this would be the swansong for the aging Diablo.

The 2001 Lamborghini Murcielago 6.2

In 2001 the first new Lamborghini developed under German direction was unveiled to the public, the Lamborghini Murciélago would become the super car of the 21st century with never before seen production numbers at Sant'Agata ... in the end 4,099 Murciélago would be built, but Lamborghini knew they needed an additional model to generate sales and survive.

The 2003 Lamborghini Gallardo

In 2003 the completely new Lamborghini Gallardo V10 was introduced, ten years and many evolutions and special editions later it would have become the most successful Raging Bull ever with 14,022 units built. 2003 also marked the release of the Murcielago R-GT, a joint venture with renowned Reiter Engineering who created a pure bred race car for Lamborghini.

By 2004 the Murciélago Roadster is shown, designed by Luc Donckerwolke the Roadster was an innovation for Lamborghini, this wasn't a regular Coupé without a roof, this was a totally different car altogether ... and an instant success for Lamborghini. A year later, in 2005 the Gallardo would also lose her roof and become the Gallardo Spyder, while the position of CEO went to Stephan Winkelmann in January 2005 ... in 2015 he would still be CEO and director of Automobili Lamborghini SpA.

In 2006 the Murciélago received her first update, now called the LP640 and LP640 Roadster, the small details that have changed from the original 6.2 liter model to the new LP640 made her look even more impressive ... and if you look at the 2007 Reventon, which was in fact a limited edition based on the LP640, you know Lamborghini was on the right track now.

In 2007 the Gallardo gets a Superleggera version added to the lineup, a lightweight, race inspired version that quickly became a highly sought after model, by 2008 the Gallardo becomes the LP560-4, both in Coupé and Spyder form while 2009 marks the introduction of the most valued Murciélago ever ... the LP650-4 Super Veloce, a limited edition that would see only 185 units being sold in the end.

The Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 Roadster

2011 became a very important milestone for Automobili Lamborghini SpA ... replacing a V12 flagship isn't easy, and after 4,099 Murciélago the Aventador LP700-4 entered production ... a car that quickly became a reference among exotic car in a highly competitive market.

In 2013 the Aventador LP700-4 Roadster comes out as the new open top flagship for Lamborghini while the Aventador LP720-4 becomes a limited edition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company ... add three units of a $4,000,000 Veneno LP750-4 model that sold out immediately and we can all rest assured Automobili Lamborghini SpA continues to grow well into the future.

The 2014 Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4

The Gallardo was the most successful model ever for the Sant'Agata company, but after being in production for 10 years it was time for the Huracan LP610-4 to take over the V10 reigns in 2015 and keep Lamborghini building super cars for years to come.

Between 2015 and 2017 the factory in Sant'Agata is being enlarged to create an additional production line for ... the 2018 Urus, finally a successor for the LM002, with three models selling very well it seems Automobili Lamborghini SpA managed to survive her troubles and is better than ever right now.

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