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Lamborghini 350 & 400 GT

The beginning of a legendary marque

Genevieve Obert
Sep 3, 2003 SHARE

Legendary men have legendary conversations, and when two legends meet the words they utter sometimes change the world. That was the case when a wealthy tractor manufacturer confronted Enzo Ferrari with some complaints about one of the Grand Old Man's automobiles.

In 1962, Ferrari was already 64 years old. His antagonist was 46, a charismatic man who had reached the height of success in a career that essentially chose him during World War II. His name was Ferruccio Lamborghini, and his interest in the humble field of agricultural machinery evolved naturally from the time and place: Having been born on a farm, his first dabbling in engines had been with his father's equipment. Serving in the Italian Air Force's mechanics corps during the war, he became expert with rugged air engines. When post-war Italy was desperate for tractors immediately after the war, it was an obvious and lucrative idea to purchase surplus military machines and quickly convert them into tractors.

But that doesn't mean Lamborghini preferred driving tractors over automobiles. On the contrary, like all mechanically minded Italians, the first thing he did after the war was build himself a race car. Ferruccio took a side-valve Fiat 500 motor and enlarged it to 750cc, then added his own overhead-valve cylinder head made out of bronze. That metal's color gave the car the nickname "Testa d'Oro" (Golden Head), and the little racer was fast enough to attract several orders for more. Ferruccio himself took a turn at the wheel of his creation for the 1947 Mille Miglia. He and his co-pilot completed about two-thirds of the 1000-mile race before driving the car right through the front of a cafe. "That was enough racing for me," he later admitted. "I stayed and ordered a glass of vino..."

Though he gave up auto racing, fast cars remained a passion, along with air engines and good wine. As his firm became a major force in Italian agribusiness, he quickly outgrew the surplus engine supply and constructed his own, so that by 1948, Lamborghini Trattori were unique machines wearing a charging bull, inspired by Ferruccio's zodiac sign, Taurus. By the end of the 1950s, Lamborghini had expanded from tractors into oil-burning heaters and air conditioning units, and he could now afford to indulge his passions.

It was around this time that Lamborghini went to Modena to tell Enzo Ferrari that the clutch on his car was unsatisfactory. Ferruccio had already owned several cavallini rampante and might have remained a happy customer if Enzo had responded differently. After all, at the time, Lamborghini's passion ran more skyward--he was building helicopter prototypes and hoping for a government license to build them commercially. But when Enzo dismissed his complaint with something along the lines of, "What does a tractor maker know about super cars? Go back to your farm and leave the supercars to me," Lamborghini was insulted. He took his Ferrari home and fixed the problem himself using a tractor clutch, then took a long, hard look at the car's engine. When the government refused to grant him the helicopter license, he took his many millions of lira to the tiny town of Sant'Agata--not far from Ferrari's Maranello--and began to build himself a state-of-the-art auto factory, vowing to meet or beat Ferrari at his own game.

Lamborghini's requirements were straightforward: He wanted a luxurious and powerful GT that would reach 150 mph on the Autostrada del Sol (Highway to the Sun). He would not be distracted by the expensive exigencies of racing but required his engine to benefit from all that racing had taught others. In fact, later in life, he laughingly told an Italian reporter, "I am the first Japanese in Italian history: I never invented anything, but I always copied the best. To make my motor I asked, which is the best? And the response was, the 12-cylinder of Ferrari. However, to improve it I needed to change the head. So then I asked, which heads are the most efficient? The answer: the twin cams on the 4-cylinder Alfa Romeo. So it was enough for me to put together these concepts to make the most beautiful motor in the world."

Before the factory walls were up, Lamborghini had one of Italy's premier engine designers on contract. Engineer Giotto Bizzarrini had only recently left Ferrari in the famous walkout of November 1961. In Maranello he'd been instrumental in the design of the powerful 250 GTO, and since then he'd worked with a number of smaller concerns like ATS, ATA and Iso Rivolta. Bizzarrini agreed to build Lamborghini's first 12-cylinder. Ferruccio required 350 bhp from the proposed 3.5-liter V12, and the contract even went so far as to dock Bizzarrini's final payment by a specified amount for every 10 bhp that the engine fell short.

So the engine did not fall short. Lamborghini's crew, which now included the 24-year-old engineer Gianpaolo Dallara, bench-tested the new engine and verified that it produced 360-370 bhp at 9000+rpm from its 3464 cc. Bizzarrini took his money and left, leaving Dallara in charge of preparing the engine for production. Lamborghini had hired young Dallara on Bizzarrini's recommendation, as the elder engineer remembered Dallara from his first days, right out of technical school, at Ferrari. Despite his youth, Dallara supervised Lamborghini's nascent program, from engine production to chassis design (which would eventually become his metier as Dallara's own chassis have since won the Indianapolis 500 twice). Dallara's assistants included Paolo Stanzani--the man who would later design the Countach--and a New Zealander named Bob Wallace who, as test driver and development engineer, was instrumental in producing road-worthy automobiles.

To produce the car's first body, Lamborghini chose Sargiotto, a small carrozzeria in Turin with a famous designer: Franco Scaglione, author of the Alfa Romeo BATs in his days as Bertone's design chief. The resulting Lamborghini 350 GTV prototype appeared at the Turin Auto Show in late 1963, only a few months after the official opening of Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini SpA.

