Famous Lamborghini Test Driver Bob Wallace Passed Away
An icon in automotive history has passed away on Thursday, September 19. 2013 … the man with the ‘best job in the world’ between 1963 to 1975, Bob Wallace was the Chief Test driver at Automobili Lamborghini SpA for 12 years … his apprentice was none other than Valentino Balboni by the way, who would stay with Lamborghini for more than 40 years.
Bob Wallace was born in New Zealand, Auckland to be exact, on October 4. 1938 … growing up he became fascinated by cars and how he could modify and tune them into race cars, in 1960 he left New Zealand together with John Ohlson who was also involved in the Hot Rod scene together with Bob.
Bob Wallace first came to the United Kingdom where he worked for Lotus for a while before he moved to Italy in 1960 to work for Camoradi on lightweight Corvette and some Maserati Birdcage, later that year Bob Wallace ended up with Ferrari working as the lead mechanic for Phil Hills that won the F1 championship with a 1.5 liter car.
The 1960 and 1961 Nürnburgring 1000 km races were dominated by a Maserati Birdcage driven by American pilot Casner … with Bob Wallace as Chief Mechanic being responsible for keeping the Maserati in the lead during these grueling races … in 1963 Bob Wallace felt it was time to expand his horizon once again … Ferrari wanted to have him back working for their team, but a brand new factory being erected in Sant’Agata drew his attention…
Bob Wallace was one of the pioneers at Automobili Lamborghini SpA, the factory was just being finished, the most modern equipment available was installed to start building high end GT cars, Ferruccio Lamborghini just showed the 350 GTV prototype to the public and now had to get a production car ready to be sold. Initially Bob Wallace would be a mechanic at Lamborghini, in his own words ‘a troubleshooter’ … he actually helped to evolve the Bizzarrini developed V12 into a GT engine, Bob even built some of the first Lamborghini 350GT production cars in the early Sixties.
How Bob went from mechanic to test driver at Lamborghini is a weird story … according to Wallace himself it just happened one day, before working at Lamborghini he gained a lot of experience by taking race cars onto the track to make sure they were perfectly tuned … Bob never got any actual race experience … but as Bob puts it : ‘there just wasn’t anyone else for the job at Lamborghini back then’, so he became Chief Test Driver … his experience quickly made him the perfect guy to evaluate prototypes during high speed stints … on public roads.
Before Bob realized it he had four people working under him performing test drives on development prototypes … after Bob did the initial road testing himself to make sure these cars weren’t death traps … these first years were ‘quite interesting’ according to Bob. He would take a prototype car into the night to avoid being photographed and really push it to the limits before returning to the factory grounds and make an evaluation of what the car could do, what needed to be changed…
Once the initial road test was done a typical ‘day at the job’ for Bob Wallace would start as early as 5:30 and ended around 3pm in the afternoon after taking the Lamborghini car being tested that day to just about every corner of Italy … reaching speeds on the Autostrada up to 170 mph, sometimes following the track of the famous Mille Miglia or taking the car onto the Misano or Variano race track for some really high speed testing.
After Bob returned with the test car he had to go through a ‘debrief’ with the design office about the issues he found on the Lamborghini during his day … it kept him busy most of the time … but Bob Wallace still had some spare time left during the evenings and in the weekends … which he spent at the factory too.
Bob Wallace was in a very enviable position back in the Sixties and Seventies … Ferruccio Lamborghini gave him carte blanche to use the most modern equipment found in an automotive factory at that time … and full access to the parts bin at Lamborghini, so Bob wasn’t only responsible for development of some famous models like the Islero, Espada, Jarama and the breathtaking Miura … but he also built three absolutely stunning one-off Bulls.
Bob Wallace worked as a team together with Gian Paolo Dallara and Paolo Stanzani to create the car that would turn the Lamborghini Raging Bull make into an household name when it came to hyper exotic cars … their avid enthusiasm culminated in the creation of the 1966 Lamborghini Miura … the closest thing to a street legal race car the world ever saw back in the Sixties.
But when I say Jota I just know I grabbed your attention … everybody that has some interest in cars knows I’m talking about one of the most famous Lamborghini ever built … the one and only 1970 Lamborghini Miura Jota (or Iota as it is also called) has been built by Bob Wallace. Sadly after this unique cars was sold to an Italian enthusiast it was caught in an accident and completely lost … fortunately many years later an almost identical recreation was put together by an UK owner … and once again Bob Wallace helped in the build.
