Back in 1963 Ferruccio started investing in a brand new factory, just to create his ideal GT, but the very first Lamborghini car ever, the 350 GTV was actually designed and built in a small, secluded part of the tractor factory at Cento, because his Sant’Agata factory wasn’t completed yet and he didn’t want to waste any time to show the world what he could do.
The engine for his own car just had to be a V-12 of course, Ferruccio contracted Giotto Bizzarrini, who recently had left Ferrari after working on the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO, to design the Lamborghini V12, a base that would actually be used right up to the Murciélago many years later.
Ferruccio insisted that his new car couldn’t borrow it’s heart from any other manufacturer, it had to be an engine especially built for the car he was going to create. This beautiful engine first roared into life on Lamborghini’s new Schenk Dynamometer on May 15, 1963, the power output on these first tests was as high as 350 DIN (374 SAE) horsepower at 8000 rpm. However, Ferruccio didn’t want a highly tuned racing engine, but a smooth running GT car, so he insisted on lowering the output to ‘only’ 270 bhp at 6500 rpm for the 350 GT production car. Rumor stated that the engine was later even pushed further and delivered a higher hp value, mainly because it was said the exact payment to Bizzarrini would be based on the final output of his engine.
This wasn’t the performance Bizzarrini had in mind when he started working for Lamborghini, he was convinced he could take his new V12 engine over 400 hp at 11,000 rpm, but Ferruccio had no intention of building a race car, he couldn’t come to terms with Bizzarrini and the latter left the company to pursue his own ideas, years later a Lamborghini Miura engine would be used in the race inspired Bizzarrini P538 model. The departure of Giotto Bizzarrini left Dallara and Stanzani in charge of de-tuning the engine to the specifications Ferruccio wanted for his first Grand Turismo Veloce model.
Some early publications from Lamborghini stated the new GT would be the car sold to the public, and a special GT Veloce model would be available on special demand only. Ferruccio also requested his new engine to be able to run at least 70,000 Km before major overhaul work had to be performed on it, this was another reason the power output was lowered to a more ‘normal’ value, which didn’t stress the engine components as much either.
Many parts manufactured by ATS Microfusioni at Sasso Marconi were used on the new V12, the rough castings from ATS were shipped to Cento to be machined and assembled, but since there wasn’t enough time left before the official presentation only one engine would be completely finished. The gearbox was bought directly from ZF using a Fichtel & Sachs clutch, mounted to a differential from Salisburry, just because Ferruccio didn’t have time to design and built his own gearbox yet, he would do so later on actually.
Naturally, the engine was the most important part in this new car, but it still needed some other components too, like a chassis and a beautiful bodywork, Ferruccio wanted to impress people with his first car, so he had to get it right from the start.
The complicated square steel tube chassis used for the prototype was also designed by Bizzarrini and built by Neri & Bonacini of Modena, who actually made two slightly different chassis, one using box shaped tubes, while another one used light-weight round tubes, Ferruccio proudly proclaimed this would become the one used for the Veloce version of his new car, a version that would never be built as we would discover later on, but still he made an everlasting impression with this statement.
Franco Scaglione designed the 350 GTV under close supervision of Ferruccio himself, who nearly directed Franco towards the final design, Franco was a well known designer in the early Sixties and he was responsible for the styling of the famous Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint from 1954 and the wild Bertone Bat Alfa prototypes from the Fifties. The reason why Ferruccio selected Scaglione was another of those special stories from the early Sixties, Lamborghini explained his choice with this answer : “Well, in the early Sixties there was quite a number of designers and stylists to choose from. But Scaglione arrived at my place in a big shiny Mercedes, immaculately dressed and accompanied by a breathtakingly beautiful secretary. ‘Your car will be ready in a week’ he told me. So I gave him the job.”
This is just another indication of the kind of personality Ferruccio had, he was a very charismatic man who knew exactly what he wanted and how he could make people perform up to their limits when working for him. Scaglione didn’t have much to work on, he only received some vague chassis dimensions and various ideas from Ferruccio, but he never even got detailed engine measurements for this new car, so when the small Sargiotto Bodyworks of Turin actually built the car from nothing more than some profile drawings you have to give them credit for the difficult task they managed to perform, the special, rotating headlight treatment wasn’t even on the original design, they built it from scratch.
The dark blue leather upholstery found inside the prototype was created by an external upholsterer, again because Ferruccio’s factory just wasn’t ready to do the job yet, other than some careful assembling of the different components, not much was really build by Automobili Lamborghini SpA, not yet anyway.
