What do you get when you cross Italian tractors, Spanish fighting bulls, British engineering and a 22-year old’s imagination? The world’s most beautiful supercar ever built, that’s what.
The Lamborghini Miura. The car that has set the standard to which all other supercars are measured. It was the first mid-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car built specifically for the road, and in fact, it was the very first car to ever be dubbed a “supercar.” But how did it come to be?
As with most great stories, the Miura’s stems from conflict. A feud between two Itialian ego’s sparked generations of competition and the meteoric rise of one of the world’s most revered automotive brands.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was an Italian-born manufacturing magnate who, after WW2, founded Lamborghini Trattori, a tractor manufacturer based in Cento, Italy. The success of this business allowed Ferruccio to afford the finer things in life, many of which were expensive sports cars. A new Ferrari was part of his collection, but after some time behind the wheel of that specific car, Ferruccio had a few opinions on improvements he felt could be made to the fellow Italian’s design.
In the 1960’s Enzo Ferrari’s cars were the reigning super power of luxury sports cars. In stark contrast, Ferruccio Lamborghini built farm equipment. So when Ferruccio approached Enzo with feedback on the improvements he felt Ferrari could make, is it any wonder that Ferrari wanted no part in it? In short, Ferrari told Lamborghini to stick to tractors and leave the sports car decisions to him. Taking Ferrari’s unwillingness to listen as an insult, Lamborghini decided that the only option was to make a car for himself. In only 4 months’ time Ferruccio opened Automobili Lamborghini and debuted his first car, the Lamborghini 350GTV (seen below). The concept debuted in 1963, and from there an Italian rivalry was born.
From the 350GTV concept came Lamborghini’s first production car, the 350GT. It was a grand-touring coupe that proved success for the freshman automobile company, but the styling was slightly sedate. In order to trump the likes of Ferrari, the engineers at Lamborghini knew they had to develop a sports car that had a true racing pedigree. One that could be driven on the streets by enthusiasts, but would also win at the track. To prove the concept, Lamborghini’s top engineers (Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani, and Bob Wallace) worked after hours to develop a prototype that would come to be known as the P400.
Credit: Miuragirl at en.wikipedia
The P400 chassis design was revolutionary. It featured a space-saving, transversely-mounted drivetrain (meaning that the engine & transaxle were mounted perpendicular to the rolling direction of the vehicle). This design idea was borrowed from the most unlikely of places: the British Motor Corporation’s Mini. While the transverse arrangement saved space, it was not specifically unique to the Mini. What was unique to the Mini was its combined use of the transverse arrangement coupled with what is called a “sump gearbox.” With this sump gearbox design, both the engine & gearbox share the same oiling sump & lubricating oil. Admittedly it’s not the most practical from a maintenance perspective, but it does serve to provide a very compact power plant configuration. By borrowing this design for their project, the engineers at Lamborghini had an economical use of space that afforded them the ability to shoehorn their size-able V12 engine into the confines of the P400’s engine bay.
With the chassis and power plant arrangement sorted, the task of designing a body was next on the list. Lamborghini enlisted the talents of Carrozzeria Bertone (Bertone), an automotive design house based in Turin, Italy. Working at Bertone was a fledgling designer by the name of Marcello Gandini who, at the time, was only 22 years of age. Gandini was charged with the task of designing a body that could house the newly developed P400 chassis, and also compete aesthetically with the likes of Ferrari and other well-establish auto makers. In just three short months Gandini returned with a design that would soon set the automotive world ablaze.
A low, pointed nose flowed through to a sleek waistline and perfectly arched fenders. Gandini’s design was an instant success. Not only did the P400 have the heart & soul of a race car, it now had the looks to go with it. But what about a name? A car so unique and so beautiful required a name worthy of the visceral experience delivered by the P400…
Enter Don Eduardo Miura, a personal friend of Ferruccio Lamborghini and a Spanish Fighting Bull breeder whose cattle lineage has garnered a reputation for being some of the most fierce, ferocious & cunning animals to ever face a torero (a bullfighter). These bulls were so renowned that even Ernest Hemingway references them in his 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon:
It was from a visit to the Miura ranch in 1962 that Ferruccio drew the inspiration to not only use the fighting bull as the mascot for his automobile company, but also name his violent, dramatic & newly-developed supercar after Don Eduardo’s bulls. Thus setting a pace of tradition where Lamborghini has employed bullfighting namesakes for each of the models that have succeeded the Miura since.
In 1966 Ferruccio upstaged the Monaco Grand Prix when he parked his prototype sports car in front of the Casino de Monte-Carlo. The sleek lines of the Miura & its growling exhaust note stole the show. On-lookers were amazed and the automotive world would never be the same. Originally selling for $20,000 USD at a time when a house could be purchased for a mere $10,000.00, the Miura instantly became the standard by which all other luxury sports cars were measured. In fact, its mid-engine, two seater layout has since become the preferred configuration for the majority of modern high-performance sports & supercars being produced today.
Only 764 were ever built from 1966 – 1973, so if you get the chance to lay eyes on one in person, consider yourself to be in rare air. The Miura’s significance is not only rooted in its story, but also how it changed the course of motoring history. It’s not hard to see why these cars hold such a special place here at Jay Leno’s Garage and why we chose this specific car to adorn the packaging of our Quick Detailer.
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