Rare Rides Icons: Lamborghini's Front-Engine Grand Touring Coupes (Part II)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

We return to our coverage of Lamborghini’s front-engine grand touring coupes today, and the story of the company’s first prototype. A teardrop-shaped two-door with sweeping lines and an angular rear, the 350GTV was the first passenger vehicle Ferruccio Lamborghini ever made. His past experience was as a successful businessman and builder of stylish Italian tractors at Lamborghini Trattori.

The high-strung 3.5-liter V12 was completed (albeit in race car specification) and the coupe’s body had been casually assembled by the craftsman of Carrozzeria Sargiotto, who usually made plastic moldings and not cars. Was the next stop the 1963 Turin Auto Show? Nope.

While the two key components of the 350GTV – body and engine – were complete, they didn’t exactly mesh all that well. When the coachworks folks at Sargiotto were in the process of assembling the GTV, they ran into an issue: The body panels didn’t fit around the V12 engine. Apparently, meetings between designer Franco Scaglione and engine man Giotto Bizzarrini never took place!

Mister Lamborghini had a critical decision to make at that point. Either the car needed considerable redesign work (and a new build) or a new, smaller engine would have to be sourced. Ferruccio chose Door Number Three. As the GTV was never meant to be a production car, it did not matter if it handled well, met the promised top speed, or wowed onlookers with its engine.

Thus, the GTV was never actually a running vehicle. The engine was removed and the body was completed without a power plant. Lacking an engine the coupe sat too high on its springs, so the front end was weighted with a large number of bricks. Since the GTV was not destined to drive anywhere, it lessened the pressure on the rest of the finishing work too: There were no windshield wipers, no brake or accelerator pedals, and no brake calipers. Given all the things it lacked, the GTV was a sneak preview of later superleggera-style Lamborghinis as well.

The 350GTV went on display at the 1963 Turin Auto Show as planned, the public unaware they were viewing a static display full of bricks. The exciting new racing V12 for the GTV was displayed on a stand next to the car it was supposed to occupy. Ferruccio attended the show himself to show off the GTV, which wowed onlookers. Reactions from the press were mixed, but that didn’t matter as the GTV created that key ingredient for a new brand – buzz.

Lamborghini made a brochure to sell the completely unready 350GTV and stirred up interest in a similar production car. Lamborghini then reported to the press that it planned a racing version of the GTV as well. Considering its state at the auto show, the racing version of the GTV was probably an easier dream to realize than a production one. Nevertheless, the 350 never translated into any racing car.

After the company’s rushed but splashy debut prototype, Ferruccio Lamborghini needed to make some changes to the 350GTV to make it more production-ready. He was unhappy with some of the prototype’s looks and knew he could not sell a production car with the race-tuned version of the V12 (which didn’t fit under the hood anyway).

However, he did not turn back to original designer Franco Scaglione but rather went with well-known firm Carrozzeria Touring (1925-) in Milan. The order was “make this more practical.” Touring did their best to turn the 350 into a passenger car while maintaining some of the essence of the prototype GTV.

First to go was the excessively flat and sloped hood. In its place was a more rounded hood with a taller hood line. The hood was still front-hinged, but the entire front end of the 350 was no longer one piece: The hood existed as a rectangular cut-out within the fenders and above the headlamps, as one would expect.

The headlamps themselves were no longer hidden but jutted out from their own fender extensions. There were only two headlamps rather than four like many sports cars of the era, and they were large and ovoid. Beneath them, the 350’s front end was no longer sans bumper. There were two simple wrap-around chrome bumpers that covered only the front corners. They ended within a large oval-shaped grille, which was sectioned by a couple of chromed horizontal bars.

The sharp crease of the GTV’s front fenders was gone, replaced with a much softer body line and more rounded fenders. The character line started near the bumper and proceeded over a rounded wheel arch (not cut straight across as before), and it ended short of the door handle.

The curvy A-pillar remained largely unchanged from concept to production, though the coupe lost its vent window and the side window aft of the B-pillar grew notably longer. And while that window grew in size, the dramatic U-shaped rear window of the concept was shrunken considerably in the production 350.

