Miura! Lamborghini’s Risky Midengine Supercar Gamble

Produced between 1966 and 1973, the Lamborghini Miura was the fastest street sports car produced at that time.

Only three years after the first Lamborghini prototype appeared at the 1963 Turin Motor Show, Miura number 1 was parked on the Place du Casino during the 1966 Monaco F1 week. The car shared its name with the fierce fighting bulls from Seville and it was completely different from anything Ferrari had on offer. Ferruccio said, “the Miura is for the keenest sporting driver who wants the ultimate in looks and performance.”1 It caused a stir that weekend and had to be one of Ferruccio Lamborghini’s best moments.

Before the Miura, Ferruccio had established himself as a successful industrialist and decided to take on Ferrari with a series of high-quality grand tourers known as the 350 GT and 400 GT. These laid foundations for the Miura, such as the V12 engine designed by ex-Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini to have as much available horsepower as possible. Initially, this high-revving, 3.5-liter V12 produced a maximum output of 360 bhp at 9800 rpm and was enlarged on the SV to 3929cc for a reported 385 bhp. For the Miura, it was formed from a single aluminum casting that combined the cylinder blocks, crankcase, and transmission.

Gian Paolo Dallara and assistant Paolo Stanzani designed the unique steel tub chassis that placed Bizzarrini’s V12 engine directly behind the driver in a transverse position. They were inspired by both the Lola GT, a race car developed by Eric Broadley that lent its chassis tub design to the Ford GT; and the Austin Mini with its transverse engine that had a common crankcase for the engine and transmission. The final design was first presented as a bare chassis at the 1965 Turin Motor Show where everyone could admire its radical layout and only imagine what the final product would look like.

Although the Miura chassis design could be mistakenly interpreted as a race chassis, Ferruccio had a strict no-racing attitude. He wrote a policy in the company’s bylaws that prohibited racing and avoided the pitfalls of expensive development by trying to intercept Ford vs Ferrari at Le Mans. Instead, the Miura was destined to be a road car of the highest order.

At the Turin show, the design of the Miura’s body was still up for grabs and at the end of the show, Ferruccio gave Nuccio Bertone the job as he was well suited for series production at Carrozzeria Bertone SpA. Initial sketches were laid out by Giorgetto Giugiaro who thought he was designing a new Bizzarrini. When he left the firm, Marcello Gandini finished the work which included a lower nose that repositioned the front radiator. Bertone then sent Gandini on vacation while he finalized the design himself before submitting it to Lamborghini. Due to these three talented men, the Miura didn’t have a wrong line anywhere. Later, Carrozzeria Bertone became responsible for manufacturing the Miura bodies and interiors on chassis produced by Marchersi. The final installation of the engine, transmission, and suspension was completed at Lamborghini’s factory in Santa’Agata Bolognese.

The first completed prototype was painted orange and personally driven by Bertone to the 1966 Geneva Motor Show where it became the highlight of the event and overshadowed the debuting Ferrari 330GTC. Furthermore, with a press release proclaiming 198 mph, everyone in Maranello took notice. A later trip down to Monte Carlo for the F1 weekend was another resounding success.

Initially, orders exceeded production and Lamborghini had to only worry about manufacturing. Several pre-production prototypes were built and tested which varied only slightly to the final production specification. Over time, upgrades and small details were changed, but a huge update called the SV was planned in 1971 starting with chassis 4758. The main focus of the SV was a new rear suspension that made the car much wider. Longer wishbones were fitted that added 1.5 inches of length. Furthermore, larger Campagnolo cast magnesium wheels were added with wider Pirelli Cintaurato tires. Many of these changes were undertaken by chief test driver Bob Wallace in conjunction with Claudio Zampolli and greatly improved the handling of the Miura.

Eventually, the oil crisis and lack of demand halted Miura production in 1973 after nearly 150 cars were completed. By this time, development emphasis had been placed on the Countach which the public first saw in 1971. In April of 1972, Ferruccio sold off his controlling shares of the Lamborghini, probably because he achieved everything he had set out to do with the Miura.