A BULLISH MOVE

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By Stuart Grant with Mike Schmucker behind the lens

An Arancio Orange 1968 Lamborghini Miura P400 powers over a viaduct and up an Italian mountain pass. The driver, cigarette in hand, sports sideburns and snazzy sunglasses; it’s clear he’s the king of the road. As the backing music fades away, the Miura enters a tunnel and we experience the symphony of the 12-cylinder in all its glory… but then, with a loud bang and a great ball of flames, it all comes to a shocking and abrupt end. A bulldozer pushes the now-mangled Miura off the cliff. The mafia boss, casually crushing the stylish sunglasses under his foot, proceeds to dramatically hurl a wreath over the edge into the churning water below, while his underlings look on solemnly. Any car nut worth his (or her) salt knows that this describes the opening scene of the 1969 blockbuster The Italian Job. Though the example in the movie met a watery end, the Lamborghini Miura has endured as an icon in the motoring world.

Lamborghini’s Miura, arguably the most beautiful car in the world, needs no real introduction but in order to reinforce just how influential it was in the development of the supercar genre, we have to take a brief look into this.

Ferruccio Lamborghini, an Italian tractor maker and manufacturing giant, founded Lamborghini in 1963 with the somewhat spiteful intent of delivering more refined gran tourers than those on offer from Ferrari. Supposedly Lamborghini had criticised a Ferrari and offered some improvement suggestions, only to be told by Enzo himself to stick to making tractors as he knew nothing about cars. True or not, Lamborghini set about building high-end touring cars, and kept to the age-old GT tradition of a front-engined 12-cylinder layout with models such as the 350GT. Three years in, this engine position thought process changed dramatically and Lambo revolutionised the game with the arrival of the first mid-engined production car. Sure, racing cars like the Matra Djet, Porsche 550 Spyder, Ford GT40 and De Tomaso Vallelunga had made use of a similar layout, but these weren’t considered production items. Added to this, the new Lambo P400 (‘P’ for ‘Posteriore’referring to the engine sitting ‘post’ the cockpit and ‘400’ referring to the capacity in litres) changed it up by mounting the motor transversely rather than longitudinally.

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Believing that it would detract from the firm’s focus and cost too much, Mr Lamborghini was said to be against the idea of a mid-mounted car initially but his lead engineers Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani and Bob Wallace soldiered on in their own time. A prototype chassis with a 4-litre 12-cylinder sitting mid-ship was shown at the 1965 Turin Motor Show. Without even a hint of body styling shown and with many onlookers thinking Lamborghini were building a racer, orders for the P400 rolled in.  

Against his prior concerns, Ferruccio gave the go-ahead – even if just to use the new design as a powerful marketing tool. The name Miura, borrowed from a famed Spanish fighting bull, was attached to the P400 and set a bull naming convention for the firm that continues to this day.

Bertone was brought in to clothe the beast, and with 27-year-old Marcello Gandini leading the way, created not only a functional piece of sheet metal but also an achingly beautiful bit of artwork. The body was fitted to the chassis just days before its unveiling at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show but the time constraints meant that no one had checked whether or not the engine would fit under the rear bodywork. The solution was not to mount the engine but rather to fit a few bags of ballast and lock the lid. The Miura proved the star of the show and thoughts of only making a handful were banished when orders rolled in. Production kicked off and the first car was delivered on 29 December 1966 to Lambocar, the Milan dealership.

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Power came from the Lamborghini 3.9-litre V12 engine as used in the 400GT. This was no slouch, having been spearheaded by Giotto Bizzarrini, the development engineer behind the Ferrari 250 GTO. Ferruccio had hired Bizzarrini before Lamborghini existed as a firm, with the intention of building his own V12. The lump was a winner; a high-revving masterpiece suitable for any racing application. This riled Lamborghini though, as he wanted to build sophisticated road cars and not race winners. Bizzarrini left to build his own machines but Gian Paolo Dallara and his team worked with the V12, turning it sideways and fitting a transversely-mounted five-speed manual gearbox underneath (the engine and gearbox cast together and sharing oil like an early Mini) which allowed for a reasonably spacious cabin and low body line with short overhangs. Good for 350 horses, the P400 sprinted to 60 miles per hour in 7 seconds and on to a top speed of 171mph, making it the fastest road car of the period.

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It wasn’t all rosy though, with customers complaining of aerodynamic lift at speed and poor handling thanks to too much chassis flex. To combat the flex, thicker gauge steel (1.0mm instead of 0.9mm) was used to construct the chassis on the later P400 – often called the Series 2. This carried through to the new Miura P400S, launched at the Turin Motor Show in November 1968. This model also featured electric windows, chrome headlight and window trim, and an overhead inline console with fresh rocker switches. If you dropped some extra loot you could even spec it with aircon. Power output was bumped up 20hp thanks to larger intake manifolds and camshaft re-profiling, which helped to drop the zero to 60 down to 5.5 seconds and the top speed up to 177mph. Lamborghini 140 P400S cars were made between 1968 and ’70, making them the rarest of the range.

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Not that the following generation Miura, the P400SV, was made in huge numbers either, with records showing 148 built between 1971 and ’73. Evolution is a good thing and the SV, or Spinto Veloce, is widely regarded as the best of the Miuras. The main visual differences included the removal of the headlight ‘eyelashes’, the rear wheels changed from 7- to 9-inch wide and arches widened to cover these. The taillights were revised, as was the front bumper and indicator arrangement.   