Past the door, the side-on styling remained much the same from concept to production. The wrap-around chrome trim was replaced by a pair of separate chrome bumpers that mirrored those at the front. The new bumper style did not wrap toward the underside of the car but rather terminated in large vertical chrome guards. The fenders’ shape at the rear was much softer than on the prototype car, and the revised 350 went without the sharp trunk crease that defined the rear look of the original.

Also absent were the sharp and angled rear lights. In their place were some ovoid red lenses that lacked much of the character of those in the concept. The six tailpipes were also removed, and replaced by large chrome quad exhausts.

On the interior of the 350, Lamborghini tried something new. Though the show car was a two-seater, the practicality mission meant more seating was desired for those cross-continental grand touring trips with friends. Or rather, friend: The production 350 had a 2+1 arrangement, where a single friend accompanied the driver and passenger in a centrally-placed rear throne. The placement was perfect for maintaining conversation during long jaunts.

The rest of the interior followed the same general “Italian sports car” styling theme of the concept but added more gauges for the driver to monitor the car’s vitals. There were also warning lights, and more luxuriously trimmed door panels.

At the same time engineering work took place on the 3.5-liter V12, and it was turned down from 370 horses to 280. The detuning meant the engine made 240 lb-ft of torque. Lamborghini set a goal for his engineers, that the V12 would be good for 40,000 miles of hard usage between services. A tall order when the starting place was a race engine. Worth noting that the engine’s designer Giotto Bizzarrini had already left Lamborghini to start his own exotic car company, as he did not get along well with Ferruccio. The two never came to terms.

The compression of the Bizzarrini engine was reworked and lowered from 11.0:1 to 9.4:1, as was the 9,000 RPM redline. Camshafts were altered to assist valve timing. The engine’s carbs were completely reworked, though still sourced from Weber. There were fewer race-spec exotic alloys in the engine and undercarriage, to cut costs.

Carburetors were sidedraft instead of the downdraft layout on the initial version of the engine. Downdraft carbs require a 90-degree bend for the air to reach the engine, whereas sidedraft carbs are simpler and more direct. The engine was originally a dry-sump racing style, but that was replaced with a simpler and more standard wet sump. And speaking of lubrication, the multiple oil filters of the original Bizzarrini engine were reworked so that the V12 used a singular Lamborghini-specific oil filter.

Given the GTV’s chassis had never been tested and was designed by Bizzarrini with racing in mind, it needed some revision as well. Lamborghini maintained the four-wheel independent suspension of the prototype, and test driver Bob Wallace worked with Italian firm Neri & Bonacini (1950-1967) to refine the chassis tuning. Once the chassis was reworked and redesigned (more next time), Lamborghini contracted with Neri & Bonacini to build the chassis for earlier examples of the 350GT.

Things were coming together very quickly in the 350GTV’s transformation from a concept car into the 350GT that customers were actually going to buy. Its development time is probably some sort of a record, really. We’ll pick up there in Part III.

[Images: Ferrari]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Jun 17, 2022

    "When the coachworks folks at Sargiotto were in the process of assembling the GTV, they ran into an issue: The body panels didn’t fit around the V12 engine." This is known in some circles as an "interference condition" - i.e., two objects attempting to occupy the same point in space and time. It happens *ALL* the time in the process of developing a new vehicle and it costs money and it costs time and it leads to Meetings -- many Meetings. [this Engineering Insight™ brought to you by your least favorite non-engineer]

    • Mopar4wd Mopar4wd on Jun 17, 2022

      Thanks to modern drafting software, those meetings often include the phrase "but it fit in the 3D model"

  • RHD RHD on Jun 19, 2022

    The first version is the more attractive of the two. A robust straight 6 would have done the trick. They would have sold quite a few of them, but insisting on a V12 resulted in a lost opportunity.

  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)
  • 1995 SC I'm likely in the minority, but I really liked the last Eldorado best. That and the STS.