Saturday, April 13

Ferruccio Lamborghini, the mechanical artist who was born on a farm


In 1916, in Renazzo di Cento, a farming town… near Modena, Ferruccio Lamborghini was born. Since he was a child, he has been fascinated by agricultural machinery, and his parents send him to Bologna to study technical training.

In 1940, Mussolini’s Italy invades Greece and the young man is enrolled in that army that seeks old imperial glories. By training him, he is made responsible for tractors and stationary engines, at an air base in Rhodes. Three years later he is taken prisoner by British forces and, with the war over, Mussolini’s dreams have turned Italy into a field of ruin.

Hard times, ideal for personalities of character. And Ferruccio has it. He is a fighter. He sets up a small workshop, where with the remains of military vehicles he builds elementary carts for agricultural work. He works hard and well, and at just thirty years old he has already made a small fortune.

Short pilot experience

Like every Italian lover of mechanics, he is passionate about racing. He enters the 1948 edition of the famous Mille Miglia, with a Fiat Topolino that he has transformed into a light boat, and with an engine equipped with an original bronze cylinder head, with a cylinder capacity raised to 750 cc. The little Fiat prepared by Ferruccio goes fast, but it goes off the road.

And back to work. The workshop is a success. Little by little, the rustic vehicles for the field give way to the production of real tractors: the firm «Lamborghini Trattrici» becomes the third producer, after Fiat and Ferguson, in Italy, and its creator receives the title of «Cavaliere dil Lavoro ». Lamborghini expands his empire and sets up a gas boiler factory. But it is not enough for him and he wants to go further. He dreams of building helicopters, but the administration does not grant him a license.

And cars, his great passion. Jaguar, Mercedes and, of course, Ferrari, since Il Cavallino’s headquarters are not in vain in Maranello (on the outskirts of Modena, in the south). After buying a white 250 GT, Lamborghini buys a 250 GT 2+2 as a gift for his wife. But the hardness of the direction, the change and, above all, the clutch pedal bothers him. For Ferruccio, such a hard clutch does not allow him to do his job well, it is a mechanical aberration. And he says it to Enzo Anselmo Giuseppe María Ferrari himself. Legend has it that “Il Commendatore” would have advised him to dedicate himself to his tractors…

The 1970 Espada, a spectacular four-seater GT

Ferruccio versus Enzo

Ferruccio loves mechanics, for him it is an art, and the lack of response, the arrogance of Ferrari, infuriates him. He now dreams of making a sports car, a perfect “beautiful machina”. For this he installs his factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese, north of Modena. A declaration of war?

In addition, all this is happening in the middle of the revolution in the Maranello palace, a revolution promoted by a character who has not always known how to value himself and who, however, has had an important role in the history of Ferrari: it is Laura Garello, “the Signora” Ferrari.

In 1961, almost all the sporting directors, technical directors, designers, financial directors were fired at Ferrari… It all started when the majority of the management staff (Tavoni, Bizzarrini, Chiti, or Gardini among others) formed a united front and presented an ultimatum to Ferrari: “Either Mrs. Ferrari no longer comes to the factory, or we all leave.”

They were brave, but they miscalculated. Enzo Ferrari, who as an actor had no rival, feigning the greatest surprise, replied that “the next day they would have an answer.” So, at 10 in the morning, everyone in the Commendatore’s office. Ferrari’s few words to the “rebels” were concise: “What are you doing? How can any of you think that he would prevent my wife from coming to the factory? Good luck”.

This was what he had “planned” to get rid of people who no longer interested him, and in full agreement with his wife, he had launched his revolution with new actors like Forghieri or Benzi, among others.

Ferruccio Lamborghini (1916-1993) after making his fortune with tractors, he launched himself in 1963 into the automobile field (1)

Thus, two years later, Ferruccio Lamborghini found none other than Giotto Bizzarrini available, the young father (35 years old) of the most modern V12 Ferraris of the time, especially the 250 GTO. And he gives her carte blanche to conceive the engine of his dreams. Thus, while the Ferrari is content with one camshaft per bank, the V12 Lamborghini will have two camshafts per bank. Where the Ferrari is a 3-litre, the Lambo is a 3.5-litre. As for the chassis, while Ferrari remains faithful to the old school of the rigid axle in the rear, Ferruccio’s car has four independent wheels.

