Successful family businesses in Italy traditionally become closely held dynasties that rarely fall out of control of family members, even over several generations. This old-fashioned paradigm has been challenged of late, but back when Ferruccio Lamborghini gave up his interests in the companies bearing his name, this model was the rule. It is therefore remarkable that--though the company did indeed suffer over several decades from erratic ownership--Automobili Lamborghini survived and even rose to celebrate its latest offerings, the Murcielago and Gallardo. What is not so remarkable is that the Lamborghini family continues to revel in the reputation established by Ferruccio all those many years ago and continues to polish its reflected glory as much as possible.
And what better way to do so than to build a memorial to the man himself? Ferruccio's son Tonino did exactly that, opening the Centro Studi e Ricerche Ferruccio Lamborghini in 2001. The name literally means Study and Research Center but translates better as convention center and exhibition hall, with museum thrown in for good measure. The building's modern triangular architecture uses a striking pattern of two-tone brickwork reminiscent of the striped marble on the Duomo in Florence. It's located only 25 km from the factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese, in the little town of Dosso. You'll see the Lamborghini Calor (boiler) factory right next door, and the original Lamborghini tractor factory is just minutes away in Cento.
Back in Dosso, the dramatic front double doors let you know you're in the right place: two Lamborghini bulls (toro in Italian, the symbol of Ferruccio's zodiac sign, taurus) greet you. Inside, your eyes are assaulted by a riot of color--metallic blue stairs rise above, Persian rugs line the floors between tractors and cars, cases full of models and walls filled with photographs all clamor for your attention. But I'd bet a Euro or three that it's the bright red car that first grabs you--even though this is one of the smallest cars here. It's also historically significant: This tiny red two-seater was Ferruccio's own first race car. It's official name is the Prototipo Ferruccio Lamborghini, and it dates back to 1947. Ferruccio even placed a triangular nose emblem reading FLC on the car, though the components all came from Fiat Topolinos. However, Ferruccio tweaked the little 500cc engine to get 650cc displacement for a top speed of 100 mph. Ferruccio and friend Gianluigi Baglioni entered the car in the 1948 Mille Miglia and drove 700 of the 1,000 miles before having an off-road accident. Neither driver nor passenger were hurt, but the accident is blamed for Lamborghini's later distaste for racing.
Unlike the factory's museum, this collection emphasizes Ferruccio's personal cars and accomplishments throughout his life. Tractors therefore take pride of place, with many examples on display, from one of his first--a 1947 "Carioca," built, as all his first efforts were, with surplus military machinery--to the latest haulers and threshers. In 1959 he expanded into boilers and air conditioners--there's a 1965 model on display--and soon after began his third enterprise: a helicopter company. Lamborghini only built one, which failed to meet government licensing regulations, but now hangs high above the display here in Tonino's collection.
It's a good thing for supercar lovers that Lamborghini's helicopter efforts failed, just as it's a good thing Enzo Ferrari was so dismissive of this "lowly" tractor manufacturer. If Enzo had bothered to address Lamborghini's complaints about his noisy, unreliable Ferrari, Ferruccio wouldn't have vowed to match--or better, beat--Ferrari at his own game. Some of the cars Lamborghini drove himself are here in the exhibit hall: a gorgeous red 1966 Miura P40 SV and a 1970 Jarama S. A 1971 Countach, a '66 400GT, '67 Espada and a '68 Islero, all brightly colored, some just in chassis form, some featuring odd touches like woodwork, are interspersed through the crowded exhibit space. Auto, marine and tractor engines join in, as well as a bicycle and a bronze bust of Ferruccio mounted high atop a bronze wreath.
One tiny mini-car on display turns out to be brand new, not a piece of Ferruccio's history. It's a Town Life electric car, with echos of the Fiat 500, the old Topolino, and the new Sparrow, and it's being produced by Tonino Lamborghini in partnership with a company in Foligno, Italy. They've got a cool webpage at www.townlife.it (you'll need Flash). Turns out Ferruccio's son Tonino has done quite well with the family name, even if the only cars he produces are electric; examples of Tonino's watches, eye wear, clothing, gourmet food (pasta, basalmic and olive oil) are on display here on the second level. What you don't see here you can find online at www.lamborghini.it.
Tonino may even be there to meet you, as you have to write ahead in any case, since conferences sometimes close the museum to the public. When you write or fax, ask for a copy of the brochure--it has a handy map that will help you find the place. --GO