Miura: Ghostly beginnings of the supercar


How Lamborghini’s legendary mid-engined creation came to haunt our dreams

The Lamborghini Miura is almost a ghostly presence in the motoring world.

Vanishingly rare, closer to VE Day than it is to us, it was the first, true, modern supercar. The first mid-engined car designed for road, not for race. The first to bear the name of a famous fighting bull. And yet it all started life as a mere rolling chassis, shown off by a precocious tractor magnate.

That old tale of Feruccio Lamborghini becoming so hacked off by Ferrari’s attitude to customer service that he decided to take on Enzo at his own game is well-worn, to the point of needing a re-tread. Doubtless there was more to Lamborghini’s business case than mere pique, but following the relatively normal, front-engined 350GT and 400GT coupes, the Miura was a sudden, game-changing, lunge for the horizon.

Originally known as the P400, it was developed by a triumvirate of engineering genius. Gian Paulo Dallara, long before his eponymous company began making carbon-chassis’ed racers, and Paolo Stanzani came up with the mechanical layout. In spite of racing experience to the contrary, they mounted the P400’s 4.0-litre V12 transversely, across line of the chassis. It made the car extraordinarily low and compact, and the rolling frame and its engine were both shown off at the Turin Salon in late 1965.

Dallara and Stanzani had created something special, and racing driver Bob Wallace (the New Zealand-born racing driver and testing engineer, who would try so many times to convince Feruccio Lamborghini to go racing, as a true competitor to Ferrari) honed the car’s dynamics. Now entered Bertone, the design studio. The job was given to virtual rookie, Marcello Gandini, an astonishing risk for a car that was supposed to take on the might of Maranello. Handily, Gandini was a genius, and in spite of the Miura being one of his first major jobs, he produced his masterpiece. From the pert, swept up tail, through the slatted rear window and engine cover, the doors (which resemble the horns of a bull when opened, or at least a supposed to) and those inimitable eye-lashed headlights (the actual lights nicked from a Fiat 850 Coupe) the Miura was a visual goddess.

Lambo claimed 350hp, and a top speed of 186mph, but it’s doubtful that many owners ever safely got it that high — Wallace was a terrific test driver, but the Miura, with that wing-like profile, always suffered from front-end lift at speed. It was also outrageously cramped inside, and the story goes that many early owners brought their cars (which cost €8,050 in 1966 — or as we might have it, lots) to coachbuilders such as Radford or Hooper to sort out its appalling interior build quality.

But in the right hands, with a sympathetic hand on that leaning-back steering wheel, and a sensitive touch for the five-speed, chrome-gated, gearbox (which had synchromesh on reverse, hence the lock-out catch on the gearshift) the Miura flew. Up Alps. Down Alps. Across Europe. Across America. Always on road, never on race tracks.

And still, always ghostly and just beyond reach, in our dreams.