Under the skin, the rear lower suspension was changed from an inverted A-arm with a trailing link to regular A-arm, extra cooling ducts were added to the chassis and the last 96 SVs saw the engine and gearbox oil sump separated – not only meaning the correct oil could be used in each but also removing the risk of metal shavings from the gearbox ending up in the engine and blocking lubrication galleries. The three carbs were changed from Weber 40IDL3C to the 40IDL3L, which with altered cam timing upped the oomph to 385hp.

The last P400SV, and therefore Miura, was sold on 15 January to the son of Ferdinando Innocenti (another car builder) and the Lamborghini Countach (another Gandini/Bertone design) took over the raging bull mantle.

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But back to our Miura from The Italian Job. Filmed in June 1968 and sporting black windscreen surrounds, it is a P400 and not a P400S. It would most likely have been a second-series version as the steering wheel is leather-clad and not a woodrim. Two were used in the making of the film – one a brand-new one delivered by Lamborghini to the film location. The second, also supplied by Lambo, was in fact a genuine Miura and not a dummy. But rest a little easier knowing that it was already accident-damaged before being tossed down the cliff and into the river.

The whereabouts of the crashed car are not known. It disappeared from the set without a trace; when the production team went to salvage the remains the day after shooting it was nowhere to be found and the theory is that a local saw the action and removed or stole the debris. The intact car, or what is believed to be the intact car, surfaced in 2015 following decades of hiding, initially identified by the white interior – only one Arancio with white upholstery was ordered in 1968. It turns out that the filmmakers, Paramount, hired the car from Lamborghini and following filming it was sold to a dealer, who then sold it on to an unidentified buyer. It changed hands a few times until, in 2005, luxury yacht maker Norberto Ferretti purchased it.

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By coincidence, Ferretti was the son of the dealer who is said to have originally bought it from Lamborghini after filming. In December 2014, lifelong Miura fan and classic car dealer Iain Tyrrell received a tip-off at Christmas that the ultimate Miura had resurfaced. Initially sceptical, Tyrrell pursued the lead and had a meeting in a Paris basement with just three hours to verify the car was the actual thing. Focusing on certain quirks within the interior of the car, such as the trim and the stitching that can’t be replaced, Tyrrell was convinced of its authenticity and did the deal. With experts having now scrutinised the car and the movie stills thoroughly, it is widely regarded as being the real deal.

Our pictured Miura P400 also has a twisted tale and spent years off the radar. One of just a handful that have graced our shores, it suffered heavy damage years back when an upset wife thought the best punishment for her husband would be to harm his Lamborghini. She ordered a truck loaded with around 6 000 bricks to reverse up to the supercar icon and dump its load. The story goes that the truck driver felt some sort of pain and at the last minute pulled the truck forward. Not far enough, as the full load landed on the nose of the car.

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The car was partially dismantled and ended up at a Randburg dealership from where current owner Peter Bailey purchased it in 2003. A rebuild that was supposed to take a few months turned into a 17-year ordeal of patience and ingenuity. Although just 37 000km showed on the clock, the engine needed a full rebuild and numerous irreplaceable parts were missing. It ended up with the right man though as Bailey not only owns another complete and original Miura P400S to use as a reference but also designs and builds bespoke racing cars and restores classics for a living. This means that when he needed the Lambo’s ‘eyelashes’, his engineer son Greg could measure up the original car’s items, draw them in a CAD programme and have them cut.

It wasn’t always plain sailing as the handmade nature of the Miura meant that a new factory bonnet didn’t have the exact same aperture profile around the lights, so once lashes were made, that had to be fine-tuned to fit just right. The list of local content replacement parts is impressive. Try a full engine rebuild including making up new cylinder sleeves, not to mention the gearbox internals, gear-linkage cables and pop-up light mechanisms, and finding a solution to the missing clutch – the guys at Norbrake identified a Ford Granada unit as the closest thing and made it work. Oh yes, someone with magnesium-working skills had to be found to repair the beautiful Campagnolo wheels. Bottom line is that restoring a Miura is not like doing something on a Porsche 911. Parts are not readily available and shared across makes or models (perhaps the only shared item being the Fiat 850 Sport doorknobs).

Bailey first painted it red but then in a wise move went back to the orange that the car left the factory with in 1970. Now shining with confidence and fully operational, it is a testament to local skills and allows us to enjoy the shape that set the supercar trend that continues today.

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SOUTH AFRICAN-ASSEMBLED LAMBORGHINIS?

With the oil/fuel crisis in full swing and the world suffering severe economic recession, the period of the mid-1970s was not the ideal time for luxury and supercar manufacture and sales. Lamborghini felt the pressure and the firm’s ownership changed three times after 1973, including a bankruptcy in 1978. It was during this period that South Africa stuck its nose into the mix as a Lamborghini assembler and even made a bid to buy the Italian brand. Cape Town-based Intermotormakers (IMM), headed by architect Gerrie Steenkamp, was initially set up by the holding company Interplan Investments with the intention of moving into the world of industrial design. Research indicated a gap in the market for a locally built sports car, but instead of mucking about wasting time developing the skills needed with a costly new design, IMM purchased the rights to assemble Lamborghini and Lotus cars just outside Cape Town from 1976.

Lamborghini models that left the line included the Espada, Urraco and Countach and the SA quality of build was said to be so good in comparison with Italian offerings that international buyers started requesting South African-made cars.

This is not the most surprising angle to the South African story though. These honours go to the idea of Interplan combining with another backer to buy the floundering Lamborghini operation outright and move the entire brand to our shores. For whatever reason, the deal fell through at the last minute and IMM were dealt a further blow when the South African government pulled the concession it had granted for exemption from the Local Content Programme.

In August 1979, IMM dropped the Lambo assembly operation. Although no longer in the spotlight, Steenkamp continued with the sports car theme, designing a VW Golf GTi-based mid-engine sports car known as the Caracal.

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