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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

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Countach: The Coolest Car in the World

Where do I even begin? How does one approach the topic of the Lamborghini Countach, that quintessential icon of 1980s culture, arguably the most ridiculous, eye-catching supercar ever made, the car which continues to define the Lamborghini brand to this day? I feel like Jordan Belfort staring down at the car from atop a brick staircase, knowing where I need to go but utterly unable to function normally in order to get there, terrified that what I remember as a slow, careful journey will turn out to have been a drug-induced train wreck after all.

The only place to start, then, must be at the beginning, which is to remind you why we’re here. A Lamborghini Countach LP5000 S was sold for just shy of £500,000 at auction last November, one of 18 supercars from an incredible assembly known as the Gran Turismo collection offered for sale that day. Stunned at the pedigree of this collection, I’m giving each vehicle a proper review, recalling the history of the model, discussing its impact on the modern day, and sharing the story of the specific example on-hand.

This brings us back to the Countach, one of only 1,983 models to be built from 1974 to 1990. That’s barely 100 cars a year! I’ll be hard pressed to cover it in so few words. Let’s begin with everyone’s first impression of the Countach: its looks.

Distracting the Bull

The Countach’s history reads like a who’s who of Lamborghini lore. Everyone involved in the Miura had a role to play here too, starting with the car’s legendary designer, Marcello Gandini from Bertone. As if the Miura had drawn all the curves from his pen, Gandini’s subsequent concepts (the Alfa Romeo Carabo in 1968 and Lancia Stratos Zero in 1970) were notably devoid of curves, defined by a wedge shape and a profound insistence on using straight lines in a way we wouldn’t see repeated until the Tesla Cybertruck. The Carabo, in particular, looks like it was drawn by someone to whom a Countach was described, but had never seen. In fact, iot was the first vehicle to use scissor doors. As the story goes, Gandini specifically intuited that opening the scissor door and sitting on the door sill would be the safest technique for reversing!

Working with only a Stanzani-spec’d chassis concept, Gandini prepared the design, which was then rapidly assembled for the 1971 Geneva Auto Show. With pop-up headlights and a completely flat windscreen, the prototype’s profile was pristine. Its interior supported the spaceship-esque exterior with aircraft-inspired warning lights, an on-board diagnostic system, and a periscope for reversing. As the world saw the scissor doors rise, onlooker’s jaws dropped. In fact, it’s one such reaction that gives the car its name.

You had probably assumed that Countach was a Spanish word for some badass bull, as has been the case for every named Lamborghini product from Miura to Revuelto. But remarkably, especially so for this most-definitive of Lambos, it isn’t. The origin of the word is in the Piedmontese dialect of the region surrounding Turin, in which the word for “plague” had adopted colloquial usage as an expression of admiration. The exclamation, “Contacc!” was often heard from one of Lamborghini’s workers, almost as a catchphrase. With this phrase often used in his presence, it was in the front Gandini’s mind, and he proposed it as a joke name in a late-night work session. Then Bob Wallace–the same Bob Wallace who parked a Miura outside Monaco’s Place du Casino as a marketing stunt–picked it up, repeated the name back in his New Zealand accent, and found that the name worked well on the ear. A junior engineer suggested sticking with it, and so it was that the Lamborghini Countach (known popularly on YouTube as the Lamborghini “Holy S***!”) was named.

Constant (R)Evolution

The name is appropriate. The local translation of “contacc” is quite often the first thing a car enthusiast would say upon sighting one in the wild, as I did when I saw three outside a tire shop in my college town. (It turns out, they were regulars, and I was absolutely spoiled on them.) Even today, it’s often said that at least half of the experience of the Countach is for the viewers, not the driver or passenger. The visual and aural theater of the completely ridiculous design has simply never been matched.

The iconic styling of the Countach was the result of several generations of modifications that maintained the same basic body design underneath. Gandini’s original was a near-flawless wedge, smooth and graceful, generally uninterrupted. But immediate problems with cooling arose, presenting the need for large intake boxes that sat on the side panels, like shoulder pads, by the time the car came to market.

Then Pirelli created the widest tires on the market, their 345/35R15 P7, whose 345 mm girth remains about as wide as any factory-fitted tire ever! Lambo had to have them, which meant the Countach had to change, introducing the signature Countach wheel arch extensions.

A Canadian by the name of Walter Wolf (of course his name was Walter Wolf), who owned a Formula One team and a Countach, insisted on putting a cartoonish wing on his car. He managed to convince the factory to make it an option. Its farcical proportions, which reduced the top speed by 10 mph is suspected to have reduced downforce, made it another indispensable piece of the Countach’s tacked-on puzzle.

Eventually, the engine’s carburetors would migrate to the top of the engine, creating a hump on the engine cover that blotted out at least half of what little rear visibility remained. Finally a 25th Anniversary Edition would cap off the run with Horacio Pagani-styled elements (yes, that Pagani, who would later start his own supercar company). With larger air box intakes and fin strakes that pull obvious cues from the much newer Ferrari Testarossa, some (apparently many of those who would dare buy one) feel this was somehow a step too far, and that the LP5000 QV which preceded it is a more desirable vehicle.

