Celebrating the Countach's 50th - and the NZ test driver who made it happen
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What's the most important Lamborghini of all time? The head says Miura (1966), because it established the template for the modern supercar: long, impossibly low and a massive engine in the middle.
But the heart says Countach, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its launch as a concept car this year. Trace the lineage of every flagship Lamborghini supercar from the Aventador backwards, through Murcielago and Diablo (check out this link for a birthday video of its own) and the wild looks and extreme character start with the Countach. It's literally the poster child of supercars. You know, because of all those posters.
Even Lamborghini can't stop thinking about it. It's now known that the company is creating a limited-run reboot of the iconic supercar, to celebrate its half-century.
The Countach LP 500 concept ("LP" for Longitudinale Posteriore, or north-south rear-mounted engine) was presented in yellow in 1971. The design was by Marcello Gandini (watch the video above as the great man looks back at his creation) and the chief engineer was Paolo Stanzini.
But following rave reviews for the Geneva Motor Show car, there was a third person who was crucial in taking the Countach from fantasy to reality: Lamborghini's chief test driver, New Zealander Bob Wallace.
They were simpler times and the process of prototype testing began when that same show car was fitted with a more serviceable 4.0-litre engine (the concept had a one-off experimental V12) and given to Wallace to drive to the limit on all kinds of roads, getting it ready for full production in 1974.
That car would be priceless today, but at the time Lamborghini thought little of using it for the crash tests required for homologation and then simply scrapping it.
How did a Kiwi become one of Lamborghini's most trusted employees? Wallace was born in Auckland in 1938 and raced from his teenage years, in an era where international drivers were regular visitors to NZ for summer (our summer, not theirs) motor racing series.
He moved to Italy in 1959 after a job offer at Maserati - which did not come come to fruition. He instead found work as racing mechanic and contributed to some iconic models, including the Camoradi USA Maserati Tipo 61 "Birdcage".
Wallace worked his way to Lamborghini as a trouble-shooter for development of the 350 GT, but was recognised as a talented test driver and evaluator. He became chief test driver, a job which included extensive road development. Most testing was carried out on public roads in those days.
Wallace contributed to the Miura, especially the S and SV versions, and most other Lamborghini road cars during the 1960s and early 1970s. But his biggest project by far was the Countach.
Unlike his arch rival Enzo Ferrari, Ferruccio Lamborghini had little interest in racing. But Wallace developed a number of competition models to try and convince his boss otherwise. These included the Miura P400 Jota, the Jarama "Bob" RS and the Urraco "Bob" - the only one to actually race, in a single event at Misano Circuit.
Wallace left Lamborghini in 1975, the year after Ferruccio sold the company. He and his wife moved to Phoenix, Arizona and established Bob Wallace Cars, where he restored classic Lamborghinis and Ferraris. He passed away on 19 September 2013, aged 75.
Check out the gallery below for an absolute onslaught of classic Countach imagery.