Lamborghini created a buzz with its exotic Urus SUV concept at the Beijing auto show in April, but a quarter of a century ago it generated a veritable hurricane of hyperbole when it launched its ancestral inspiration, the LM002, a sort of Countach-cum-monster-truck.
A top speed of 210 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of eight seconds might sound a bit lethargic for a V-12-engined mid-1980s Lamborghini but road testers of the time, myself among them, thought the numbers were pretty startling considering the new LM002 stood almost two meters tall and weighed in at three tons. And if it couldn’t corner like a Countach, well, it could certainly be driven through much deeper sand, an important attribute to the oil sheiks high on its customer targeting list.
With the intro of the outrageous - in terms of sheer size, power, performance and princely $210,000 Canadian price tag - LM002 in 1986, Lamborghini was planning to make big knobbly Pirelli Scorpion tire tracks in largely unexplored market territory. The only other makes then venturing into this slowly emerging segment were Land Rover with its Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz, sort of, with its Gelaendewagen, both of which sold for less than a quarter as much as the Lambo.
Today, Lamborghini would be jumping on a standing room only high-end sport ute bandwagon where it would vie for valet parking attendant attention with luxury brands that include Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac, Lincoln and soon it seems Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Ferrari.
The LM002 wasn’t actually the first off-road Lambo. Company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini was Italy’s biggest agricultural tractor maker in the 1950s when, as the story has it, he bought his first Ferraris and found them wanting in sophistication if not performance and vowed he could do better.
The first car to bear the Lamborghini raging bull badge was the concept 350GTV of 1963, which was followed shortly afterward by the first production model, the 350 GT, and then stunning creations such as the Espada, Jarama, Urraco and in 1973 the most iconic of all Lambos, the Countach.
With exotic and fast cars like this in the company portfolio, why did it suddenly veer off the autostrada and into the sand dunes with an unheard of at the time high performance luxury SUV? Sport-utes were still considered by most in the 1980s to be trucks with a few comfort and convenience items added to make them a bit more user-friendly.
The project that would eventually result in the LM002 was launched in1977 during one of Lamborghini’s periodic life-threatening bouts with financial crisis that saw it, unlikely as it might seem, contracted by American company Mobility Technology International to design a new utility vehicle for the U.S. military to replace the Second World War Jeep.
The result was a big dune-buggy like vehicle called the Cheetah, powered by a rear-mounted Chrysler V-8 that was tested, to destruction as it turned, out by the military. It then rejected the design in favour of what would become the vehicle we know today as the Humvee or in civilian guise Hummer (with, incidentally, styling that looks more than a little Cheetah-inspired).
Undeterred and with new financing in place, Lamborghini pursued the military off-roader idea with a second version known as the LM01, still rear-engined but this time the power was supplied by an American Motors V-8. The engine-out-back design apparently created off-road handling problems and this project too was abandoned. The Lamborghini design team’s thinking then swapped ends and the result was the LMA of 1982, this time with the V-12 from the Countach, mounted up front.
The four-door production LM002 emerged in 1986 and was launched at the Brussels auto show. It was built around a tubular frame with aluminum body panels and stretched 4,790 mm between its bumpers (about 350 mm shorter than a modern Cadillac Escalade) and weighed 2,725 kg.
Under the hood was the 5.2-litre “quattrovalvole” V-12 usually found in the Countach, or in the otherwise identical LM04 versions a similar 7.2-litre unit created for powerboat racing. Both were topped by a six-pack of twin-throat Webers and produced 444 hp and 420hp (but more torque) respectively.
With those Webers flowing fuel at volumes matched only by the Trevi Fountain, the 290-litre gas tank was a handy feature. A five-speed manual ZF gearbox transferred the power to a two-range four-wheel-drive system that drove huge 325/65 Pirelli Scorpion run-flat tires on 17-inch rims. Interiors were beautifully trimmed in leather and wood and featured air conditioning, power windows and a stereo system mounted in a roof console. But buyers could specify just about whatever they wanted.
The first LM002 was delivered in 1986 to the King of Morocco and they proved popular with other Middle Eastern motoring enthusiasts, although it’s unclear whether any purely military models were built and sold; some sources say yes, others no.
A total of 328 were made between 1986 and 1993 and at least one of those came to Canada in 1988 priced at $210,000. I spent an hour or two driving it around the Oakville area and recall being intimidated by its size and revelling in the acceleration and the ripping howl of the V-12 at full throttle.
Car & Driver magazine’s Brock Yates dubbed the LM002 the “Rambo Lambo” and wrote it was “the closest thing to a street-legal Tiger tank known to man. Never before in living memory have we driven a vehicle that has turned as many heads, blown as many minds, freaked as many citizens, or been as much insane, outrageous fun…”