22 August 2008

1988 Lamborghini Countach QV Anniversary

The sensation of the 1971 Geneva Salon, the Countach was styled, like its predecessor, by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini. Lamborghini’s four-cam V-12 was retained, though this time installed longitudinally.

To achieve optimum weight distribution, designer Paolo Stanzani placed the 5-speed gearbox ahead of the engine between the seats. When production began in 1974, the Countach sported an improved chassis and the standard 4-liter—instead of the prototype’s 5-liter—engine. Even with the smaller engine producing “only” 375 hp, the aerodynamically efficient Countach could attain 170 mph and, as one would expect, came with racetrack road holding to match. The car’s potentially largest market—the U.S.—remained closed to it until the arrival of the emissions-friendly LP500S in 1982.

The final development saw the engine enlarged to 5,167 cc and new four-valves-per-cylinder heads adopted for the Countach Quattrovalvole in 1985, the latter’s 300 km/h (186 mph) top speed making it—at the time—the world’s fastest car.

The Countach’s ultimate development, considered by many to be the most desirable, arrived in September 1988. Launched at the Italian Grand Prix, Monza, this was the Anniversary, introduced to celebrate Lamborghini’s 25th anniversary as a motor manufacturer.

Restyled and updated, the Anniversary incorporated hundreds of subtle changes and improvements over the Quattrovalvole. The body was reworked by Horacio Pagani, designer of the Pagani Zonda, gaining a new nose and front bumper/spoiler incorporating front brake air ducts. U.S.-destined cars retained the ugly 5-mph impact-resistant bumper, while the new rear bumper was common to both U.S. and European models.

The most striking difference in the Anniversary’s appearance was in the treatment of the radiator air intakes directly behind the doors, which featured thicker vertical strakes, color-matched to the body. Beneath the skin the chassis had been extensively updated for improved handling. Split-rim forged alloy OZ wheels were adopted for the Anniversary, shod with Pirelli’s new ‘P Zero’ tires. Available with carburetors in Europe or fuel injection in the U.S., the V12 engine was virtually unchanged from the Quattrovalvole. In total, 657 Countach Anniversary models were made between September 1988 and April 1990.

First owned by well-known Lamborghini aficionado Barry Robinson, during whose ownership it was registered BR 33, right-hand drive S/N 12462 is the actual car featured in the eight-page center section dealing with the Anniversary model in Peter Dron’s book, Lamborghini Countach – The Complete Story. It has also featured in numerous other journals and publications. S/N 12462 comes with service book stamped in 1988 (twice), February 1989, and January 2004 (at 10,732 kilometers) when £3,500 ($6,230) was spent at Modena Cars (Lamborghini Wycombe).

While in the current ownership the car has been fitted with a genuine, ex-factory Countach rear wing (an option when new) and an Alpine satellite navigation system. The engine has been serviced by recognized specialists Carrera Tune (2,000 km ago, immediately prior a trip to Le Mans in 2005).

Details
Years produced: 1989, for Anniversary in the USA
Number produced: 657 (68 for USA)
Original list price: $100,000
SCM Valuation: $75,000–$90,000
Tune-up/Major service: $1,900–$3,100
Distributor cap: $275
Chassis #: Engine compartment, on the frame rail between the engine & trunk
Engine #: Between the cylinder heads
Club: Lamborghini Club America, Orinda, CA
Alternatives: 1985–91 Ferrari Testarossa, 1979–80 BMW M1, 1971–89 De Tomaso Pantera
SCM Investment Grade: C

The Anniversary is widely regarded as the best road-going Countach in terms of handling and reliability, and we can vouch for the fact that this example is a most impressive performer, while its condition appears to indicate careful use and storage. Currently showing circa 15,800 kilometers on the odometer, S/N 12462 comes with a substantial leather-bound history file, original wallet and service book, spare parts list, and service invoices.

The SCM Analysis
This car sold for £37,250—roughly $69,000—at Bonhams’ Hendon sale on April 24, 2006. From where I sit, that’s a fair price; read on if you dare, that’s as warm and cuddly as I’m getting today.

As George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To keep me from sounding like a scratched CD, I have sat and leafed through my general musings from issues of SCM over the last few years regarding the Lamborghini Countach. Folks, the price this car made fulfills my every prediction. What was once $250,000 and a great collectible is now $70,000 and sinking. Observing the value trend has been like watching a slow train wreck.

In no way am I purposely trying to offend lovers of the Countach; let me explain. I do like the early Countach “periscope” cars; they are very cool, clean, and purposeful. Replacing the Miura must have been an incredible challenge, and the LP400 rocked the early 1970s automotive world. Everyone that I know who has owned one seemed to have a great appreciation for all good design from Italy. But the later evolutions of the LP400 reflect all that is wrong with 1980s exotic cars: dated looks, expensive repairs, poor parts supply, compromised build quality, crazy safety add-ons, and, by anyone’s standard, just OK usability. Harsh? Nope, just honest.

The stereotypical “poster of a Countach and Farrah Fawcett in every teenage boy’s room” has to be revisited and updated. Have you seen Farrah Fawcett recently? She acts really kooky and has aged as gracefully as Joan Rivers. The same can be said for the Anniversary Countach. It isn’t getting more beautiful or graceful; think rolling up the sleeves of your shoulder-pad-fitted pastel Versace jacket. Acceptable today only at a Halloween bash.

But here’s today’s honest hook. The aforementioned teenagers have in fact grown up, and some of them (loud groan) have started to collect 1980s cars as the focus of their collection, which is why these Countaches aren’t priced like Morris Minors—yet. Me? I’d rather have the Minor (specifically one of the pickups), so my head ain’t right either, I suppose.

Guys, disco is dead, “Charlie’s Angels” has been updated to include Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore, and their ride would be a Gallardo Spyder.

Remember, exotic cars are all about swagger. If you pull up in an Anniversary Countach outside The Ivy in Beverly Hills (or any other crowded bar/restaurant in America on any Thursday night), with Ms. Fawcett as your passenger, this will be the scenario:

Everyone will stare and mutter. When you get the door for her and hand over her cane so she can get out, you might get the idea why I feel this way. Let’s just hope her skirt isn’t a micro-mini.

If, for a split second, you see yourself in that scenario and you’re not wincing with the slightest tinge of “I must look like a prat driving something from ‘Back to the Future,’” then go ahead and part with the pesos to own a Countach. I’ll supply the Foreigner/Styx/38 Special cassettes.

Now, getting out of your Gallardo with Cameron Diaz is another story. A round of discreet golf claps and free parking out front, no doubt. And I’m sure we’d all agree that a micro-mini would be just fine here.

Stephen Serio is Italian, owns an Italian car, Miami Vice Seasons I & II on DVD, and has seen people drive up to crowded bars in Countaches (and Countach replicas on Long Island) and expect to get respect.

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