From tractors to supercars: Lamborghini celebrates 60 years of track and field

BY Ian Lamming

31st May 2023 Motoring

From tractors to supercars: Lamborghini celebrates 60 years of track and field

Lamborghini celebrates its diamond anniversary with the launch of another jewel in inimitable style with the breaking of a world record and the unveiling of its latest hypercar

Three-hundred-and-eighty-two snarling Lamborghinis stretch from pole position on the grid at Silverstone as far as the eye can see—the physical embodiment of the history of the marque. 

Unveiled to the world amid crashing music, stroboscopic lights and smoke is the Italian manufacturer’s latest hypercar, the Revuelto—a £550,000, 6.5 litre, V12 hybrid; or as the management like to describe it, “a spaceship”. 

But on the first row of the world-record breaking cavalcade—the most Lamborghinis ever to be brought together for a parade—is where it all began: a bright green, beautifully preserved Miura. It may have been made in the 1960s, but a similar car sold for £3.5 million, such is the power of this historic brand. 

Lamborghini’s humble origins

Ironically, a name so firmly associated over the past 60 years with exclusive sports cars began life as a tractor manufacturer. 

Father of the brand Ferruccio Lamborghini was born in 1916, to viticulturists Antonio and Evelina Lamborghini, in Renazzo di Cento, in the Province of Ferrara, Northern Italy

Ferruccio Lamborghini - Lamborghini 60th anniversary

Ferruccio Lamborghini © AUDI AG

As a young man, Lamborghini was drawn more to machinery than farming and he studied at the Fratelli Taddia technical institute near Bologna. In 1940 he was drafted into the Italian Royal Air Force to be a mechanic at the garrison on the island of Rhodes, becoming the supervisor of the vehicle maintenance unit. 

After the Second World War, Lamborghini opened a garage in Pieve di Cento. He modified an old Fiat Topolino and in his spare time made tractors. He transformed the popular city car into a sprightly 750cc open-top two-seater which he entered in the 1948 Mille Miglia road race, his efforts coming to an abrupt end after 680 miles when he ran the car into the side of a restaurant in the town of Fiano, near Turin.

"As a young man, Lamborghini was drawn more to machinery than farming"

His mechanical know-how led him firmly into tractor manufacturing in 1948, when he founded Lamborghini Trattori, using reconfigured surplus military machines, near Bologna. A serial entrepreneur, he later expanded into other ventures and in 1959 opened an oil burner factory, Lamborghini Bruciatori, and later manufactured air conditioning equipment, consequently becoming very rich.

Folklore claims he used some of his wealth to purchase fast, expensive cars including Alfa Romeos and Lancias during the early 1950s. At one point he had enough cars to use a different one every day of the week.

From Ferraris to Lamborghini

In 1958, Lamborghini travelled to Maranello to buy a Ferrari 250 GT and went on to own several more over the years. While he thought Ferraris were good, he considered them too noisy and unrefined to be suited to the road. 

He also claimed Ferraris of the day were equipped with sub-standard clutches, which required continual trips to Maranello for rebuilds and he was unhappy with the company’s after-sales service. But when Lamborghini brought his misgivings to Enzo Ferrari’s attention, he was given short shrift. 

Legend has it that after successfully modifying one of his personally-owned Ferrari 250 GTs to outperform stock models, Lamborghini was inspired to pursue an automobile manufacturing venture of his own.

Automobili Lamborghini and the inspiration of the bull

He established Automobili Lamborghini in 1963 in Sant’Agata Bolognese, debuting the first car, the Lamborghini 350 GTV, a two-seater coupe with a V12 engine.

The company’s logo featured a bull, a reference to Lamborghini’s zodiac sign, Taurus, and his farming heritage. Various models were given names related to bulls or bullfighting, including the first sports car, the Miura, named after fighting bulls breeder Don Eduardo Miura. The mid-engine sports car gained Lamborghini an international following among car enthusiasts for prestige, cutting-edge design.

Lamborghinis - Lamborghini 60th anniversary

Charlie Magee Photography

Lamborghini’s fascination with bullfighting became a key part of the sports car company’s identity.

After producing just two cars with alphanumeric designations, Lamborghini turned to the bull for inspiration.

The Islero was named after the bull that killed the famed bullfighter Manolete in 1947. Espada is the Spanish word for sword, sometimes used to refer to the bullfighter himself. The Jarama was named after the historic bullfighting region in Spain.

"Lamborghini’s fascination with bullfighting became a key part of the sports car company’s identity"

After naming the Urraco after a bull breed, in 1974 Lamborghini broke from tradition, naming the Countach after “contacc”, a Piedmontese exclamation of astonishment.

But the Jalpa of 1982 was named after a bull breed and the Diablo was after the Duke of Veragua’s ferocious bull, famous for fighting an epic battle in Madrid in 1869. 

Even after Lamborghini’s death the tradition was maintained: Murciélago was the legendary bull who survived a fight in 1879; Gallardo was named after one of the five ancestral castes of the Spanish fighting bull breed; and Reventón was the bull that defeated young Mexican torero Félix Guzmán in 1943. The replacement for the Murcielago, the Aventador was named after a bull that was bred by the sons of Don Celestino Cuadri Vides. 

Financial difficulties

During the 1970s, Lamborghini's companies began to run into financial difficulties. In 1971, the tractor business ran into trouble when its South African importer cancelled all its orders. In Bolivia, the new military government, which had recently staged a successful coup d'état, cancelled a large order of tractors that was being prepared for shipment in Genoa.

In 1972, Lamborghini sold his entire holding in the tractor company to rival builder SAME and the entire Lamborghini group soon found itself in financial trouble.

Lamborghinis - Lamborghini 60th anniversary

Charlie Magee Photography

Research and development at the car maker slowed as costs were cut back. Lamborghini began seeking buyers for Automobili, eventually selling more than half his interests to a friend, relinquishing control of the company he founded.

The 1973 oil crisis hit sales of high-performance cars generally, as consumers switched to more practical modes of transport with better fuel economy. By 1974, Lamborghini had become completely disenchanted with his car business, selling his remaining stake.

Ferruccio Lamborghini’s later years and death

In 1974, Lamborghini retired to his estate on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, in Castiglione del Lago, Umbria, where he produced his own wines.

He died in 1993 aged 76, at Silvestrini Hospital, in Perugia, after suffering a heart attack and is buried at the cemetery of Renazzo.

Automobili Lamborghini changed hands several times and in the late 1990s it was down to German car maker Volkswagen-Audi Group to take the bull by the horns. 

Lamborghini’s 60th anniversary, Revuelto and the future

The Lamborghini tradition continues with the launch, at the 60th anniversary event, of the firm’s first ever plug-in hybrid hypercar, the Revuelto, again named after a famous Spanish fighting bull.

"The firm’s first ever plug-in hybrid hypercar is named after a famous Spanish fighting bull"

Revuelto is Lamborghini’s biggest project of recent years with everything designed from scratch, celebrating the mighty V12 and the monocoque chassis but with electrification making it more relevant to the future.

According to Lamborghini’s current CEO Stephan Winkelmann the company is in “the best shape ever”, with record turnover, profits and deliveries. They are sold out of all models for this year and next—a fact that would have made its creator very proud. 

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