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Lamborghini Countach (1974 - 1990)

Last updated 11 August 2013

 
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Lamborghini Countach LP500 Quattrovalvole

The Lamborghini Countach. Ah yes, the ultimate poster car from the 1970s and '80s. We've all dreamed of owning one at some point, but the question - as with all classics - is whether the reality ever measures up to the dream. Well, first thing's first - yes it does. But only if you take your time, ease yourself in, and remember that when driving Sant'Agata's iconic supercar, you need to make certain allowances.

Of course, your first encounter will be a lingering one. How can it not? The styling - one of Gandini's finest efforts - is so arresting, and the proportions so perfect, that it would seem that every mid-engined V12 Lamborghini that's subsequently emerged from Sant'Agata is a more modern incarnation of it. The low nose, rising haunches, and of course, those scissor doors are not just defining features - they're near-narcotic eye candy. You're drawn in - you want to drive... and drive... and drive.

Although it's easy to get swept away by the romanticism of a trans-European bash in a Countach, there are certain realities to consider first. You need familiarity for comfort, so seeking out the fuel filler, mastering the switchgear and finding the bonnet are just as important is reaching for the loud pedal and grabbing hold of the gear stick.As it happens, they're all largely conventional, aside from the fuel flap, which is hidden in the NACA duct.

Then there's the small matter of climbing in. It's an undignified process unless you’re elegantly slim: and in the end, most Anglo-Saxons will end up dropping into the single-piece driving seat after manoeuvring around the scissor doors and massive side sill. Once you’re in, it's a snug fit, in the leather driving seat, semi-reclined, peering through the panoramic windscreen.

To start, you turn on the ignition, prime the fuel pumps for 15 seconds or so, dab the throttle, and turn the starter. Like all Countaches, it breathes through Weber carburettors, so is never a smooth starter in the way a more modern fuel injected set-up would be. The V12 coughs into life, but catches nicely once you blip it - and what an intoxicating noise that is! The end of the crankshaft is about three inches from the back of your head, and it's loud, but never anything other than musical, even at idle.

Setting off, your first impressions will be dominated by the heavy steering. The delightful fat-rimmed 'wheel does its best to make allowances, but the truth is that if you live anywhere where you need to regularly manoeuvre the Countach, consider buying an EPAS conversion. Or buy the early skinny tyred LP400. But the steering is heavy to the point of distraction, and changing gear also demands a physical effort, just like the foot controls, which require considerably more effort than the brake pedal on your average family saloon. In short, the Countach is not a car for the slight of build.

But the good news is that once underway, you soon learn to live with the heft of the controls. It’s a very capable motorway cruiser, which probably comes about because the engine is behind you, and all the nasty NVH exits through the rear, and not via the passenger compartment. But let's face it - motorway cruising isn't what this car is about, even when you don't take into consideration all of the attention it attracts.

Niceties include its excellent directional stability, and long fuel range - thanks to its massive 126-litre fuel capacity. Bad points are the shocking visibility on the road as well as parking. The rear view mirrors are a joke, and the over-the-shoulder blindspot is considerable - a real consideration when you have a car full of youngsters pointing cameraphones alongside.

But forget that. The Countach is all about performance, so here's the bit that matters. The QV punches out 455bhp, and it is still a very, very fast car in modern terms. 0-100mph comes up in 11 seconds, and a wingless example will knock on the door of 190mph. On a derestricted autobahn, flooring the throttle at 80mph in third gear has a surprisingly savage effect - the nose rises markedly, yet the car feels so planted that it inspires massive confidence. The engine sings to 7000rpm and 140mph, and there are gearchanges left. Through fourth and into fifth, and it feels capable of going forever.

The downside is singular, though. The brakes. The Countach might still have crushing straight-line pace, but it brakes like a 1980s car. Without a servo.

Handling on B-roads is just as inspiring. Find a twisty road and really start pushing fot fun. Out of dogleg first for that hairpin and into second, and you'll enjoy huge reserves of traction and instant pick-up. The brave will go for a drift, but the rest of us will be happy to enjoy the point and shoot aspect of this car. All the time, this action is accompanied by a charismatic, deep-chested induction roar. From 4500rpm the V12 bellows all the way to the natural change-up point at 7200. 

The lack of roll makes threading the Countach through sweeping corners a real joy. It's a wide car, and visibility isn't great, but the sharp steering and planted nature of its suspension set-up will allow you to place it perfectly on the road. Most road testers would talk about understeer and oversteer, but the reality is a story of grip, nerve, and knowing where the limits are. And on the right tyres, those are still very high to this day.

And that's the point of the Countach - forget your adolescent dreams and the attention it receives from all and sundry, it is still a very fast, tactile, wild looking supercar. It's desirable to the point of lust, and after years of being in the image doldrums, the Countach is now gaining value rapidly as well-heeled enthusiasts gain a true measure of its abilities. After all, the Miura long since departed for the stratosphere, so the Countach is now also on its way. Of course, classic cars aren't merely about values and propping up your portfolios, but they're also about making you feel good. And few cars come close to making you feel as special as a Countach.

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