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Wolf Countach: The global ambassador of prototype Lamborghinis
In Yokohama, a wolf roams free at midnight. It howls along the elevated highways, strobing between the streetlamps, crimson-hued from jaw to flank. It is the first of its kind. It is the rarest of the breed. It is a Lamborghini Countach, one born under the sign of the Wolf.
Every Countach is special, but only three are this special. Handmade for Austrian-Canadian businessman Walter Wolf, this red 1977 LP400 is now owned by Eiichi “Eddie” Okado, who runs a small Lamborghini specialist shop in Japan. Despite the fact that the first Wolf Countach is extremely valuable, he drives it on the street regularly.
Raising of the Wolf
Any telling of how a prototype Countach wearing the Canadian maple leaf flag ended up cruising around Japan’s highways must begin with Walter Wolf himself. If Wolf is no longer quite a household name with Canadian gearheads, he should be, since he makes the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man In The World” look like Charlie Brown. A self-made man who emigrated from post-war Austria with essentially nothing, Wolf worked first as a diver repairing oil rigs, then eventually moved into oil speculation and importing. When the first oil crisis of the 1970s hit, he had sunk his money into a ship that just happened to be between ports. He made $100 million in profit overnight. That figure is not adjusted for inflation.
Wolf was a deep-sea diver, a helicopter pilot, an experienced motorcyclist, and a former rally car driver. He had his own range of Wolf-branded cigarettes and cologne. He lived in the south of France, and was friends and neighbors with F1 racing driver Gilles Villeneuve. He owned his own Formula 1 team, which won at Monaco in 1977, and the result earned him a Ferrari 512BB via a handshake bet made with Enzo himself. The world was Walter’s oyster, and money was no object.
The perfect car for a life lived at full speed? Why, a Lamborghini, of course. Wolf had dozens of them over the years, including multiple LM002s (which he hated), and several Miuras. For the latter, one of the last-ever Miura P400SVs was specially built for him out of unused parts, after the factory officially ceased production.
Developing the Countach
However, it is the Countach that is most closely associated with the name Walter Wolf. All through the 1970s, he kept the company afloat through infusions of cash, made mostly off the books. As a result of this patronage, and as a result of his inner-circle access to the world of Formula 1, several very special pre-Countaches were made, each one a snapshot of the Countach’s future.
The first pre-prototype is not really counted by most Lamborghini historians, but its genesis is typical of the way Wolf went about things. The original 1975 Lamborghini Countach LP400 came equipped with 225-series tires, which weren’t up to the task of putting down V-12 power. Wolf’s solution was to call legendary Lamborghini engineer Gian Paolo Dallara up one evening, and drive down to bolt the spoiler from one of the Wolf team’s F1 cars to the Countach’s roof.
That didn’t really work either, and the idea for a properly aerodynamic Countach was hatched. Dallara sketched out flared bodywork and the huge rear wing that would become an iconic feature of the Countach; Wolf called up Pirelli and demanded it produce a world’s-first 345-series road tire. It did.
This first prototype is the car Okado-san pilots around the city of Yokohama today, its quad-carbureted V-12 handbuilt and tuned by Dallara. It looks almost identical to the production LP500S, but at the time everything about this car was a first for Lamborghini. Each of the Wolf prototypes can be seen as the first steps in the evolution of the Countach.
The second prototype featured an enlarged engine—as Walter noted his first prototype now had grip more than equal to engine power—with the third prototype bored out even further. This final, third prototype was painted a dark blue and fitted with the gold accenting that became a feature of the Wolf Racing livery. It is an incredible machine, with a 7:1 steering ratio, nearly 500 hp on tap from its 5.0-liter V-12, eight-piston cockpit-adjustable front brakes, and a completely reworked suspension.
The third car can also be found nearby in Tokyo, where it is part of a large collection belonging to Shinjirō Fukuda. Fukuda-san is an enormous Walter Wolf fan and has had his Vector W8 and Maserati MC-12 painted in the Wolf Racing livery. He also campaigns a Wolf-liveried 911 in the Japanese Porsche GT cup series, for which the entire team dons Wolf Racing branded coveralls. There is no copyright infringement here, as Walter gave his blessing to the effort when he visited Japan two years ago.
Wolf under the rising sun
Wolf’s Countaches have a long history in Japan, and are woven surprisingly deep into the car culture here. Tribute cars are common, and any Japanese car enthusiast can immediately identify the Wolf insignia. In fact, if you head to any Tomica shop (the Japanese equivalent of Hot Wheels) and purchase a 1/64th-scale toy Countach, it wears the maple-leaf livery of the second prototype.
The reason for the Wolf car’s adopted Japanese home is due to the lasting effects of Japan’s bubble economy period. Walter never kept his cars for long, and replaced the third prototype with an incredible street-legal Porsche 935. The first prototype soon ended up in Tokyo as part of a supercar show. Unique to the period in Japan, and very popular, these travelling shows allowed young visitors to get a close-up glimpse of their hero cars.
Both Fukuda-san and Okado-san remember seeing the Wolf Countaches in their childhood, and both became obsessed with them. Fukuda-san founded a successful engineering firm, and thus has the wherewithal to amass his Wolf collection. Okado-san’s passion is what led him to open his Lamborghini specialist shop; when the first Wolf prototype crossed his path, he stretched everything to buy it.
When he was a boy, Okado-san’s father took him to that supercar show, and paid the extra fee so they could both sit in the first Wolf Countach. Now, he owns it. The hour is late. The garage door opens. The Wolf goes free, into the night.