We've got enough hopped-up supercars and luxury coupes in the Fantasy Garage, yeah? There's the Veyron, the world's fastest production car in a straight line and the Group B Audi quattro S1, one of the world's fastest around a gravel corner. You can't get more sinister than the Daimler Drophead Coupe and Buick GNX, but you can get more überholprestige (that's German for, "I see the car behind me. I must get out of its way.") Lamborghini's LM002, of course, is überholprestige. Once in Newport Beach I saw such a "Rambo Lambo" looming large in my mirrors. I quickly pulled off the road and began praying it wouldn't hurt me. And I'm an atheist.
During the past few years (and even still today), nearly every carmaker was jumping over itself to bring a full-sized SUV to market. Hell, there's talk even Bentley is considering it. But back in 1986, the odds of a supercar builder such as Lamborghini producing an SUV were as likely as Martha Stewart branding a line of assault rifles. They had a good reason to do so: profits. During the late 1970s, Uncle Sam was looking for the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle we'd later know as a HMMWV, or Humvee. And just as the New York Dolls' David Johansen morphed into Buster Poindexter, Lamborghini took a stab at building an all-rounder for the American Army. Why not?
The Rear-Engined 1970 FMC' XR 311 Concept
The 1977 Rear-Engined Lamborghini Cheetah Prototype
In 1977, Lamborghini fashioned the Cheetah prototype. Talk about a bastard; the Cheetah was built by US-based defense contractor Mobility Technology International. Turns out MTI lifted the design from FMC's 1970 concept, the XR 311. FMC eventually sued both Lambo and MTI, but the odd couple pressed on. The fiberglass Cheetah was built in San Jose and transported to Italy so Lamborghini could work its hocus pocus in the form of a 5.9-liter Chrysler V8 in the rear, hooked to a three-speed TorqueFlite transmission. Hardly the stuff of fantasy, these off-the-shelf Mopar bits.
The weird off-road dynamics of the Cheetah's rear-engine setup led the US military not only to pass on the Cheetah, but also to crash and destroy the only prototype. For you Area 51 types, the US Army never returned the Cheetah's remains to Lamborghini or MTI. (Mulder, are you there?) Subsequently, the US military signed a contract with AM General to produce the Humvee in June of 1981. Though, it seems obvious to those of us with eyes, the Cheetah's styling inevitably influenced the Humvee.
Undeterred, Lamborghini pressed on with its proto-SUV. The product finally saw the light of day in 1986. Gone was the peculiar rear-engined chassis and Mopar power. In was a proper (for off-road purposes) front-engine set up and a V12 lifted from the Countach. We could pretty much end this writeup with that last sentence. Does your SUV have a 48-valve DOHC V12 from the world's most lusted-after supercar of the 1980s? Didn't think so. Pressing on, Lamborghini draped the interior in sumptuous Italian cow hide, rich carpets, power everything and AC. Outside of a Range Rover, these accouterments were unheard of in an off-roader. The LM002 even had a premium Alpine cassette deck mounted in the roof. And that was just the civilian version.
While the US military decided not to play bocce ball, despotic armies all around the Mediterranean were enthralled by Lamborghini's four-kinds-of-butch 4x4. The Saudis ordered 40 of 'em, while Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi went for 100. Idi Amin was probably kicking himself for getting deposed in 1979. You know he would have amassed a fleet of thousands. The military versions all came with a trap-door roof hatch above the rear seats, so passengers could point their AK-47s in whichever direction their hearts desired, plus machine gun mounts on the back. Actually, the Saudi version came with machine guns.