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How Lamborghini Went From Tractors to Supercars

While we think of Lamborghini as synonymous with speed and loud designs today, it all started with tractors and a disagreement with Ferrari....

Supercars, loud designs, and high speeds are synonymous with Lamborghini today, but it didn’t start that way. No, Lamborghini started as an agricultural machinery manufacturer which means instead of hypercars, they made tractors. The man behind the badge was Feruccio Lamborghini whose desire to stick it to Ferrari, transformed his brand towards the sports and performance vehicles we know today. 

The Tractor Days: Lamborghini Trattori

In 1948, 15 years before Lamborghini started making cars, Ferruccio Lamborghini was making tractors out of discarded war materials having seen the emerging market in post-war Italy’s agricultural and industrial revitalisation. These materials were sourced from various trucks and military vehicles and led to an innovative solution on their first “Carioca” tractors – a fuel atomiser. This allowed the Morris engine to be started with petrol and then switch to diesel which proved to be very popular as petrol was very expensive at the time. 

lamborghini carioca
The Lamborghini Carioca

It didn’t take long for Lamborghini to go from making one tractor a week to 200 in a year with new Italian-made engines replacing those derived from old war surplus. 

It was in 1951 that Lamborghini’s first production tractor made entirely by the brand (excepting the engine) was created. The “L 33” was fitted with a diesel-fuelled 3,500 cc in-line 6 cylinder Morris engine alongside the patented fuel atomiser. 

lamborghini l33
The Lamborghini L 33

While things were going well, they were about to get better. Lamborghini experienced a financial windfall thanks to the Fanfani law of 25 July 1952 that set aside 125 billion lire over 5 years for farmers who bought Italian-made agricultural machinery. Sales of Lamborghini tractors exploded. Lamborghini now had the funds to build every aspect of their tractors, including the engine. 

Fighting With Ferrari

Ferruccio Lamborghini was a very rich man by this point and began buying a variety of sports cars including enough Alfa Romeos and Lancias to be able to use a different car every day of the week. He would later add a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a Jaguar E-Type coupé, and two Maserati 3500 GTs to his collection. 

As for his Maseratis, he respected the owner of Maserati, Adolfo Orsi, but stated that he “did not like his cars very much. They felt heavy and did not really go very fast.”

By 1958, Lamborghini travelled to Maranello to buy a Ferrari 250 GT. He must have been fairly happy with them because he bought more Ferraris including a 250 GT SWB Berlinetta and a 250 GT 2+2 four seater. He did have some issues with Ferrari though, issues that would eventually cause Lamborghini to create his own cars. While the Ferraris were good, they were too noisy and rough to be great road cars, in his opinion. Instead he thought they were repurposed track cars with poor interiors. 

Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta (1960)

It was the clutch that bothered Lamborghini the most as it required regular trips to Maranello for rebuilds. Not only that, but the technicians would take the car for several hours to fix it. He believed that Ferrari’s after sales service was substandard, which he told Enzo Ferrari. That didn’t go down well with Enzo. 

Having lost faith in Ferrari, Lamborghini modified one of his own 250 GTs to be able to successfully outperform Ferrari’s stock models. This was the spark that would convince Lamborghini to create his own perfect touring car. Essentially, he wanted to fill the space in which Ferrari were lacking, namely high performance without sacrifices to tractability, ride quality, and interior finishings.

He also knew that he could make almost triple the profit if he used parts from his tractors in high-performance cars instead. 

The First Lamborghini

During the early 1960s, before founding the company we know today, Lamborghini commissioned engineering firm, Società Autostar, to design a V12 engine for use in his first sports car. He wanted the engine to have a similar displacement to Ferrari’s 3-litre V12, but designed purely for road use in contrast to Ferrari’s modified racing engine. 

