Obituary: Ferruccio Lamborghini

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The Independent Online
Ferruccio Lamborghini, car maker, born near Ferrara 28 April 1916, died Perugia 20 February 1993.

THOSE WHOSE birthdays fall between 22 April and 21 May are born under the zodiacal sign of Taurus the bull and are said to be solid, steady, and utterly resolute in fulfilling their objectives. Ferruccio Lamborghini, born on 28 April 1916, was a Taurean and, when he began to manufacture cars under his own name, he chose for his badge a charging bull, its head lowered and menacing. The theme also permeated the Lamborghini model names and those of Islero, Miura, Espada and Urraco all have bull, or bull fighting, associations.

Born on the family estate at Renazzo, to the north of Bologna, Lamborghini grew up with a passion for fast cars and motorcycles. He soon realised that he did not wish to follow in his father's footsteps by becoming a farmer, for he felt a natural affinity with machinery and he took a course in Industrial Technology at the Fratelli Taddia Institute near Bologna, graduating in 1940, just in time to enter the Italian Army.

With the ending of the war, Lamborghini opened a garage at Cento, near to his birthplace, where he was kept busy keeping pre-war cars, lorries and tractors in running order. By this time he had married but, tragically, in 1947 his wife died giving birth to Tonino, the couple's only child.

Like many of his contemporaries, Lamborghini owned a Fiat 500, although it was barely recognisable as such. He replaced the saloon body with an open two-seater one and even produced a special overhead-valve head for its engine. Entering this car in the 1948 Mille Miglia, he skidded off the road at the town of Fiano and demolished the wall of the local restaurant. His father was left to pay the repair bill. Significantly, the race was won by a Ferrari, which was Italy's newest make.

It was Ferruccio's father who was indirectly responsible for the Lamborghini name's being known throughout Italy. He urgently required a tractor and his son obliged by making him one; it was an unlikely cocktail of a six-cylinder Morris engine, coupled to a General Motors transmission, with power being conveyed via a Ford differential. With post-war Italy rebuilding its agriculture from the ruins of war, replicas of Ferruccio's tractor were soon being eagerly sought by his father's friends. The outcome, in 1949, was the creation of Lamborghini Tractors on the site of his garage; the design evolved, the business thrived and it became one of the largest manufacturers of agricultural equipment in Italy. Then, in the early 1960s, Ferruccio Lamborghini turned his attention to building cars under his own name.

As a wealthy Italian industrialist, Lamborghini loved fast cars; as an engineer, he analysed their strengths and weaknesses and later recounted that the interior of an unnamed make was so hot that his lady companion's make-up ran, one was too noisy and he disliked the brakes of another. But it was, inevitably, the native Ferrari for which he had the greatest regard. He had come to this conclusion by driving his cars at 200kph (125mph), flicking the gear-lever into neutral and seeing how far they went under their own momentum before coming to rest. The Ferrari emerged as the undisputed leader.

Lamborghini was determined that his cars must avoid the shortcomings of his would-be competitors but, having decided to join the ranks of the motor manufacturers, he then had to build a factory for their production. This he did at Sant' Agata Bolognese, just to the north of the Milan-to-Bologna autostrada, and the result was Italy's most modern car-plant. He recruited a team of outstanding young graduate engineers who were to turn his dream into a reality and was fortunate that, in 1961, no less than eight of Ferrari's top staff had left him in a well-publicised walkout. One of their number was Giotto Bizzarrini and he designed the fabled V12 engine which was to power the first Lamborghini and which survives, in essence, in the present Diablo.

This first model was the 350GTV, unveiled at the 1963 Turin Show. Stylistically, it left much to be desired, but the lines were soon competently revised by the Touring styling house and endured in 400GT 2+2 form until 1963. Yet despite its mechanical sophistication, the car lacked the charisma of the best of the Pininfarina-styled Ferraris.

But the Lamborghini marque came of age in 1966 with the arrival of the Miura, in which the V12 engine was transversely located, just behind the driver and his passenger, making it the world's first series production car to employ this configuration. In some respects, the model, a sure-footed 170mph supercar, suffered from some of the very deficiencies that Lamborghini had so striven to eliminate, for it was both hot and noisy although the Bertone coachwork was low, daring and sensational. There were to be other Lamborghinis but none, with the possible exception of its Countach successor, that matched the initial impact of the Miura.

During the model's production, Ferruccio Lamborghini began to become disenchanted with his car business. From 1967 he spent less time at the Sant' Agata factory and by 1974 had severed all connections with the cars that bore his name. Later, in 1987, the company was taken over by the American Chrysler Corporation.

By this time Ferrucio Lamborghini had bought a 750-acre estate at Panicarola in the Umbrian region of central Italy where he delighted in hunting and was ultimately to produce his own wines. He had remarried and, in 1974 at the age of 58, became a father for the second time when his wife, Maria Teresa, bore him a second child, a daughter Patrizia.

(Photograph omitted)