As Lamborghini celebrates 50 years of motoring insanity this week, now seems like an appropriate time to look back on what may have been their most important car. It's the Lamborghini that redefined what an automobile could do and created the modern supercar archetype as we know it.
I am, of course, talking about the Miura — a car that's even more crazy than the story behind how it came to be in the first place.
Why was the Miura such a big deal? Besides the fact that it looked amazing, it was the first production sports car with a mid-engine layout. Many consider the Miura to be the first true supercar as we know them today, and the one that set the pattern everyone has followed since.
The Miura debuted in 1966, a scant three years after Lamborghini was founded. Before we talk about the car, it's important to know what was going on at the time.
Lamborghini itself was a company born out of spite. Ferruccio Lamborghini had dared to criticize one of Enzo Ferrari's sports cars, leading il Commendatore to dismiss him as just a maker of tractors who knew nothing about cars. In an attempt to it stick to Enzo real good and develop his own ideal grand tourer, Lamborghini founded his own company.
And that's what Lamborghini's first production car was — the 350GT, a big grand touring coupe with a V12 engine up front, similar in spirit to the road cars that Ferrari and Jaguar were making in the early 1960s. Stylish and powerful, the 350GT was enough of a hit to ensure that Lamborghini could keep making more than just tractors.
But while the 350GT was an impressive car with a whopping 400 horsepower, it wasn't revolutionary. Lamborghini's next car, the Miura, would be the one to change things forever and really knock the boys in Maranello for a loop.
It is important to note here that while the Miura was the first production sports car with an engine in the middle, Lamborghini did not invent that setup. Racing cars had been mid-engined (often just called rear-engined back in the day) since the 1930s and 40s. There's also the Porsche 550 Spyder and Ford GT40, of course, and the De Tomaso Vallelunga, but none counted as production cars.
In addition, the midship Cooper T51 scored a major upset in Formula One by being the first car with such a layout to win a championship in 1959. Eventually, all F1 cars went that in that direction. Lamborghini proved to be way ahead of the curve by aiming for a mid-engine setup in a road car. Indeed, when they debuted the chassis at a show in 1965, everyone thought they were building a racecar.
Named after a type of bull (of course), the Miura debuted at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show before a stunned audience. They were captivated by the sexy, striking design penned by then-25-year-old Bertone protege Marcello Gandini.
As Autozine puts it, the car has a very sharklike, predatory shape with features like air vents on the B-pillars and headlamps that were flush against the hood when not in use. (Never mind the fact that they came from a humble Fiat 850 Spider, they looked great here!)
While the engineers were inspired by the success of the GT40 and other cars, they went a different path by mounting the car's 4.0-liter V12 transversely behind the driver. Sourced from the Lamborghini GT400, the engine's output was boosted to 350 horsepower, an extremely impressive figure for its day and for a car that only weighed 2,800 pounds. The Miura easily bested its Ferrari competition, and with a top speed of about 170 mph and a zero to 60 mph time in the low six-second range, it became the fastest car in the world.
Right away, the Miura was a hit. According to Autozine, rock stars and other famous people lined up to pose next to it while Lamborghini charged them four times the price of a Jaguar E-Type to own one. They produced 474 cars in the first three years.
But that's not to say the car was perfect. Handling was unpredictable, and some of the early cars were prone to fires, as we unfortunately had to witness a few weeks ago. Still, the Miura's performance was undeniable, and unmatched for a time.
At this point you would think that ol' Enzo was willing to jump into the mid-engine game at full throttle. Not so. In a rare display of giving a shit about someone who wasn't himself, Ferrari was concerned that a mid-engine car would be unsafe in the hands of his more inexperienced customers. (Maybe it wasn't just his humanitarian side coming out for once. He did need to keep people alive to buy more Ferraris.)
While Ferrari had tepidly stepped into this realm with the Dino cars of the late 1960s, none could match the Miura's performance. They wouldn't put out a real Miura rival until 1973 when they debuted the incredible flat-12 Berlinetta Boxer.
As for Lamborghini, they continued to release newer, lighter, and more powerful versions of the Miura like the P400S with a reinforced chassis and 370 horsepower. But the last and greatest Miura variant was the SV, which had power bumped all the way to 380 horsepower. A one-off roadster was also built, as was a race-built Miura Jota version, but that one was destroyed in a crash. Sad face.
Lamborghini ultimately phased out the Miura in 1972. Two years later they debuted the Countach, a car that managed to be spiritually similar to the Miura in many ways but also radically different. It was also designed by young Marcello Gandini, which is one hell of a design resume to have.
The Miura was a huge deal for a lot of reasons. For one, it sparked the supercar war between Ferrari and Lamborghini that lasts to this day. Many supercar companies compete in that race as well, but at the end of the day, really always comes down to those two.
Second, the Miura showed the world that the mid-engine layout was not only viable for road cars, it was the definitive future of the supercar. The McLaren F1, the Audi R8, the Carrera GT, even the litany of mid-engine Ferraris that have come out since then — they are all the children of the Miura.
So the next time you're admiring the new Lamborghini Veneno or watching a Ferrari 458 Italia immolate itself, thank the Miura. We owe it a lot.