Remembering the Lambo that blazed the trail.
The Lamborghini Urus and LM002 are super SUVs, worlds apart
Technically, the LM002 and Urus are both Lamborghini SUVs. They both sport the black and gold “raging bull” insignia that lends a reputation of supercar performance. Owning one comes with a curb swagger that you see often only in Beverly Hills or Dubai. That’s pretty much where any and all common ground end.
When Lamborghini announced the Urus, a lot of people thought the idea of an SUV from Sant’Agata Bolognese was blasphemous. How can a company that makes some of the most exotic supercars on earth build something on a shared VW Group platform that comfortably tote a pee-wee soccer team around the ‘burbs?
The Urus isn’t the Raging Bull’s first official foray into SUVs, however. That honor belongs to the LM002, a chunky 1980s off-roader that was more desert brute than family hauler. Nevertheless, to experience just how much has changed in the ensuing 30 years, we had to arrange a visit between the original bull that raged off road and Lamborghini’s latest high-riding offspring.
The LM002 is one of the rarest and most exotic factory off-roaders ever built. Born from an unsuccessful bid to win a contract to build an off-roader for the United States military—which ultimately went to the prototype that led to AM General’s Humvee—Lamborghini’s initial prototype was dubbed the Cheetah and built in California in 1977. With its rear-mounted Chrysler V-8, the only example of the Cheetah ever built met its demise in a crash.
Lamborghini didn’t stop the project there, though, deciding to press on with a production version it could sell directly to customers. After an initial LM001 prototype in 1981 at the Geneva show, Lamborghini returned to Geneva in 1982 with the LM002 that would ultimately reach production. Out of concerns for handling and stability, Lamborghini relocated the engine from the rear to the front and added a set of doors, as well as the latest creature comforts available in the 1980s—like air conditioning, a premium radio, power windows, and Italian leather rich enough to make a Versace coat jealous.
Revealed in final production form at the Brussels Auto Show in 1986, the LM002 was a hugely imposing, Hummer-esque symbol of 1980s excess. Only 328 examples of the so called “Rambo Lambo” were ever built. Under its boxy and expansive hood sits a 5.2-liter 450-hp V-12, with 368 lb-ft of torque, lifted from the Countach. Unsurprisingly, the brash machine caught the eyes and deep pockets of some of the world’s most affluent clientele—or at least, the sort you’d expect would find the LM002 appealing.
In 1986, such figures were mind-blowing in a Countach, let alone a giant leviathan like the LM002. The LM002 tips the scales at a chunky 6780 pounds, despite its use of fiberglass aluminum body components.
Despite its imposing looks, it’s rather easy to egress into the LM002’s purposeful confines. You sit high, propped up on the bucket seats, and the dash and center console sit high, likely a result of the giant prop shaft and transfer case lying beneath.
Instead of a 21st century array of high-definition LCD touchscreens, you have classic analog gauges, controls for the car’s integrated winch system, and other rather enigmatic push-button controls for the HVAC system and auxiliary lighting. Tumble the starter by inserting its one-edged key upside down, which seems more fitting for a bicycle lock, and the LM002 whooshes to life, hunting for a stable idle as it warms to reaching optimal running temperature. Having driven less than a few thousand miles, this specific LM002 sat for most of its life as a display car, meaning everything is nearly as fresh as when it came off the assembly line in Sant’Agata Bolognese. The doors click open and close with a resounding metallic thud, and the leather remains rich, supple, and free of cracks.
Although our time was extremely limited to a brief sprint around the local streets and driveways of a deserted corporate parking lot just outside Princeton, New Jersey, we didn’t need much to get an immediate impression of the way the LM002 drives. Needless to say, the LM002 is a bit, well, taxing, requiring a considerable amount of manhandling at low speed. Despite having power steering, the LM002 requires equal parts upper body strength and focus to alter the front end’s direction from anything but straight, especially around parking lots where the LM002 clearly had the turning radius of a semi hauling a space shuttle.
Getting the LM002 to move from a standstill also requires full attention. With a dog-leg long-throw five-speed and a clutch that hadn’t been bled in years, the LM002 struggled to get its nearly 3.5-ton mass out of its own way without billowing a cloud of clutch and smoke from underneath. But once going, the V-12 whirred smoothly as it climbed through its rev-range with nary a vibration through the chassis.
The V-12 doesn’t sound nearly as good in the Countach. In fact, it sounds industrial and almost unremarkably heavy-duty, but that’s in part due to the design of the intake system, which features barreled catch-can filters designed to filter and keep all sorts of fine silt, sand, and dust from entering the intakes, should the LM002 find its way trekking across the Sahara or the Gobi, which it is very much designed to handle. When new, the LM002 was capable of hitting 60 in just seven seconds and a top speed of 120 mph.
In comparison to its distant relative, the well-proportioned Urus appears somewhat more restrained. That said, the bonkers performance you’d expect from a modern Lamborghini is there in spades. It’s not a V-10 or a V-12 like in the Huracán or Aventador, but the Porsche-sourced twin-turbocharged V-8 in the Urus has a hefty 641 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, which dwarfs the LM002’s output. On top of that, the Urus has no aspirations to be a rock-crawling desert runner to compete with the Mercedes G-Wagen or Land Rover Defender. It’s extreme, but the Urus is very much a road car, and such high-powered SUVs that can storm the Nürburgring are hardly novel in today’s market. Between the Range Rover Sport SVR, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63, there’s a now competitive category in place where the Urus neatly nestles. In its day, the LM002 really stood alone.
As you’d imagine, life behind the wheel of the Urus was quite a bit more polished than in the Rambo Lambo. With its underpinnings from Porsche and an interior that feels lifted straight out of the Audi Q7, the Urus felt somewhat neutered in comparison. That is, until you mashed the throttle. Floor it and the Urus whips you backward into its sport bucket seats, until you stomp on the massive carbon-ceramic brakes (17.3-inch rotors with 10-piston calipers up front and 14.5-inch rotors with six-pistons at the rear) that feel strong enough to bring a freight train to a brisk halt.
While performance figures differ greatly, they’re reminiscent of the vastly different eras from which both cars came to fruition. The LM002 is a relic of the 1980s, but it’s also from an era where Lamborghini was trying to emerge from years of business struggles and didn’t have the support it currently enjoys as a member of the larger VW Group. One thing they do have in common is that they are both seriously expensive. When new, the base-price for an LM002 was about $120,000, or roughly $282,000 in 2019 dollars, compared to the $200,000 starting sticker for an Urus (before destination fees). Today, the LM002 is worth around $280,000 in #2 (Excellent) condition, which means it hasn’t even depreciated.
In a world where exotic high-performance SUVs are popular well beyond the paramilitary warlords and Middle Eastern oil baron demographic, the Urus was never going to be as wild as the LM002. Seeing the two side by side is a testament as to how far the SUV market has come, as much as it is evidence of how incredibly capable today’s manufacturers can engineer SUVs. This apple may have fallen very far away from the tree, but its taste is certainly suited to a much broader palate.