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An Italian Renaissance

Ken Gross

The classic car–collecting universe experienced a jarring paradigm shift in 2010 when, on October 27 in London, two Lamborghini Miuras—a 1971 Miura SVJ and a 1972 Miura SV—each eclipsed the $1 million mark, selling for $1.5 million and $1.1 million, respectively. It was the first time that any classic Italian bull had broken the million-dollar threshold at auction.

Less than five months later, a 1971 Miura P400 SV Prototype crossed the block at the Gooding & Co. Amelia Island auction and sold for $1.7 million, a world-record price for a Lamborghini at that time. But 70 days later, the record was broken in Cernobbio, Italy, when the unique 1967 Lambor­ghini Marzal concept sold for $2.14 million as a part of the RM Auctions sale at Villa d’Este.

Over the course of those seven months, the Lamborghini name had risen through the ranks of classic Italian auto manufacturers, leaving behind its position of inferiority and establishing itself in the upper echelon with a stable of numerous $1 million–plus automobiles. Suddenly, everyone had questions to ask.

“Are vintage Lamborghinis really million-dollar cars?”

“Would these recent sales increase the prices of all early Lamborghini models?”

“Is this a sign of bigger things to come for Lamborghini as a collectible marque?”

While answers to those questions are still unknown, a glance at the rosters of upcoming auctions provides some insight. At the time this issue went to press, the major sales associated with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance were only a week away, and two Miuras were primed for bidding. RM Auctions projected that a 1967 Miura P400 SV Conversion would sell for between $600,000 and $750,000, while Gooding & Co. offered a 1972 Miura P400 SV that it estimated was worth between $1.2 million and $1.5 million. Other Lamborghini models on the docket included a 1966 400 GT 2+2, which RM Auctions estimated would sell for $350,000 to $400,000. While such an estimation implies that the 400 GT (in its various forms) and its predecessor, the 350 GT, lack the desirability of the Miura, Marc Tauber, a New Jersey–based broker of exotic sports cars and a Lamborghini enthusiast, believes such values actually indicate healthy interest in the market. “That’s strong Ferrari Daytona money,” he says.

Tauber holds a special place in his heart for the Miura, though, based on the car’s performance. “The Miura is my absolute favorite car to drive, but you don’t get into one for a thousand-mile trip,” he says. “And you don’t take a passenger. Jump into a Miura by yourself, hammer it, and blow the cobwebs out of your mind. With that screaming six-carburetor engine right behind you, nothing makes the glorious noise of a Miura. I tingle for an hour after I get out of one. It’s really a racing car on the street.”

Ironically, most experts agree that in the eyes of collectors, it’s Lamborghini’s lack of racing history that has most strongly influenced the value of the brand’s early models. To put things in perspective, Enzo Ferrari established his racing career in 1929 with Alfa Romeo and began building his own racecar, the Tipo 815, a decade later. It wasn’t until 1947 that Ferrari introduced his first road car, and by the time Ferruccio Lamborghini came onto the scene, Enzo Ferrari was 34 years ahead of him in marketability and brand awareness.

However, as Lamborghini approaches its 50th anniversary next year, things are beginning to change. According to David Brynan, a Gooding & Co. specialist, Lamborghini’s current ownership group is doing more to reestablish and promote the brand’s early years. “In the late ’70s or ’80s, the Miura or a Countach was considered an instant collectible because they were so dramatic,” he says. “Today’s Lamborghinis go out of the way to make references and styling cues that hearken back to those cars, and people see that connection.”

The design and style of a classic Lamborghini may draw people’s stares but it’s the story behind it that captures their interest. After all, Lamborghini is a brand born from the resolve of an Italian industrialist who owned a variety of high-performance automobiles, including Ferraris, but was sure he could build something better.

Back in 1963, it took guts for anybody, even the most confident of entrepreneurs, to believe that a new auto brand could displace the might of Maserati or the established fame of Ferrari, especially without a racing reputation. But Ferruccio Lamborghini had three things going for him: a youthful trio composed of ex-Maserati engineer and former Ferrari assistant Gian Paolo Dallara, managing engineer Paolo Stanzani, and a lanky mechanic–turned–development tester from New Zealand named Bob Wallace.