Back to the late Sixties with another one of those great stories only Bob Wallace was able to experience: ‘the legendary Miura test drive by José Rosinski for French magazine SportAuto, José came to the factory to drive the Miura … but after his first drive he returned a bit disappointed reaching a top speed of ‘only’ 288 Km/h (179mph) … Bob Wallace told him to come back the next day. Which José did, took out the Miura again … little did he know Bob Wallace had the original engine replaced with a different, more potent one. During the drive a gust of wind caused the front of the Miura to lift into the air … this experience made José never speak to Wallace again.’
Naturally being a test driver involves countless accidents and parts braking down, during the V8 development Bob Wallace would wreck five engines in less than 5,000 miles, which didn’t make the development department very happy … but he managed to really make them tear their hair out later on: ‘The end-of-the-world prototype Countach engine, which exploded, reducing itself to scrap metal while I’m driving flat out on the Autostrada. All I could do was to slow the car down enough to release the seat belt and get out of it, leaving it burning.’
The 5-Liter prototype engine was tried and tested on the dyno, the design office ensured it was perfect, pumping out a massive amount of power … and still Bob managed to wreck it within 30 minutes of ‘real life driving’ on a public road.
Still some of the more high speed test driving on the Countach prototype were conducted either on Fiat’s private stretch of Autostrada or on the race track in Dallara’s home town … Bob just stopped at the Dallara home and got the key to the gates … and spent hours in private behind the wheel of one of the most iconic Lamborghini ever … the Countach.
Bob Wallace was able to build two more race inspired light weight Lamborghini while working at the factory, the special Jarama ‘BOB’ finished in bright orange featured massive air vents on the engine cover, a totally stripped interior, full roll-over cage … and sliding side windows. The final Bob Special was based on the V8 Urraco … Bob managed to get hold of an early production prototype, removed a lot of weight from it, installed massively wide rear wheels on it, a big, deep front spoiler and later on a high rear wing … today this V8 is believed to be located in Japan.
According to Bob Wallace things turned for the bad from 1971 on, the Miura made the Lamborghini name famous all over the world and Ferruccio Lamborghini halted production of the Miura SV to put the Countach in production, but that would take more time than he intended … while some of the early team were leaving … Dallara left in 1968 after Ferruccio himself seemed to have lost interest in his car company.
Stanzani became factory manager while Dallara wanted to go racing … that would never happen any time soon back in the late Sixties so Dallardo left … by 1973 Ferruccio Lamborghini withdrew completely … he sold Automobili Lamborghini SpA when it was still making money, the factory made a profit since the Miura was introduced … with the development of an entry level V8 model things turned sour quickly.
The new owners didn’t have the required funding for a complete development program, also keep in mind the V8 Urraco was intended to be built at very high numbers, totally unseen at Sant’Agata back then … the entire project backfired seriously and things only got worse.
Bob Wallace left Automobili Lamborghini SpA in 1975 after he took on Valentino Balboni (who started back in 1967 as a mechanic at the factory too) as an apprentice … Balboni continued as a test driver at the factory, became Chief Test driver later on … and after 40 years of working at Sant’Agata Valentino Balboni has become perhaps even more of a legend than Bob Wallace … in the end Balboni had a team of 20 drivers working under him.
In 1975 Bob Wallace and his wife Anna returned to New Zealand … but after three months got so bored he packed up again and moved to the United States, Phoenix Arizona to be exact where he started working for an exotic car repair shop … until he set up shop himself … Bob Wallace Cars accepts Lamborghini and Ferrari from all over the States into his meticulously maintained shop.
Sadly both Bob and his wife were caught in a serious car accident in 1977, a serious head injury inflicted by the violent side impact would eventually lead to Anna’s death 21 years later, his brother Charlie would visit Bob’s shop on a regular basis … the shop actually housed a test frame on wheels where rebuilt engines would be tested on … using little to no silencers the sound would be deafening when he tested a V12 engine.
Bob Wallace has always been ‘married to the automobile’ … his passing away at the age of almost 75 came as a shock to the automotive world … a legend among car enthusiasts … a big part of the history of Lamborghini … he will be missed by many … but will remain a legend forever.