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MCALEER: The car so shocking it's named after a swear

Once upon a time, two Italian gentlemen had an argument, and Lamborghini was born. This much you likely already know - but like all really heated arguments, things really got interesting when somebody started swearing.
countach
There were only about 2,000 Countachs ever made — including this 1984 5000S owned by Burnaby’s Jeff Dow — adding to the car’s legendary status.

Once upon a time, two Italian gentlemen had an argument, and Lamborghini was born. This much you likely already know - but like all really heated arguments, things really got interesting when somebody started swearing.

A recap of gearhead lore: Ferrucio Lamborghini, tractor magnate and passionate car aficionado, pops over to see Enzo Ferrari and complain about the gearbox in his 250GT. Enzo tells him to stick to driving tractors. Much angry arm-waving ensues.

The direct result is Automobili Lamborghini, and the first cars like the 350GT. These were V12-powered Grand Tourers, designed for the road, as opposed to Ferrari's race cars for the street. As a fan of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL and the Jaguar EType, Ferrucio sought to create a more genteel Italian thoroughbred to compete with the high-spirited, hot-blooded steeds from Maranello. Speed yes, but also comfort.

Behind the scenes, however, Lamborghini's employees had rather another idea. Two young engineers, Paolo Dallara and Paolo Stanzani, came up with their own idea of a twoseater race car for the street as a prototype. Surprisingly, Ferrucio approved it for production, thinking it would become a low-volume machine to support the brand. When it was shown off at an auto show in Turin in 1965, designer Nuccio Bertone hurried over to shake Lamborghini's hand. A partnership was struck, and the Miura was born.

It is, perhaps, the most beautiful car ever made. More than slightly temperamental, the Miura remains at the top of the list for collectors around the world, and has a delicacy and curvaceousness not seen since that heyday of 1960s design. An utterly wonderful car - so how do you design a follow-up?

Well, here it is, a dagger-stroke compared to the Miura's caress. It's outrageous. It's gobsmacking. It's as iconic as the statue of David and as fractured as a Picasso. It makes no sense now, and even less by 1970s standards. It is the Countach.

Marcello Gandini, the young pen behind the Miura, is an example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Young, talented, and impetuous, he gave little consideration to either driver comfort or functionality of his follow up work, seeking only to build a car that would shock the world. He'd done wedge-shaped designs before, stilettos like the Alfa Romeo Carabo concept; this, however would be a production car.

Almost all Lamborghinis, from Miura to Huracan, take their name from fighting bulls. Ferrucio was a Taurus, thus the badging, and thus the naming convention. However, the Countach would get its name in a different way.

The story goes that young Gandini revealed his stunning concept to Nuccio Bertone, causing the head of one of the world's finest design studios to lose his cool. "Countach!" exclaimed Nuccio in surprise and delight, a semi-profane description that doesn't have a direct English equivalent. It's basically "My goodness, what an attractive young lady," except much more R-rated. Incidentally, if you've ever wondered, it's pronounced "Cown-tak."

This particular one belongs to Jeff Dow of Burnaby, who has owned it since 2007. It's a 1984 5000S, the Euro-spec model, and is therefore quad-carbureted rather than fuel injected. It's also missing some of the horrid U.S.-spec bumpers that were required later in the Countach's life.

Dow regularly brings his dream car to various shows around the Lower Mainland, weather permitting, which is something of an act of bravery these days. It's not so much that the Countach is temperamental (although it is a 30-year-old Italian car after all), it's more that Countach values have absolutely skyrocketed in recent years. Putting a firm price on things is tricky, but auction results indicate this car is worth closer to half a million than the quartermillion it might have fetched last year.

Dow, however, has no intent of selling this machine for profit and you can see why. It's the exotic, the dream machine he's always wanted. What would you replace it with?

As the 5000S's mighty 4.8 V-12 crackles to life and honks the car up the hill towards UBC, it's worth reflecting on the Canadian connection to the Countach. If you'd been present at a European Formula One race in the 1970s, you'd likely have seen a custom-bodied Countach wearing Maple Leaf insignia.

These were the Walter Wolf cars, essentially privately funded testbeds for Lamborghini's RD time. They were always ahead of the curve, and they always wore Canada's national flag as Austrian-Canadian oil baron Walter Wolf was deeply proud of his adoptive country. He claims to have introduced Gilles Villeneuve to Enzo Ferrari, and certainly was excellent friends with the young Québécois racer.

Wolf's cash infusions kept Lamborghini afloat for several years, but the Countach lost some of its shock and awe as the years went on. The high water mark, apart from the clean-lined perfection of the LP400, is probably the last of the Wolf cars, a 500 h.p. brute with F1-derived rear suspension and a madcap 8-to-1 steering ratio. It's currently located in Japan, freshly restored and tucked away. Lamborghini only made 2,000 or so Countachs over a 15 year period - they sold nearly as many Aventadors in two years. The latter owes a great deal to its mighty ancestor; every year, Lamborghinis get more usable, faster, more competent. Still, they once created a machine that still echoes through the ages, bellowing even when it's standing still.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. Contact him at mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com.