“Miura!” you’ll exclaim as you read the next sentence, but here we go… It was the Countach that has made Lamborghini regarded as the world’s number-one creator of super-automotive aliens for decades. Yes, the Miura was technically revolutionary (with a mid-engine) and intriguing (a transversely mounted V12), and also heart-melting beautiful. But that beauty is so deep and accessible because the Miura is a synthesis of other wonderful things: the surfaces and features of the finest front-engine cars of its time, such as the Ferrari GTO and the Alfa TZ2, combined with the proportions of a sixties racer with his block behind his driver.
But the Countach… Boy, that was, and still is, something completely different. None of his body panels are normal. The front cover and windscreen are one large surface. The side windows start ‘upright’, but as you follow their line backwards it spirals over the air intakes to end in a ‘horizontal’ surface above the taillights. But not really horizontal, because you can see the mirror gradient at the bottom, from the rear wheels to the light units. Note the periscope in the roof, although the rear-view mirror doesn’t really see through it. The shape of the rear wheel arches – how do they get that again? The absence of door handles, because after all you can just put your hand in the NACA air intake and pull up the door. Oh yes, the folding scissor doors. You still have that.
He still manages to shock and amaze even today. What effect would it have had almost 50 years ago? The creativity of the young Marcello Gandini went astonishingly far and at Lamborghini they gave him free rein. From Sant’Agata they looked nearly 40 kilometers to the southwest, across the Emilian countryside towards Maranello. And they raised a certain finger.
The V12 turned a quarter turn
Chief engineer Paulo Stanzani supported the aluminum body with a steel frame housing the robust 3.9-litre, 375-hp V12 from the Miura, this time positioned longitudinally. The five-speed manual transmission was located between the driver and passenger, providing instant shifting action that few mid-engine cars have improved since. From this point on, this was the basic mechanical setup for Lamborghinis. The Sián adds power, traction, four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, downforce, carbon fiber and a supercapacitor, but its V12 and transmission still conform to the Countach’s model.
The entire car is tiny by modern standards, but Lambo still found room for two people – just – and quite a bit of luggage in the back. This copy was purchased by a contractor from Bolton in the UK, a certain D. Horrocks, who paid about 45,000 euros for it and used it daily. We were asked to insure this LP400 for 1.4 million euros. The Countach should have been launched with wide, ultra-low profile Pirellis, but they weren’t ready in time for the first 160 or so cars (only 22 of them right-hand drive, like this one). That’s why it stands on nimble 14-inch wheels with Michelins only 215 millimeters wide at the back.
You fold and pivot yourself in, end up with your knees next to the low-mounted handlebars and start a good conversation with the bike. It coughs and sputters when it’s cold – twelve individual throttles trying to match each other. But when he goes, you’ll know. It’s a fascinating mechanical interplay, with ticking camshafts, humming rotating parts and sucking carburettors. Even more than the exhausts, those things dominate the sound. It’s willing to scream well past 8,000 rpm. In fact, he wants that.
Lamborghini Sián vs Countach: the sprints
The Countach goes from 0 to 100 in about 5.5 seconds. Not as retardedly fast as the Sián, but hard enough to show that the small brakes aren’t really up to the job. But when you arrive at a bend at the right speed, everything is a joy. The tires match the power. They give a little, as does the suspension, but the grip is only lost gradually, at speeds you can handle. It’s well balanced, maybe a little understeer at first, maybe leaning slightly towards oversteer when you let off the throttle and throw it back on. Wonderfully communicative and largely good natured.
You can follow the line to the Sián well. The modern engine sounds like the V12 fantasy incarnate when you’re outside the car, but here too the sound inside is full of drama, albeit more mechanical; not so much organically or harmoniously. The cornering of the Sián has a much sharper focus thanks to its stiff base and almost equally stiff suspension. The suspension is tatty, but the feel in the steering wheel is wonderful. Every response you get is magnified.
And the design? As for the basic shape, the Countach hit the nail on the head. You cannot deviate from such a thing. The Sián’s silhouette is a nod to its ancestor, as is the shape of the rear wheel opening, the double wavy line that leads over the wheel arches, and if you look through your eyelashes, the taillights too. And the doors, of course. But where the Countach had a pure design, at least in this early LP400 version, there is so much more going on with the Sián. More wings, openings, bulges, bumps and fins. On a large part of its surface it has a ‘double skin’, with air passing between the parts. There are angles and point shapes everywhere.
Remember, the Countach could do whatever it wanted because supercars barely existed back then. Now that Lamborghini’s workspace is filled with many rivals, the brand has to work harder to stand out. That makes the Sián look garish, indeed. But inside it is real and sincere.