The new Lamborghini 350 GT is a true marvel that not only improves its Ferrari rival’s performance, but is also more comfortable and efficient, and with a quieter and easier to handle gearbox/clutch assembly. But Bizzarrini will not last long with Lamborghini because while the engineer dreams of competition, the pragmatic boss Feruccio does not want to face that challenge.

But, curiosities of life, a car that, originally, was conceived for competition by Dallara, Stanzani and Wallace engineers, is going to become the masterpiece of Sant’Agata Bolognese.

At the starting point, at the 1965 edition of the Turin Motor Show, a steel chassis/hull was presented. And in 1966, at the Geneva Motor Show, the car was unveiled with its Bertone bodywork (designed by Gandini, or by Giugiaro?). The name with which one of the most extraordinary models in the history of the sports car has been baptized does not have its roots in the Italian countryside, but in the Spanish, in that of the famous Miura fighting bull herd.

The handsome 370bhp 3,929cc V12 engine is positioned centrally transversely, just behind the seats. Four overhead camshafts, four triple barrel carburettors, all these figures are on par with an exceptional car, as is its top speed of around 280 km/h. The faithful of Ferrari do not stop looking with envy at this mid-engine wonder, something that Il Commendatore still refuses them. Meanwhile, the specialized press pits the Lamborghini Miura against the Ferrari Daytona.

But Ferrucio never rests and the pace of his team’s creativity is astounding. If the Islero (1968), and the Jarama (1970), are evolutions of the 350/400 GT, the Espada (1968) is a four-seater with an incredible design, and the Urraco (1970), debuts an unprecedented architecture with a central engine and four seats. By the way, all these extraordinary models proudly follow the tradition of names from the world of bullfighting (Islero, by the way, was the bull that killed Manolete). And in 1971, the prototype of the Countach is presented.

But the business situation is not going so well. Engineers Stanzani and Dallara are brilliant creative minds but reliability is not one of their priorities. In addition, the American homologation regulations are increasingly strict. Production at Sant’Agata Bolognese barely reaches three hundred units while at Ferrari it is more than double. Nor does the labor turmoil of the late 1960s help. Creating is not enough, you have to manage so that the treasury is positive. Ferruccio is pragmatic, he sees that the business is not working and in 1973 he sells 51% of his shares to the Swiss industrialist Rosseti, and a year later he divests himself of the rest of his shares.

In 1974, Ferruccio, completely removed from the industrial world, dedicates himself to his vineyards from which a wine called “Sangre de Miura” will come out. On February 20, 1993, he died of a brain tumor.

As for the automobile brand created by him, from 1974 and for a quarter of a century, it will pass from one hand to another (from the Italian state itself to an Indonesian group, passing through Chrysler), and, for thirty years, only will bring out a truly new model, the Diablo (1990), while the Countach will transform its clean lines into a caricature thanks to aerodynamic prosthetics of questionable taste but that will not prevent it from being a true legend.

Fortunately, in 1998 the VW-Audi group bought the Italian brand, applying a serious and effective recovery program (both creatively and industrially), at the height of Ferruccio’s dream.

The Miura is considered to be the masterpiece of Ferruccio Lamborghini Lamborghini

But I will tell you a final anecdote. At the prestigious 2019 Salon Rétromobile, a red Miura SV is on display. It has been restored by Polo Storico, the brand’s department specializing in its classic vehicles. And its owner? FIA president and former Ferrari president Jean Todt. And guess who returns the keys to the restored Miura to its owner? Well, Stefano Domenicali, president of Lamborghini and former Team Manager of the Ferrari Formula 1 team. Somewhere, Ferrucio Lamborghini will smile.


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