Nonetheless, with a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 183 mph, the final Countach was the best version of itself, with up to 449 horsepower and 369 lb-ft made by the carbureted 5.2L V12 engine within, making it the fastest and most powerful of all Countach iterations.

It fell short of one specific honor, however, one which can only be claimed by the LP500 S. (This was also known as the LP5000 S in certain… markets? Circles? Dialects? The distinction is fascinatingly vague, but the car is the same.) Prior to the Countach’s release, the Miura was the fastest car in the world, and had been since 1969. With similar weight and the same Bizzarrini engine, the original Countach wasn’t any faster. But the LP500 S, introduced in 1982, finally saw Lamborghini fit it with the new 4.8L V12 they had wanted from the beginning. Though it wasn’t more powerful, it made greater torque. Combined with the design upgrades over the past decade, it meant this was the first Lamborghini–in fact, the first production car of any kind–to push past the 180 mph barrier, ending what remains the longest stint atop the “fastest car” list, and keeping the crown in-house for a full calendar year.

The driving experience of the Countach is as legendary as its out-of-this-world looks. “Compromised” doesn’t seem to cut it. “Physical” is the best description that some can offer. It has headroom, seats, and a pedal box, but that doesn’t mean any are remotely adequate for actual use. Narrow seats are positioned toward the outside (straddling the forward-mounted transmission. This layout which improved the balance of the car and was used through the Aventador) contrast with a pedal box slammed to the center of the car, made so narrow that many find it safer to drive in their socks so as to only hit one pedal at a time. The clutch and shifter throw are so heavy as to make race car drivers feel wimpy, and the manual steering never really lets you forget that it’s manual steering. In short, it’s no cakewalk to drive.

The attention it gets is like no other car. The noise of the V12 and the smell of the gasoline dominates the atmosphere in its presence. It forces its driver to mean it, and rewards them with speed that has only recently become commonplace, but with theater that is still a distinctly Lamborghini experience. For a little while, it was the fastest production car in the world, and it sure as heck couldn’t be outrun by a Ferrari supercar ten years its junior. Contacc, indeed.

Chassis #12675

One of only 321 LP5000 S models to be made, chassis #12675 entered the world like it had something to prove. As if a car could be even more vintage than a Countach already is, with its tacked-on excesses, Outrun aesthetic, and Cannonball Run cultural iconicity, this sucker had to be delivered in the same “Bianco over Bianco” (white-on-white) color scheme made famous by the Wolf of Wall Street, in which a 25th Anniversary Edition Countach was destroyed by Martin Scorsese and the stunt driving crew for the scene I referenced earlier. This car was received by its buyer, one Horst Quietmyer of Hannover, on February 10th, 1984. He passed away in 1988, but before he did, he put a whopping 50,000 km on this car, more than 30,000 miles in four years on one of the most difficult cars to drive ever.

I love to celebrate a special car that gets driven. It shows the passion and love of driving that we all share, that the owner appreciates the privilege they hold and sees their car as more than just an investment. So I must take a moment to appreciate and remember Horst Quietmyer, and to reflect on the impact his passing had on chassis #12675, which, it would seem, never again tested its limits on the German Autobahn. In his inheritance, it passed to his daughter, was placed in storage, and would not see the light of day again until joining the Gran Turismo collection in 2015, 27 years later.

As a relatively new member of the Gran Turismo collection, #12675 still hasn’t seen much more of the road, clocking in at only 52,432 km (32,365 miles) when cataloged. Fortunately, what it did receive in seven years of membership was a much-needed long-term vacation. After decades of neglect, the car underwent a full eight-month restoration in the latter part of 2018, with a price tag that even RM Sotheby’s was loath to publish. Hopefully now, lovingly restored and headed for a new home, it’s finally ready to hit the open road once more.

The Quintessence of a Decade

Can I really blame the most recent owners of #12675 for not driving it so much? Like a castaway rescued from an island after years of subsistence living, it would be dangerous and wrong to thrust it into the modern world of daily driving, not to mention difficult, as by all accounts it’s an absolute workout to drive. It sheds the Miura’s penchant for catching on fire, and mostly resolves the weight imbalance inherent to Miura’s transverse V12 layout that made it a bit of a widowmaker, but there’s still a certain terror to the experience of operating this incredibly rare, timelessly special vehicle which could easily turn off most potential drivers.

While the Miura was the world’s first supercar, the Countach is one of the most influential. Digital displays, warning lights and on-board diagnostics, whether they reached the final product or not, were all features conceptualized way ahead of their time. The unconventional powertrain layout was in use by Lamborghini for 50 years, and Gandini’s styling fundamentals will pointedly remain in use for the brand’s foreseeable future, with the core wedge shape now into its fifth iteration with the Revuelto. The car synonymous with synthwave and old-school arcade games, with Wall Street excess and ‘80s shoulder-padded style, the one that was on everybody’s poster wall for more than 20 years, captured a zeitgeist, and inspired multiple generations of enthusiasts in a way that few, if any, other models have achieved before or since.

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