Once asked how a tractor manufacturer could possibly become a credible builder ofhigh-performance automobiles, Ferruccio Lamborghini replied, “In the past, I have bought some of the most famous grantourismocars, and in each of these magnificent machines I have found some faults. Too hot. Or uncomfortable. Or not sufficiently fast. Or not perfectly finished. Now, I want to make a GT car without faults. Not a technical bomb. Very normal. Very conventional. But a perfect car.”

With the help of Giotto Bizzarrini, another ex-Ferrari engineer, Lamborghini built a V-12 engine from scratch and allegedly installed it in his own Ferrari for testing. When he unveiled his nonrunning prototype at the Turin Auto Show in 1963, the body and styling still needed refinement, but the car’s engine performance on the dynamometer proved that this former tractor builder was for real. Nevertheless, in the beginning, the venture was anything but easy. Facing an oppressive Italian purchase tax based on engine displacement, Lamborghini, who had financed the venture almost totally with his own funds, held steadfast to his vision despite the fact that he sold only 13 cars—called the 350 GT—during 1964. About 150 examples of the two-seat GT were produced through 1967, most in aluminum alloy. Additionally, about a dozen steel cars, today referred to as the 400 GT “Interim,” featured an uprated 4-liter engine and Lamborghini transmission and differential.

When Lamborghini arrived at the Geneva Motor Show in 1966 he unveiled a 400 GT 2+2, the second iteration of the 400 GT, with a steel body, smaller backlight, and lower floorplan that allowed for two additional seats in the back. Today, these early Lamborghini models are sought by enthusiasts and collectors for the same reasons the cars made waves almost 50 years ago—their performance and drivability. Take Jack Riddell, the cofounder of Vintage Lamborghini Garage (www.vintagelamborghini.com), an online forum for passionate Lamborghini owners and fans. Riddell owns a 1967 400 GT 2+2 with a unique notoriety—he’s put more than 260,000 miles on it since he bought the car 40 years ago. “It was love at first sight,” Riddell says of the moment he saw the car, which he found by scanning the classified section of a small-town newspaper in Southern California. “I bought it for $6,250 and I’ve kept it ever since.”

Vintage road-testnumbers verify that the initial Lamborghini models, particularly the 350 GT, could outperform the Ferrari 250 GT Lussos of that time; but respecting its creator’s wishes, the car performed its magic a little more quietly and with far less fuss than the competition. Reportedly, fifth gear was good enough to nudge 160 mph. Though Henry Manney III, writing in England’s Car magazineat the time, claimed the car reached 280 kph (168 mph), most road testers averaged speeds in the mid-150 mph range. More important, the car reached that speed with discretion. “Ferruccio Lamborghini built what he wanted to drive,” says Donald Osborne, the principal of Automotive Valuation Services (www.automotivevaluationservices.com). “He didn’t want loud, aggressive cars at first. His GT cars had a subtle, discreet appeal.”

Curiously, when one is behind the wheel and putting a 350 GT through its paces, it’s only when the tachometer reaches the vicinity of seven grand that you even begin to hear anything approaching the thrilling snarl of a working Maranello twelve. In contrast to a Ferrari’s strega-like howl, the Lamborgini’s tone is deeper, more dignified—and the car is just as fast. There’s some understeer when you really extend the coupe through a fast curve, but the old bull has so much available grunt that you can hang the rear out and, with a deft combination of opposite lock and judiciously applied power, you can line everything up and attack the approaching apex faster than you thought possible.

To those who concern themselves more with appreciation than acceleration, a 350 GT, by all accounts, is a solid investment. Compared to a 275 GTB twin-cam, steel-bodied Ferrari, which is flirting with prices close to $1 million today, a 350 GT Lamborghini is an all-alloy car for less than half the price. Rare 400 GT two-seaters are likely to cost about $100,000 more in the current market. While some argue that the 400 GT 2+2 lacks some of the beauty found in its predecessor, other experts would suggest that a pristine 2+2, which costs between $250,000 and $350,000, is an ideal investment for a collector looking for a 12-cylinder sports car with room to appreciate.

After the success of the 350 GT, 400 GT, and 400 GT 2+2, Lamborghini needed something to shake things up. He found it in a new, mid-engine configuration. Reportedly, Lamborghini’s intrepid engineering trio positioned a V-12 on the factory floor behind a pair of bucket seats and suggested that they could build a car around that configuration. They’d hoped it would be a racing model. When a running prototype was displayed in front of the casino in Monte Carlo, the sports car world changed dramatically. Overnight, the P400 rendered everything in the Ferrari road-going lineup obsolete.

