Ask any car enthusiast of any age what defines the iconic Lamborghini brand for them and they’ll undoubtedly mention the words Countach, Murcielago, V12 engines, Aventador, Raging Bulls, Gallardo, possibly Espada and most-likely Miura. But the very first lambo of them all…? Not a chance.
Which is a bit of a shame, really, as the very first Lamborghini road-car was an exquisitely-built machine that actually saw Ferrucio Lamborghini take a (in 1964 money) 1,000 GBP hit on each 350GT made. This loss was understandable though as Ferrucio insisted that his cars not be built down to a price, yet still undercutting the competition – namely another Italian sportscar manufacturer called Ferrari.
Yet, it was the legendary Maranello (Ferrari) concern that prompted Lamborghini to enter into sportscar production alongside his already-succesful line of Tractors in the first place. Story goes that Ferrucio visited the Ferrari factory back in the early 60’s with the intention of purchasing one of Maranello’s finest. But after being ignored, shuffled about and generally treated disrespecfully on that initial visit, Ferrucio walked away with his pride damaged and a deeply-seated resolve to become a producer of exciting sportscars to outshine Ferrari.
Also, one can’t help thinking that having your name emblazoned across a sexy and largely capable V12’d supercar was probably far more gratifying and prestigious than on a Farming vehicle…
Whatever his reasoning, 1963 saw Lamborghini introduce the striking 350GTV Prototype at the Turin Salon to rousing fanfare. The following year (after some notable styling revisions and a detuned engine) the 350GT entered into production with Carrozzeria Touring implementing its impressive ‘Superleggera’ (Superlight) methods of aluminium-body construction.
Lamborghini’s very first car is sometimes seen as a slight mish-mash of curves and challenging angles, but the end result was nontheless captivating. Reports from the day focus on the excellent handling, performance and build-quality of the 350GT and routinely tout it as one of the best GT cars of the 1960’s. All of this positive press wasn’t enough for Ferrucio to lose a hefty sum on each one made though, as his insistence to produce a vehicle of exquisite quality adorned with high-end build techniques came with the underlining mantra of securing his reputation as a future force to be reckoned with.
Overall weight was kept down to 1450 kg and power came from an all-aluminium 3.5L V12 mated to a robust 5-speed German ZF gearbox chucking out 270 bhp, enabling 60 mph to emerge from 0 in just 6.5 seconds… That’s pretty brisk for a well-appointed and beautifully-built GT car from 1964. Full 350GT production topped out at just 135 units being made.
The updated 400GT was introduced a year later in ’66 and used mostly steel-bodied construction along with an enlarged V12 lump (upped to 4L) relinquishing 320 bhp. There were some minor styling changes infused as well – most noteworthy being the quad-headlamp setup. Only 23 of these were made. There was also an unconventionally attractive 2+2 steel-bodied version of the 400GT which accounted for 247 examples built until up to 1968.
With barely 3 years under its belt as a vehicle manufacturer, Lamborghini unveiled the stunningly beautiful Miura in 1966. It goes without saying that all eyes (and hearts) were blown away and rather transfixed on this striking new Supercar from the barely-broken-in Lamborghini. The 350GT/400GT became the Islero in 1968 and eventually morphed into the Jarama (from ’70-’76) but as the world (mostly young men and famous folk) fell in love with the lovely Miura, the somewhat forgotten GT car that started it all gracefully slid into the history books (and relative obscurity) as simply just that – the car that started it all.
The 350GT was an uncompromising first effort from a man empassioned by style, pace and beauty. It was also his best. The sheer attention to detail graced upon each of the 135 cars made prompted other European manufacturers to take notice as well. It also raised the bar and established Ferrucio Lamborghini in the burgeoning automotive world he so dearly dreamt of makng his mark in.