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Lamborghini factory (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)
Lamborghini factory (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)

Lamborghini

The world's fastest sports cars are built here Add to ...

Italy is the epicentre of couture, culture, cuisine and cars. Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini all call Italy home.

Lamborghini opened its doors in 1963. That's when Ferruccio Lamborghini built an ultramodern factory in the heart of "Terra di Motori," which means land of motors in English. That's where you'll find other factories such as Ferrari, Maserati, and Ducati. So it made sense for Lamborghini to set up shop in Sant' Agata, about 25 kilometres from Bologna in northern Italy.

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Ferruccio's goal was to build a better sports car than his rival down the road - Enzo Ferrari in the nearby town of Maranello.

And the result was the first production Lamborghini to hit the streets in 1964 - the 350 GT. This vehicle and dozens of others are on display at the Lamborghini Museum - it's a two-story trip down memory lane following the rich, but sometimes rocky, history of Lamborghini over the decades.

We're told Lamborghini is easy to find in the tiny town of Sant'Agata. But the locals in Bologna were wrong. It's tricky. You need a car, preferably one with a navigation system. Asking for directions is useless - we get turned around in circles on several occasions. We stop to ask a woman pushing a stroller, but she's clueless. Luckily on the horizon we spot several brightly coloured Lamborghinis in the distance behind her. We arrive minutes later at an unassuming low-story building on several expansive acres of land. It blends into its agricultural landscape beautifully, not disturbing the surrounding elements.

Our first stop is the factory where the Lamborghini Gallardo rolls off the assembly line. It's so clean you could eat off the floor. Three Gallardo trims - a two-door coupe, a spyder, and a superleggera, or super light version - are all built here. It takes the assembly workers three eight-hour shifts to hand-build one Gallardo. No wonder it costs more than $250,000 to own!

Near the hustle and bustle of the factory floor is the Lamborghini Museum. Step inside and you're transported through time. It chronicles the highs and lows of the auto maker through the decades. And it's done through dozens of pristine vehicles on two floors; you'll see everything from the classics to race cars to concepts, starting with the first production Lamborghini to hit the streets - the 350 GT.

You can't miss the 1964 red 350 GT, which is in mint condition. The engine, a 3.5-litre V-12 with 320 horsepower, was the creation of engineer Giotto Bizzarrini. The 350 GT could reach a maximum speed of 250 km/h. The body had aluminum, independent suspension, and disc brakes on all four wheels. Only 120 models were built from 1964 to 1966.

On the museum floor, the Miura stands out. Built from 1966-1971, it was designed by Marcello Gandini. The engine, centrally placed at the rear of the vehicle, was developed by Paolo Stanzani. It had a 370 hp, four-litre V-12 and could reach a top speed of 285 km/h. From this point on, Lamborghini named its vehicles after Spanish fighting bulls. Ferruccio, the founder, was born under the zodiac sign of Taurus and loved the symbol and all it represented.

The Espada was Lamborghini's top seller between 1968 and 1978. It was the first four-seat grand tourer built by the auto maker. With its four seats and large cargo area, it was practical for a family. But it was also powerful; it could reach a top speed of 260 km/h thanks to its 4-litre V-12, which delivered up to 350 hp. In total, 1,227 models were built. In 10 years of production, the Espada was the financial backbone of Lamborghini.

The oil crisis and socio-economic pressure forced Lamborghini back to the drawing board to build a new car with a smaller engine and a more affordable price tag. The Urraco was built from 1972 to 1979. For it, engineers created Lamborgini's first eight-cylinder engine. Originally it had a 2.5-litre displacement with a single camshaft. In 1974, it had a three-litre twin camshaft. For customers in Italy there was also a two-litre V8 engine. At first, Lamborghini planned to produce 2,000 vehicles a year, but it didn't come close to those numbers. Only 780 Urracos were built - 520 of the P 250s, 194 of the P 300s and 66 P 200 for Italy.

Another milestone model was the Countach LP 400, manufactured from 1974 to 1978. On display is the original prototype with the chassis number 001. The Countach was the hallmark of Lamborghini. It was the first model with scissor doors.

Only slightly higher than a metre with an extreme wedge-shaped design, it could top 300 km/h. It had a four-litre V12 with 375 hp. Marcello Gandini and Nuccio Bertone put their mark on this unique line that remains unchanged today. Its 12 cylinders were mounted lengthwise - Longitudinale Posteriore - which is why LP is in the Lamborghini model names.

In 1990, Lamborghini built another winner: the Diablo, designed again by Marcello Gandini complete with his trademark scissor doors. Between 1993-96, Lamborghini launched the first permanent four-wheel drive super car, the Diablo VT for Visco Traction. It had a 5.7-litre V-12 with 492 hp and could reach a top speed of 325 km/h. Other more powerful trims followed such as the Diablo GT. It could reach 338 km/h thanks to its a 6-litre V-12 engine. Only 83 were built, each one with a huge rear spoiler. When it was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September, 1999, it was the world's fastest sports car!

The Lamborghini museum is open to the public; admission is €12. Factory tours are also open to public, starting in April, 2011. For more information visit www.lamborghini.com.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Video: Visit the Lamborghini factory

It takes 24 hours to hand build a $250,000+ Gallardo at the Lamborghini factory near Bologna, Italy.

 

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