The prototype was finished in a bright metallic blue shade and was presented to the gathered press at Sant’Agata on October 29th 1963. During this preview Ferruccio proudly showed his first attempt at the automotive market. The factory still wasn’t completely finished but this didn’t bother Ferruccio right now, he had another problem at hand, his awesome engine didn’t fit into the finished car.
The brand new 3.5 Liter engine was a real work of art, showing six dual throat Webers in a central position, truly a magnificent sight, but as usual this engine was surrounded by it’s own legend which stated that these extremely expensive carburetors used vertical air intakes, and after the engine was ready to be fitted into the finished car, they noticed it just wouldn’t fit underneath the sleek bonnet. A solution was found by displaying the engine next to the car and putting some boxes of heavy ceramic tiles underneath the hood to get the car level while being displayed to the critical journalists surrounding it on this first presentation. It is however very strange to find a photo of the car during the presentation at the factory, with the engine cover open and an engine in place … I wonder how they pulled that one off.
Probably it was just another nice legend that surrounded Lamborghini in those days.
The car itself featured a lot of chrome, neatly integrated into the overall design, even Ferruccio’s own signature was bolted onto the front and rear hood, combined with a stunning, chrome surrounded curved windshield and a very angular rear section, the 350 GTV looked refreshingly new when compared to other cars during the Sixties, a nice detail were the six exhaust pipes at the rear, three at each corner, which were even retained on some very early 350 GT production models.
The large rear window allowed a very good rearward vision, while the thin pillars didn’t really got in the way when seated behind the slim wooden steering wheel, outward visibility was extremely good, only the driving position was a little strange, the seats were rather hard and too close to the steering wheel to find a comfortable position, but these minor problems would be resolved before the first Lamborghini 350 GT was to be delivered to his lucky owner.
Ferruccio Lamborghini himself answered the many, sometimes difficult, questions from the members of the press, note that this very first prototype didn’t even have pedals or a windshield wiper installed, it was a true prototype. In fact the first chassis didn’t even have any mounts welded onto it to bolt the engine on when it would be installed, also the brakes weren’t connected and the impressive revolving headlights wouldn’t work either, but still, a few days after this initial presentation, the car was sent to the 1963 Turin Auto Show were it attracted a lot of attention … both good and bad reactions were received from the stunned public.
A fabulous looking engine was put next to the car on it’s own display and Ferruccio used a neat trick to create the impression of having a much larger stand; he mounted mirrors on the wall to create the illusion of having more than one car on display.
Some people just didn’t like the styling, while others really loved it, it was even rumored that Ferruccio Lamborghini actually received an order for his new car during the show, but the first Lamborghini model still needed a lot of work before it could be sold to the public, and Ferruccio decided his rather extreme design wasn’t right yet, he contacted Touring to redesign the Lamborghini and turn this one of a kind prototype into a true production car.
The unique Lamborghini with chassis number 3500GTV 0001 would later be restored by Romano Bernardoni, owner of EmilianAuto in Bologna, one of the major dealers for Automobili Lamborghini SpA in Italy, after the prototype had been stored for over 20 years inside, and outside the factory. The body itself would be restored by Autosport while the interior was taken care of by Paratelli. During this time the unique GTV had to be pushed around, and when space ran out inside the factory, they actually left the car subject to the weather for several years, on an uncovered section behind the factory next to several other ‘forgotten’ Lamborghini prototypes and test cars.
The original V12 engine was stored in a corner of the factory, where it later became hidden away from view by a large stock of automatic transmissions for the Espada model. The factory never had the budget nor the time to restore the car but still they didn’t want to sell it either, finally in 1985, during the Mimran reign, Romano and his cousin Stefano Pasini could convince Patrick Mimran to sell some of the older cars standing around, Bernardoni had to assure Patrick he would restore the car to its original state. None other than Stefano himself searched after the engine inside the factory … when he finally located it, both the car and the V12 were shipped to EmilianAuto.
It soon became clear that the remains weren’t in the greatest shape, and finding the correct parts wasn’t any easier … it took a lot of time and money to restore this one of a kind Lamborghini back to it’s original glory. Restoration of the bodywork was trusted to Dino and Giuliano Torelli, who were really lucky the curved front windshield and the large rear window were still intact, imagine the work needed to create this front windshield from scratch, they did have to rebuilt the side windows which would be made of Plexiglas, just like they were back in 1963. Because the engine was ‘forgotten’ for over 20 years, the outside didn’t look great, but when Ezio Ambrosini disassembled it, he was impressed by the state of the internal parts, the cylinders were still as shiny as when they were installed over a quarter of a century ago, and after careful inspection it could be rebuilt again, together with the transmission and differential, Gino Bernardoni was in charge of installing it into the chassis for the very first time after all those years.
