Today Lamborghini is a small piece of the hulking Volkswagen empire, with a GT racing program, a successful line of supercars as well as, soon, an SUV cash cow. But there was a time when the company was a bit more fly-by-night, and in few cars was that as clear as in the 1995 Diablo Jota, a car I forgot about until today.
I started today as I do all days: looking through all of Lamborghini’s media site for obscure photographs of its 1990s oddball years.
From the late ‘80s up until the late ‘90s, ownership of Lamborghini changed hands a number of times, with the company alternately owned by Chrysler, something named Megatech, and probably a local credit union in Sant’Agata Bolognese if I had to guess.
In any case, the story of the Jota is that Chrysler gave Lambo a racing division when it took over in ‘87 with the aim of running in Formula 1. That dream was short-lived and by the mid-’90s, Lamborghini wanted to get in on GT1 racing, but it knew it didn’t have nearly enough money to start a successful program. Knowing it couldn’t go up against the likes of Ferrari and McLaren with their expensive factory support, Lamborghini decided instead to simply build a car that could be used in racing and sell those to privateers.
Thus came the Jota, kind of like a homologation special for a race car that didn’t exist.
The car got a new ECU, new cams, a new intake, an astoundingly loud exhaust (all of which was good for nearly 600 horsepower out of its naturally-aspirated V12), fixed suspension, adjustable swaybars, plexiglass windows instead of glass, new ducting, vents and a gigantic wing.
Of course it got a huge wing. What else.
In any case, the Jota was very much a race car for the road, and Lamborghini sold 16 Jota kits, meant to be installed by a dealer, and also 12 complete cars assembled by Lamborghini’s own distinct race division down the street from the main factory, a leftover from that F1 run, as LamboCars recalls.
As it was, the Jota plan didn’t exactly go perfectly, as Lamborghini owners preferred to run their race-ready cars on the street, probably in a low gear, at two miles an hour, outside a hotel in Monaco. Racing was less important for the Lambo clientele.
I can’t blame them. Listen to how good the Jota sounds.
That’s probably enough, but listen even more.
Lamborghini presumably got fed up about its buyers and eventually tried its hand at its own race program in 1998. That was a flop, too, as the company only built a single car, the 132 GT1, and never hit the track.
But none of that is what I love most about the Jota. It’s not about what the Jota has. It’s what it doesn’t: the Jota came without a rear view mirror.
Remember that rear visibility in a Lamborghini Diablo was already pretty garbage, and that was before you factor in that the Jota got a giant rear wing and also a raised engine cover for its new intake and also two roof-mounted snorkels to funnel extra air to the motor.
Did Lamborghini try to make some slot where you could kind of see a little bit of what was behind you so you could back up into a parking space? No. Did Lamborghini rig up some kind of camera to see out the rear? No. Lamborghini was a little company that was doing what it could and was making no apologies for it. Here’s our car that has air intake where the rear window should go. That’s fine.
Other car companies have made cars without rear view mirrors, particularly the Maserati MC12, another race car for the road that did without its rear window. But there’s something different, more carefree about the Diablo Jota, like the company just did not care in the least. If you have a problem with it, just buy something else.