See the 1985 Lamborghini Countach LP5000S QV on /DRIVE on NBC Sports: Miami Vices, Thursday, October 19 @ 10:30 pm ET on NBCSN.
For the 15-year-old me, the Lamborghini Countach LP5000 QV was less a car than an inanimate crush object. The scissor-doored Lambo was the principal character in a recurring fantasy involving Cindy Crawford in a bikini and me spin-kicking Richard Gere in the solar plexus. Dreaming of winning the lottery, I vowed to buy a different Countach for each day of the week.
By the mid-1980s, the allure of the Countach was strong, but its ubiquity on posters and magazine spreads belied how exquisitely rare it was. In 16 years of production, Lamborghini built fewer than 2,000 units. By comparison, Ferrari churned out nearly five times as many Testarossas and 512 TRs in just 10 years. Unlike a Testarossa, which anyone could spot trolling the streets of Manhattan or Greenwich, Connecticut on a Tuesday, I saw a Countach exactly once per year at the New York auto show. It was like Sasquatch in an Armani suit.
By all rights, the Countach shouldn’t have existed. Around 1967, Bertone designer Marcello Gandini, who had penned the luscious Lamborghini Miura, turned toward space-age futurism for inspiration. His next hits of the era, the 1967 Lamborghini Marzal, which featured intricate, lightweight glasswork, and the 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept, which introduced a new, angular body style, both blew a hole in car lovers’ rounded-fender sensibilities.
The angular approach carried over to Gandini’s first Lamborghini Countach LP500 prototype, whose prismatic angles collected every eyeball at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show. Despite the buzz the LP500 generated, Ferruccio Lamborghini wasn't eager to greenlight the project. In fact, the survival of the production Countach would hinge on the boss losing a bet:
Right after the LP500 prototype debuted at Geneva, Lamborghini’s tractor operation took a big financial hit. With the oil crisis looming, Ferruccio wasn’t sold on bringing the car to production, so he struck a deal with the engineers [Gio Dallara and Giotto Bizzarrini]: [Test driver Bob] Wallace would take the prototype on an epic road trip to see the Targa Florio in Sicily, then return to company headquarters at Sant’Agata. If the car could make it, Lamborghini would build it. Wallace got back in May 1972, and presented the test car, still running, to Ferruccio. Two years later, the first Countach LP400 rolled off the assembly line.
The Countach LP400 went into production in 1974 with a longitudinal 4.0-liter V12 and massive cooling ducts on each flank. The next Countach iteration, the LP400 S, arrived in 1978. It wore the now-familiar cosmetic flourishes first commissioned by Canadian F1 empresario Walter Wolf to adorn his own LP400. In 1982, the LP5000 S landed with a larger, 4.8-liter V12 and a massive “Wolf wing.”
That wing wasn’t exactly functional, except for increasing drag. “Not ordering the wing,” Pat Bedard wrote in Car and Driver in 1983, “has to be the cheapest speed secret in the world.” Without it, the LP5000 S gained 10 mph of top speed: 160 mph instead of 150.
The LP 5000 S also marked the Countach’s return to America. Imports of the factory-stock Countach models were discontinued following 1975’s stringent EPA regulations. Some gray market cars made it to the states with aftermarket emissions gear added, but for that privilege, U.S. buyers were paying nearly double the Euro car’s sticker price.
In 1981, engineer Jasjit Rarewala and entrepreneur Trefor Thomas obtained the rights to sell Lamborghinis in the U.S. and oversaw a wickedly complex federalization process that added unsightly bumpers and stripped the six Weber carbs in favor of Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. The U.S.-federalized Countach LP5000 S had a torque curve comparable with the European model, but horsepower was down by 20 hp. With higher valve lift, power peaked at 6,000 rpm instead of 7,500.
While fast, it was still in striking range for Porsche Turbos and Corvettes. The Countach needed bragging rights to match its looks.
All that changed in 1985. The Countach LP5000S QV was the car’s third major upgrade. Short for "Quattrovalvole,” or "four valve" in Italian, the new model had a larger, 5167 cc V12 and a new head design with four valves per cylinder for better airflow. In Europe, with six downdraft Webers, the QV produced 455 hp at 7,000 rpm. (U.S. cars with Bosch KE-Jetronic fuel injection produced 414 hp.)
It's a little-known fact the QV was homologated into FIA Group B, along with such mad contemporaries as the Ferrari 288 GTO. (Although the QV, like the Ferrari F40, was homologated after the Group B ban.) We'll never know how well the Countach would have faired in such company, but we can dream.
To me, as it is to most prospective Countach buyers, the European QV is the one.We borrowed this 1985 Rosso Corsa QV from Curated, a third-generation Miami dealership. It’s fully dialed in, minus a vexing starter issue. Once fired up, it’s a glorious machine.
Pulling into traffic, there’s that a moment of panic first-time Countach drivers know well. There are so many blind spots, every merge demands a leap of faith. It’s like a piloting a submarine without a periscope. Orienting the side mirrors helps, but lane-change paranoia never goes away. (It helps to have a film crew with walkie talkies for spotting.)
The roll-down side window is more like a large mail slot. The air conditioning stops working about 10 minutes in, and the South Florida sun streaming through all that greenhouse glass quickly brings the internal temperature into the 120s. You might think Countach guys who throw open the scissor doors at stoplights are showing off. They’re not. They’re trying not to die.
We hit the Rickenbacker Causway and the traffic clears. When the hammer drops, all senses activate: The rabid roar of the V12, the smell of unburned fuel, the raw pull of second gear. Neural processors overloading, everything outside the massive windshield becomes more vivid. The QV is a life-changer.
First, it’s remarkably loud. At full throttle, it’s the mechanical equivalent of Mötorhead at the Hammersmith Odeon, easily 120 db or more. The left front wheel takes up most of the footwell, so having small feet and skinny calves helps with pedal work. Plus, the long pedal travel feels like a transatlantic crossing when gear-change time comes.
From a modern perspective, it’s disorienting to drive a car that demands so much engagement. The biggest surprise is how responsive the QV’s controls are. Steering is quick and intuitive. The clutch is heavy but not unwieldy. The shifter throws are long, but the gates are easy to negotiate. A hinged “engine saver” gate blocks out reverse.
A few laps back and forth over the causeway, mostly car-to-car filming, and I’m itching for some time with this car on a race circuit. I'd even take a runway, if just to find out if reports of front-axle lift at high speeds are accurate. But at an estimated value of $500,000 (the Euro cars are the most sought after by collectors), I’ll have to settle for a street drive back to the dealership. I arrive, drenched in sweat. It's as if I’ve been sitting in a sauna turned up to 11, but with the kind of euphoria that can only come from meeting one of your heroes and not coming away disappointed.
And then it’s time to park it. Despite a central engine-cover bulge, which accommodates the downdraft Webers and blocks 98 percent of the rear view, backing up isn’t that hard. You sit up on the door sill, swivel your neck rearward, and use the clutch to roll backward. Unlike, say, the Porsche Carrera GT, the QV 5000 has enough torque at idle to break inertia.
It’s clear the Countach is made of theater, created during a moment in time that will never come again. The QV may never hold a Nürburgring lap record or take on a vintage sports-car shootout at Goodwood Revival, but no other car will make you feel more alive, even if you're just gunning it over a bridge.