We pick up our Lamborghini front-engine grand touring coverage at a time of design disappointments. Though the exotic Miura gave the company instant notoriety as it simultaneously created the super car class, the company’s other model was due for replacement. A more traditional looking two-door, the 400GT 2+2 was an edit of the 400GT Interim (2+1), which was itself an engine upgrade on the 350GT, the company’s first production car.
Ferruccio Lamborghini anticipated the need for a new design, and went in search of a 400GT replacement around the time it entered production in 1966. Lamborghini turned first to Carrozzeria Touring. But even though they penned the 350GT and 400GT designs, their two-seat shooting brake suggestion, Flying Star II, was not to Lamborghini’s taste.
In fact it was sort of like Touring didn’t read the prompt. An abandoned race car design called the 400GT Monza from Neri & Bonacini was also presented as an option. The firm built Lamborghini’s tube frames a few years before, but that didn’t lend them enough goodwill at Lamborghini to get their design accepted. Time for take three!
Lamborghini proved it could make a luxurious grand touring coupe that a few people were willing to buy instead of a Ferrari with its first-ever production car, the 350GT. Based on the 350GTV prototype that was not actually drivable, the 350GT eventually grew and matured into the very similar 400GT we featured last time.
At its inception, the 400GT was just a 350GT with a larger engine, since the intended roof edits to turn the 2+1 into a 2+2 were not production ready. Lamborghini advertised the 350, 400, and 400 2+2 as three separate models, a fun take on the truth. But after three variations of the original 350 design, it was time for something new. The replacement process was not without drama.
The 350GT was Lamborghini’s first production car, and as we learned in our last entry, was a very rapid adaptation of the 350GTV prototype. And while the GTV was certainly more elegant looking than the GT, the former’s foibles included a hood line that was too low to fit the company’s V12, as well as a general lack of practicality.
Practicality was the word of the day in the 350GT’s development. The 2+1 grand touring coupe brought Ferruccio Lamborghini’s vision to life, as a competitor to the well-established finery from Ferrari. There were just 120 examples of the 350GT produced before its successor joined the ranks. The new car had a larger engine that made more power but looked very similar to its brother. Meet the 400GT.
After Lamborghini’s 350GTV show car debuted in Turin, Ferruccio Lamborghini was very intent on turning the coupe’s good publicity into sales of a real production Lamborghini. But the prototype lacked running gear, an engine that fit under its hood, and there were many other miscellaneous issues. As we learned last time, redesign work began on the GTV’s chassis, engine, and body at a furious pace. That’s where we pick up today.
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.
I was reminded the other day (by Facebook) about a particularly beautiful coupe I’d photographed at a local car show in 2014. It had two doors, a big engine in the front, svelte and restrained styling, and a Lamborghini badge on the nose. It’s easy to forget that Lamborghini made elegant grand touring coupes long before it got to the likes of the outrageous Countach or LM002. We start at the beginning, with the company’s very first prototype, the 350GTV.
Since 2007, when I started writing about interesting vehicles in car graveyards, I’ve seen at least a couple of discarded Fiat 124 Sport Spiders per year. In fact, I was finding these cars in junkyards when you could still buy them new, back when I was hitting the yards of Hayward in search of parts for my ’69 Toyota Corona. These days, most Sport Spiders you’ll find at your local Ewe Pullet will be 1976-1980 models (I still haven’t managed to find any junked examples of the Pininfarina-badged mid-1980s Spiders that Malcolm Bricklin sold as Azzurras), so today’s ’70 is quite a rare Junkyard Find.
Today we conclude the story of Isotta Fraschini, a company that started as a simple import business but rose quickly through racing successes to become one of the most highly regarded luxury car makers in the world. In our last entry, the Great Depression finished off IF’s last passenger car – the 8B – in 1934. Afterward, the company moved on to heavy truck manufacture alongside its marine and aeronautical engines. Said trucks were still in production when Isotta Fraschini launched a grand final attempt at a return to the luxury passenger car market.
Isotta Fraschini advanced very quickly from its humble roots as a French car importer. Through racing recognition and the utmost attention to quality and engine technology, IF became one of the most well-regarded luxury car companies in the world. The firm’s first two large cars the Tipo 8 and 8A were considered on par with Rolls-Royce, and the company found buyers in the elite of America and Hollywood stars.
But the company’s fortunes changed in 1929 as The Great Depression bowed its head, and put a big dent in the ultra-luxury car market. The 8A concluded its run from 1924 to 1931 with under 1,000 total sales. IF was immediately ready with another super lux car as the world was still deep in The Great Depression, but company ownership attempted to pursue other passenger car avenues. And IF might’ve prospered were it not for fascist government intervention.
Isotta Fraschini never intended to build its own cars and was founded as an Italian-based importer of French vehicles and engines. But as we learned in Part I, after a few years in the business its small group of owners experimented with building their own cars. Then they tried their hand at winning races with Tipo D in 1905. After D’s successor the Tipo FE was unsuccessful at racing, the company redirected itself and decided to make sporting luxury cars instead. We pick up the action in a year many of you remember vividly: 1910.
Founded at the turn of the 20th century, Isotta Fraschini dabbled in different modes of transportation during the handful of decades the original company was operational. Though it ended up as a luxury carmaker to rival the likes of Mercedes-Benz, the founders of Isotta Fraschini never intended to make a car at all.
While an ever-increasing number Americans in the second half of the 1970s felt comfortable buying sporty German and Japanese sedans, the idea of relying on an Italian sedan for everyday transportation made sense to a much more exclusive group. For those Americans who craved a commute packed with Italian passion and artistry but needed something with rear-wheel-drive (ruling out the 128 and the Lancia Beta sedan) and cheaper than the Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan, Fiat offered the 131 on these shores for the 1976 through 1981 model years (changing its name to the Brava starting in 1978). As you’d expect, these cars are about as tough to find in junkyards today as Mitsubishi Tredias or Rover 3500s, but I ran across this ’78 in a Denver yard last week.
With The General offering a costlier-than- an-S-Class Cadillac built in Turin and Hamtramck (the two assembly lines connected via custom-built 747 freighters) as well as Italianate Buicks and Oldsmobiles in the late 1980s, Lee Iacocca decided to leverage Chrysler’s investment in Maserati to create a K-Car-based Italian sports car: the TC by Maserati. Like the Allanté, Troféo, and Reatta, the TC hasn’t held its value so well over the decades, and I find the occasional example during my junkyard travels. Here’s a crashed ’91 in a yard near Denver, Colorado.
We’ve featured a number of Zagato-enhanced Rare Rides previously, the majority of which were from exotic European nameplates. The most recent example of the type was the Ferrari 599 GTZ Nibbio Spyder. Today’s Rare Ride is from a different Italian brand, one thus far unrepresented by Zagato edits.
Presenting the Lamborghini 5-95, from 2014.