The new car created a stir in the press, and not only for the car's looks but for the simple fact that here was yet another challenge to Ferrari. Could it be a serious one? The answer would come only with production, and Lamborghini was already working to that end. Though Scaglione's design benefitted from an airy cockpit and pleasing proportions, the too-quick assembly resulted in poorly fitting panels, and the rear end's design was criticized as "trying too hard to be different." More importantly, Dallara and Lamborghini knew that Scaglione's design would not be feasible for production, so, before the Turin Show had ended, Lamborghini met with Carlo Anderloni of Touring, a carrozzeria that had gained international fame for many beautiful Alfa Romeo bodies. Anderloni agreed to redesign the 350, honoring the original proportions but with production considerations in mind, and he also agreed to work quickly. Lamborghini wanted the car on the market as soon as possible.

So the 350 GT (the V was dropped), with a tamed engine, a streamlined chassis and a more elegant body, went on view five months later at the March 1964 Geneva show. The taming of Bizzarrini's four-cam V12 engine reduced horsepower from 360 to 270 bhp at 6500 rpm. Torque on those early 350 GTs amounted to 239 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. Six double-barrel Webers handled carburetion, while a German five-speed ZF transmission connected to the British Salisbury differential. The independent suspension consisted of coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers, and there were Girling disc brakes all around.

Production began slowly, with only 13 350 GTs built in 1964. Still, these few Lamborghinis soon impressed journalists around the world. Road & Track's Henry Manney aptly titled his March '65 review, "This one will give Ferrari a migraine," concluding that the 350 GT "is the most desirable sports/GT I have driven." Even in the magazines' hands the numbers were impressive: For Road & Track the 350 ran from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 sec., while Car & Driver measured top speed at a satisfying 156 mph, with 0 to 60 taking a smidge longer at 6.4. The latter magazine agreed with Manney (and many others) that the car was a dream to drive, saying the Lamborghini "is much less demanding to drive than a Ferrari, and what's more, it seems to steer, stop, go and corner just about as well as our last Ferrari." These reports were music to Ferruccio's ears; the bigger Ferrari's headache, the better!

Production soon increased, but not nearly to the level Lamborghini desired (he had announced plans for a total of 500, built as quickly as 25 cars per month). Even as work proceeded on the groundbreaking mid-engined Miura--introduced as a rolling chassis at the November '65 Turin show and then clothed in Gandini's gorgeous body at the March '66 Geneva show--350 GTs trickled out of Sant'Agata over the next few years until a total of 120 had been built (the last four constructed in 1967). Each car was practically hand-made, so modifications appeared with unpredictable regularity--the grille was revised, cowl air intakes and a second windshield wiper were added, and eventually a leather dash replaced the polished aluminum one that had appeared on earlier 350 GTs.

Beginning in 1965, some 23 new cars were built with bodies identical to the 350 GT but powered by Lamborghini's new 4-liter engine. The new powerplant featured a longer stroke (increased from 77- to 82mm) bringing capacity up to 3929cc. Compression increased from 9.5:1 to 10.2:1, and horsepower rose to 320 bhp at 6500 rpm. The torque figure also improved by 35 lb-ft. to 276 lb-ft. at 4500rpm.

One of these 23 special cars belongs to Brian and Julie Gladish of Southern California, who generously provided the car for this feature. When Brian first found the car, the rear identification script showed only the cursive "Lamborghini"; the part that should've said "350GT" or "400GT" was missing. Brian had done some research, though, and knew that the 350GTs wore aluminum bodies. Armed with a magnet, he soon determined that this car's body was steel, putting it into the 400 GT category. Still, the Gladish's car wears the same headlights as the 350--most of the 400 GTs came with four round sealed-beam headlights tucked into the 350's oval headlight compartments--and also has a 350 plaque inside. Other than engine size and the steel body, the principal difference between a standard 350 GT and the Gladish's car is the transmission; it is no longer the ZF but instead is Lamborghini's own creation, though it connects up to the same Salisbury differential used on the earlier cars (which were replaced on later 400 GTs by a Lamborghini-made unit). The car also wears coachbuilder Touring's body number inside its glove compartment, indicating that the car was built before the Milanese carrozzeria went into liquidation in the fall of '66.

Brian originally wanted a Miura but discovered that at 6-ft 2-in. he was too tall to fit comfortably into that popular car. Since purchasing the 350/400, Brian and his wife Julie have had the car completely restored and have shown it at several concourses. The first year they entered the Lamborghini competition at Concorso Italiano, it won a "clean-sweep: we won our class, best of show and people's choice." In 1998, the Gladishes entered the car in the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where it took second place in the extremely competitive "Grand Touring 1956-69" class. They subsequently took firsts in class at the Newport Beach and Palos Verdes concourses.

Brian and Julie met the legend himself, Ferruccio Lamborghini, on a visit to the factory on the occasion of the car's 25th anniversary. By then, Lamborghini was 72, and Brian remembers that "he didn't speak English but he was very nice. I think he was kind of overwhelmed by the love and appreciation that everyone had for the cars; he seemed really pleased to be there." For Ferruccio, the visit was a nostalgic celebration of a life he had given up long before: Though his cars were well-received, they never generated enough capital to keep Lamborghini Automobili out of financial trouble. In 1970, Lamborghini relinquished financial control to a Swiss industrialist, and by 1972 he was forced to withdraw completely from the company that bore his name.

Did this mean that Lamborghini had failed to fulfill his vendetta against the Old Man in Maranello? Italians are notoriously tenacious, so it is not surprising that Lamborghini joked after Ferrari's death at 90 that he planned to live to at least 91. Bravado aside, Ferruccio died at the age of 78 in his vineyard in the Umbrian countryside, satisfied that he had"sempre cercato di fare il meglio in ogni campo" ("always tried to do my best in every field"). A drive in either a 350 or 400 GT is all it takes to prove that he succeeded.

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By Genevieve Obert
3 Articles

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