Lamborghini unveiled a prototype of its revolutionary Countach supercar at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show. With styling by Marcello Gandini (who already had the Miura to his credit), the exotic, 5.0-liter V-12-powered wedge dubbed the LP500 had people talking. Enough that Lamborghini moved forward with production, and the Countach LP400 road car debuted for 1974.
The design utilized many flat, trapezoidal surfaces and large ducts and air intakes, and the car's calling card was its flip-up, scissor-style doors, which would carry over to subsequent Lamborghini models. Sheet metal was made of aluminum, and was fitted over a tubular space frame. Also unique to the earliest cars was a wide depression in the roof that led to clear glass in line with the rearview mirror. The effect was a periscope, which aided in increased rearward visibility. Today, the "periscopo" LP400 is generally regarded as the most collectible Countach.
The 5.0-liter fitted to the prototype proved to regularly overheat, so the production model carried a four-cam V-12 engine that relied on six two-barrel carburetors to breathe. The car's designation was correspondingly changed to LP400, which stood for "Longitudinale Posteriore, 4.0 liter," to signifiy both engine placement and size. The engine's 375 horsepower was transferred to the rear wheels through an all-syncromesh five-speed gearbox.
The cars rode on relatively narrow Michelin tires and produced a small drag coefficient, all of which translated to a terrific top speed of nearly 180 mph. Braking was courtesy of four-wheel Girling ventilated discs, with A-arms, coil springs, and tube shocks all around. The Countach featured twin fuel tanks.
In 1978, after just 157 cars had left the factory, Lamborghini revised its flagship in the LP400S. The catalyst for change was the incorporation of Pirelli P7 tires—massive rubber front and rear (especially) that required big fiberglass fender arches and a completely new suspension and brake set up. Also available was an optional V-shaped rear spoiler, which improved high-speed stability, though it decreased top speed. In the LP400S, the Countach's trademark Campagnolo "telephone dial" wheels made their first appearance.
For 1982, alongside the LP400S, Lamborghini introduced the LP500S (also called the LP5000S), which derived its power from a 5.0-liter V-12. The LP5000S had slightly revised fender flares and front spoiler, and early cars of the series had Campagnolo cast magnesium wheels, while later cars used Ozzeta electron wheels.
Lamborghini revised the Countach again for 1985, with the introduction of the LP5000S QV, which stood for quattrovalvole, or four valves per cylinder. Engine size increased slightly to 5.1 liters, and U.S. cars were fitted with a Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system. As a result, the new car produced 420 hp (Euro cars kept their six Weber carbs and delivered 455 hp). No increase in power could outshine the stuck-on front impact bumper, however. Also new were rocker panel air intakes for the rear brakes.
For 1989, Lamborghini released the final variant of its supercar—the 25th Anniversary—which honored the company's silver anniversary as an automaker. The Anniversary model included about 500 small changes and updates over the QV it replaced. These included revised radiator air intakes just aft of the doors, updated chassis dynamics, and interior modifications like power windows and seats, a better air conditioning system, and extra sound deadening. Many consider the last Countach model to be the best handling of the line. It was also the most prolific seller, with 657 sold through April 1990.
The Lamborghini Countach was, quite literally, the poster child for 1980s supercar excesses, and while enthusiasts will forever argue about which generation was the greatest, the model as a whole will forever be recognized as an automotive icon.