The Lamborghini V12

Leading the design team was the man responsible for the Ferrari 250 GTO, Giotto Bizzarrini, and his first design (known as the Lamborghini V12) had a displacement of 3.5-litres, a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and a maximum output of 268kW (360 hp) at 9,800rpm. 

Lamborghini wasn’t happy with the engine’s high revolutions and dry-sump lubrication system as it was basically exactly the kind of character that he didn’t want in his car. He asked for changes but Bizzarrini refused to do so. In response, Lamborghini refused to pay the agreed 4.5 million lire fee until ordered to do so by the courts. 

While he might not have been exactly happy with the Lamborghini V12, the engine and its variants were used in Lamborghini cars from 1963 to 2010. 

The chassis came with fewer headaches. It was penned by Gian Paolo Dallara of Ferrari and Maserati fame, while the body was styled by then-unknown designer, Franco Scaglione, who was selected by Lamborghini over highly regarded designers like Pininfarina. 

The 350GTV was designed and built in just four months so that it was ready in time to show off at the 1963 Turin Motor Show in October. Because of Lamborghini’s disagreements with Bizzarrini over the engine, it debuted at the show without one. According to legend, Lamborghini put bricks under the hood so that the car would sit at the appropriate height, and made sure that the bonnet was never opened. 

The Lamborghini 350GTV

The press responded favourably to the 350GTV, but the response from the general public was a little more muted, so Lamborghini decided to rework the car. The production model would eventually be named the 350GT and featured a new in-house chassis and a restyle from Carrozzeria Touring. The engine that had caused so many headaches was detuned for production, rated at 209kW (280 hp) rather than the intended 268kW (360 hp). 

Lamborghini 350GT

Once completed, the 350GT debuted at the 1964 Geneva Motor Show and was received positively by the press. By the end of 1964, 13 cars had been built for as many customers. Each 350GT was sold at a loss in order to remain competitive with Ferrari. It stayed in production for two years with a total of 120 cars sold. 

A Sports Car Leader

While the 350GT was considered a success, Lamborghini (the marque) were still the new kids on the block. The 350GT’s follow-up, the 400GT, was essentially just a 350GT with a larger engine, but thanks to the 400GT 2+2, Lamborghini were able to increase their labourforce and expand their services. 

Lamborghini 400GT 2+2

The 400GT was the car the Ferruccio Lamborghini had always dreamed of building, but Gian Paolo Dallara and his team of technicians wanted to create something new. They had spent their personal time developing a prototype that could be a road car with a racing pedigree, capable of winning on track but also driven on the road by enthusiasts. 

Ferruccio wasn’t convinced at first, as he thought it would be too expensive and distract from what the company was trying to achieve. However, he finally gave the engineers the okay to proceed as it could be an effective marketing tool if nothing else. 

Internally, this car was known as the P400, but we know it as the Miura. 

Lamborghini Miura

This car was unusual particularly for its rolling chassis which had a transversely mounted mid-engine layout, which impressed showgoers at the Turin Salon in 1965. It’s debut was set for the 1966 Geneva Motor Show and the bodywork designed by Marcello Gandini was only done a few days before, but the engine once again wasn’t ready, forcing Lamborghini to fill the hood with ballast again. 

The unusual rolling chassis

The Miura was received very positively, and was slated for production by 1967. The Miura wasn’t just a hit, it was a landmark. Its layout and styling became the standard for mid-engine two-seat high-performance sports cars that is still used today. It wasn’t perfect for Ferruccio though who thought that the interior noise levels were unacceptable and against his brand philosophy. Despite that, the Miura is still considered a motoring pioneer.

The Rest is History

This isn’t the end of the story for Lamborghini as we all know. Eventually, in 1971 Ferruccio had to sell his stake in the tractor company amid a global financial crisis while having to sell Lamborghini Automobili the following year. There were many ups and downs to follow but Lamborghini would endure and remain one of the preeminent supercar manufacturers in the world. All of this from a man who built tractors and thought he could do better than Ferrari… and succeeded. 

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