Mounting the engine into the car didn’t even require any chassis alterations according to Stefano, the entire engine bay was designed to have a dry sump engine sitting low and back, but it did require some modifications to a 350 GT drive shaft … which was too long in the original form, having the engine so far back on the chassis also involved some cutting of the firewall. Apparently the pedals were never even fitted back in the Sixties, mounting these during the restoration was quite difficult..
The entire exhaust system had to be built from scratch, apparently it was never finished back in 1963, specialist Ansa Marmitte of Finale Emilia created the custom mufflers, the pipes ran underneath the door section of the car into the three small exhaust pipes at each side of the rear.
The complete array of dials was lost over the years, so these too had to be rebuilt from parts taken from a 350 GT production model, the only dial that couldn’t be rebuilt was an alarm clock that was mounted on the central console, other than that they managed to built all the units back into the dashboard and have them completely wired. Bernardoni even had a windshield wiper system from a 350 GT installed on the GTV, just to show his attention to detail.
It took four long years to rebuild the 350 GTV, on January 26. 1990, over 26 years after the very first public appearance and just a few days after the Diablo made it’s debut, the very first Lamborghini was started and was able to drive on it’s own power. The finished car was shown to Ferruccio himself, who appreciated the massive work that must have gone into restoring this unique piece of history, he even noticed his very own signature was back on the car, a feature that would never appear on any of the production cars built afterwards, note however that the original signature as seen on the 1963 photo’s was sadly lost over the years, so during the restoration they used a new, current signature from Ferruccio himself to recreate it.
The classic 350 GTV was now finished in a dark metallic green and received a new light-toned leather upholstery, one of the very few things not original about the interior was the steering wheel, a classic Lamborghini unit from a Jarama was used, the original three-spoke unit with the downward bend top spokes was lost during the long stay on the factory grounds. Note that this very rare prototype was now fully drivable and was even road tested by a car magazine in 1990, the test driver was rather impressed by the handling and performance of this very early Lamborghini, which was nearly 35 years old when it was road tested for the first time.
It is very interesting to note that this dark green color was actually tested on the car back in 1963, but Ferruccio didn’t like it and had the car repainted in the known blue metallic, some sources stated that two cars were built because some photo’s of the green car were made, also a rumor of a 400 GTV was created, we now know that there was only one real 350GTV partly built (she wasn’t finished back in 1963) and a wooden mock up of a prototype, the latter is on display in the Museo Ferruccio Lamborghini, maintained by Tonino and Fabio Lamborghini, I’ve been told the wooden mockup was in fact never meant to be finished as a car but only made to verify panel modifications.
The first actual road test unveiled the special character of this Lamborghini, especially the engine was a surprise, it became obvious that this was still a prototype engine, mainly because of the vertical carburetors, very high revs were needed to drive away with the car, anything below 2000 rpm would kill the engine and a fast depressing of the clutch would be needed to keep it running, any early attempts from the driver would result in several jerks of the car, only about 4000 rpm or more would pull the car from a standstill, subsequently making a lot of noise, the 350 GTV couldn’t be called silent in any aspect, the cockpit was constantly filled with a lot of engine noise and did become rather hot subsequently.
From the inside, the very nice leather seats and black upholstered dashboard looked ready to go into production, you wouldn’t say this was still an early prototype that really needed the skills from people like Bob Wallace to sort out the details like the hard rear suspension, the heavy clutch and difficult gear change. Being able to drive the 350 GTV on the open road after nearly 30 years made clear that the general idea and setup of this car was right from the start, only some fine tuning would be needed to create a production car from this prototype in a matter of weeks.
This priceless piece of Automobili Lamborghini SpA history was later acquired by Isao Noritake, president of the Japanese Lamborghini Owner’s Club, the car resided in the Noritake Collection until the renovation of the factory was finished, and this one of a kind Lamborghini was placed in the official factory museum, next to other cars like the Diablo Roadster prototype and the very last Countach made, also note that today the original steering wheel was installed, or at least a replica of it … making the legend complete again.
Later this unique piece of Lamborghini history was bought by Albert Spiess, a collector based in Switzerland who owns a large number of very special Lamborghini, among others the one of a kind Marzal and the custom built Lamborghini 5-95 Zagato. In early 2013 CNN asked collector car insurer Hagerty Insurance to put a value on the 1963 Lamborghini 350GTV … they came up with: ‘Est. Value: $3 million – $5 million’ … I guess this prototype might even be worth more today.