When I left home for college I took down a framed picture of the Lamborghini Countach. It was the first car image I remember putting on my wall, and the only one still hanging when I left home.
About two decades later I watched a total stranger climb out of a gorgeous red 5000s Countach and I walked up to him and asked to shoot and drive his car for the show. Thankfully, he listened. After we talked and he saw our work, he agreed.
When you walk up and lift the door, the car seems smaller than it is in photos, or even in all the times I’d seen one on display. Getting in is a bit easier than some other wide-door-sill exotics, (I’m looking at you, Lotus Elise) because of the iconic doors. Inside, the seats are far more comfortable than their crescent shape appears. Compared with the elaborate shapes and aggressive bolsters of modern seats, the genuine comfort and capture of this simple design makes me wonder why it ever went away.
Unfortunately, the me that looked at the Countach on my wall never knew that I’d be six-foot-three and too big for the car. With the seat adjusted, my head still touches the ceiling. My feet are crowded in the pedal box with my legs aimed behind the center console and away from the left front tire. The steering wheel is small and simple and the entire interior has a sense of necessity instead of design.
This is the first V-12 we’ve driven on camera and it adds to the occasion by being carbureted as well. Turning the key kicks off a metallic old-school rumble both Italian and unlike anything modern. The five-speed gearbox has the classic gated shifter, but first gear is a dog-leg toward the driver leaving second and third in a line. The clutch is heavy but not surprising or unwieldy, and getting underway is uneventful except for the sense that at low speeds I’m just boring this car.
I immediately think of the videos I’ve seen where the Countach was driven hard, slid around, and pushed to the limits. I’m bummed to realize I won’t be doing that. While I know there are many logical reasons why a person wouldn’t push a half-million dollar borrowed supercar as hard as possible, there’s only one reason that influences my realization. I’m too big for this car. My long legs are not only canted to the right, but the bends of my knees land right at the cross piece of the steering wheel, almost touching the edges at nine and three. This leaves my hands positioned just above my knees and leaves me no room for quick steering maneuvers. A great amount of hand-shuffling occurs as I spear down this mountain road.
Thankfully, the experience of driving the Countach doesn’t require the upper limits of its capabilities. The speedometer is broken on this thirty-year-old car so we had no idea of our actual speeds, but both found the upper levels of second gear to be a satisfying pace. Considering that second gear is good for 84 mph, and we often found ourselves in third (which reaches 110), there was no doubt we enjoyed some high speed blasts in this car. Exact speeds remain unknown. The 4.7 liter V-12 feels lazy below three-thousand RPMs and real power is only revealed very high on the tach. The sound changes with the power, but never reaches the howl people often associate with Italian supercars. In truth, the Countach has a voice that demands presence and creates excitement, but keeps a low rumble that feels connected to the company’s distant origins in tractors.
Corners come and go with consistent and gradual moves as the Countach doesn’t reward darting turns or slammed shifts. The wide, low body doesn’t give the sensation of much body roll and the foot wide rear tires feel locked to the earth. There’s a sense of the mechanical nature of every part, with the unassisted steering offering up more sensation of the linkages than the actual surface of the road. Visibility is compromised in every direction and even compact cars tower over you. Yet I never feel concerned or able to lose the stupid grin on my face. The experience is both unique and difficult as it reminds you of all the sacrifices required to own and drive first generation supercars. Today’s equivalents are refined and luxurious by comparison.
The Countach is the ultimate supercar icon. Anytime we stopped and put up the scissor doors, near-accidents occurred as people pulled over to take a look. We fielded a constant flow of questions, memories, selfies, and family photos. Many people didn’t even know what kind of car they were seeing, yet they still wanted to be near it. This is the enduring power of the Lamborghini Countach.
The saying “Never meet your heroes” exists because so often those people or things we idolize let us down in the harsh light of reality. Spending the day driving the Countach both proves and defies this wisdom. In the light of current sports cars, the Countach shows its age and proves to be a dance partner who’s capable but never quite as agile as you might like. But the character of this car, from the styling, to the doors, to the low slung seating position fill every moment with the sense this car is a perfect moment in time and a life-time driving highlight.
I was sad to see the Countach drive away and take with it all the quirks and admiration that are intertwined everywhere it goes. I’ve done something that seemed too absurd to even dream when I had the poster on my wall. I’ve driven a Countach. It was stranger than I ever imagined. I only wish I’d had more time, more road, and more of a chance to push it to the limits of its capabilities.
For the first time in my life, I want to be short.