As those eye-opening auctions in London in 2010 and Amelia Island in 2011 indicated, the Miura is the most famous of all collectible Lamborghinis. “P400 Miuras, especially the S and SV models, are as spectacular as any Ferrari and prettier than most of them,” says Andy Cohen of Beverly Hills Sports and Classic Cars (www.beverlyhillsclassiccars.com). He believes there’s still plenty of room for appreciation, suggesting that the $1.7 million paid for the SV prototype in 2011 was a bargain. “That car easily has $300,000 to $400,000 left,” he says. “Maybe even more.”

The early 1970s proved to be a difficult time for Lamborghini. Ferruccio’s tractor manufacturing business took a major hit when numerous international importers canceled their orders. Development also slowed within the automobile company. By the time the 1973 oil crisis pushed many customers toward more practical cars with better fuel economy, Lamborghini’s enterprising leader was ready to move on to new endeavors. In 1974, he sold his remaining stake in the automaker.

Out of that chaos came the Countach LP500. The name is an untranslatable Piedmontese expression, one that’s uttered when something extraordinary is seen. That certainly applies to the Countach. Although the only LP500 was crash tested and did not survive, the radical production LP400 stunned the world, like the Miura had, and represented an ideal for an entire generation of young men who aspired to own one. The earliest Countachs (with the Periscopo mirror) are the most valuable today due to their clean, dramatic lines that remain uncluttered by the scoops and spoilers that would come to define later iterations. “The first Countach is an extraordinary piece of automotive sculpture,” Osborne says. “It was so different from anything else in its era. If I could, I’d hang a Countach body shell on my wall.”

The Countach of the mid-1970s is the oldest model that draws distinct parallels to modern-day Lamborghinis, which begs the question: Will contemporary Lambos ever rise to the level of collectibility that the vintage models now enjoy? It’s a tough question to answer. “The Murciélago was largely built by hand, just like the early cars,” Osborne says. “So if they create meaningful special editions, like the Valentino Balboni–edition Gallardo LP550-2, which hearkens back to Lamborghini’s older models, they could appreciate.”

But restoration experts disagree, and they point to the materials used in the construction process. “Many of the modern electrical components are highly specialized,” says Alex Finigan, the head of classic car sales at Paul Russell and Co. (www.paulrussell.com). “Carbon fiber has a shelf life. It’s not likely those pieces will be available indefinitely.”

The ability to keep current models performing as they should in the future may impact appreciation values and long-term collectibility, but according to Gary Bobileff, the proprietor of Bobileff Motorcar Co. (www.bobileff.com), advances in restoration techniques and capabilities are the true influences behind the renewed popularity of vintage Lamborghini models. He explains that many years ago, there were few people who could properly service and repair the cars when issues arose. Instead of fixing the cars as they should, many repairmen succumbed to patching the problems, which only temporarily resolved the issues and led to many more down the road. “The problem was [a lack of] qualified people with the right parts to fix the cars,” Bobileff says. “You’d find so many times that the cars were just not fixed and the owners would grow to hate them.”

Today, he says, there are many more trained and knowledgeable restorers and technicians who not only can bring a vintage Lambo back to life, but can improve the car’s performance with engineering advancements that were not utilized when the cars originally were built. “As part of the restoration process in Miuras and 400s and all the other models, not only do you rebuild the entire car but you try to overcome some of the shortcomings. Once the car is fully restored and you give them to the new owner, they think, ‘wow, what a great car.’” The car isn’t altered in any way, it’s simply rebuilt to a higher quality than the Lamborghini company was capable of during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Despite the recent surge in popularity for vintage Lambor­ghinis, however, Bobileff can’t foresee a time when they’ll ever overtake the value of an equally restored Ferrari. “Lambos will continue to go up and will do wonderfully in terms of appreciation,” he says, “but they’ll also be dragging on the coattails of the expensive Ferraris. I don’t care how magnificent your Miura SV is going to be, it’s never going to have the mystique and value of a 250 GTO.”

While that may be true, many Lamborghini enthusiasts and collectors, like Jack Riddell, approach the cars from a different mind-set. “Of course, it’s nice to have a car that’s gone up in value,” Riddell says, “but that’s not the reason for buying the car.”

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