|Lamborghini Miura P400 Jota|
Ferruccio Lamborghini's very first car, the 350 GT, already rivalled the best his competitors had to offer. When he debuted the chassis of his second car two years later, at the 1965 Turin Show, the world was stunned by its ground-breaking design configuration. It was presented as a bare chassis only and at that time no coach-builder was commissioned yet to design and construct a body. For the time being, the new Lamborghini was known as the P 400, the P was for posteriore, Italian for mid-mounted and 400 represented the 4 litre displacement of its engine.
From the late 1950s it had become apparent in motor racing that mounting the engine between the driver and the rear axle provided for a near-perfect weight balance. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when employing this configuration for road use was the length of the driveline. A front mounted engine could be mounted almost under the dashboard without causing any problems and adding to the wheelbase. A mid-engine and transaxle had to be mounted behind the driver, but in front of the rear axle.
Chassis designer Gianpaulo Dallara overcame this problem by mounting the engine and gearbox transversely, with the crankshaft parallel to axle. This rare setup had previously only been used in the ill-fated Bugatti Type 252 and Honda RA 272 Formula 1 racers. As a result, the wheelbase increased by only 54 mm compared to the front-engined 350 GT. Much like the contemporary F1 racers, the radiator was mounted in the nose, but at an angle to decrease the frontal area and thus drag. In its design, the chassis was very much like that of the Ford GT40, which was also a major inspiration for Lamborghini to construct a mid-engined car in the first place.
As stated earliar, a coach-builder had not yet been assigned before its launch. All major Italian coach-builders realized the importance of the project and visited the Lamborghini stand at the Turin show. Touring was responsible for the 350 GT's design and therefore was considered by Feruccio first. His decision was made after several discussions with Nuccio Bertone. Not only the unusual chassis design, but also the deadline set by Lamborghini made it a very difficult project for Bertone. Lamborghini wanted the complete car ready for the 1966 Geneva Motorshow, which left only three months design time.
Adding insult to injury was Bertone's ongoing dispute with his head-designer Giorgietto Giugiaro. Giugiaro eventually resigned and joined Ghia, after sketching the first designs for the P 400. He was replaced by Marcello Gandini, who had previously worked as an interior decorator, specialising in night-clubs. Bertone had great confidence in this young designer and assigned the prestigious Lamborghini project to him, despite his absolute lack of experience. Gandini was probably in the best position to offer the fresh approach the P 400 project required. After all, the other Bertone designers had previously designed nothing but front-engined cars.
Making the most of the mid-engined layout, Gandini's design featured a very low nose. The two front wheel arches were the highest sections of the front end, whereas front-engined cars were usually dominated by a bulge over the engine. The nose is dominated by two grills, designed to release hot air from the radiator. Two air-scoops behind the side windows and in the sills are the most obvious cues indicating the engine position. To further cool the engine, the glass rear window was replaced by a set of black louvres, which covered the engine, but also provided the driver with a rearward view.
Gandini had completed the design in time for the Geneva show, but it was still missing a name. Feruccio Lamborghini was born under the astrological sign of Taurus and always had a fondness for bulls. He decided to name his new car 'Miura' after a Spanish fighting bull. The Miura started the tradition upheld to this day of naming Lamborghinis after bulls. Now with the body and name in place, the Lamborghini Miura P400 was ready to make its debut. Few visitors of the Geneva Motorshow expected the exotic Miura to ever roll off Lamborghini's production line, but Lamborghini was being approached by many potential buyers.
By the end of the year, the Miura production commenced. Amazingly the final examples were almost identical to the initial prototype, underlining the quality of Gandini's design. With 350 bhp available from the transverse V12 engine, the Miura provided unmatched performance figures. Its handling complimented the engine's performance, but was not as predictable as that of its front-engined counterparts. One of its rare flaws was the front lift created at very high speeds. For a company without experience in racing, Lamborghini came remarkably close to producing a race car for the road.
After the Miura launch, Lamborghini continued developing the chassis. Dallara had moved to DeTomaso and was replaced by his former assistant Stanzini as chief engineer. Stanzani's work resulted in two revisions launched in 1969 and 1971, the Miura S and Miura SV respectively. Both versions featured more powerful engines, the SV having 385 bhp. At the end of the production run around 800 examples of the car few expected to be built at all, were completed. In 1974 the Miura was replaced by the Countach, which featured a more conventional longitudinally mounted mid-engine layout.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on July 19, 2005
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