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The Car That Started It All

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On: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 10:46AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

The Car That Started It All

The most beautiful car I’ve ever seen was not in a showroom. It wasn’t even on the road. No, the day I fell in love with exotic automobiles began as a very inauspicious trip with my father to an Ames Department Store, in New Hampshire, while we were visiting my uncle.  

For the record, I had always loved cars. My father still has his white 1971 Corvette with its behemoth 454 that I used to beg and plead to take anywhere everyday for years. When Dad wasn’t around to pester, I would be out and about with Mom in our 1981 Toyota Corolla Tercel and beg her to let me shift the clunky 5-spd shifter just once. I had (and still have) hundreds of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, at least two functioning radio controlled cars every year, and a collection of Corvette posters that would have made Zora Arkus-Duntov proud.  

I did love Corvettes and, up until that day in New Hampshire, I was convinced that the Corvette was king of the hill, as far as I was concerned. I had a little red Matchbox C3 Corvette that was the crown jewel of my collection. However, as I perused the toy section of Ames, I stumbled upon an enigma. It was a car I had never seen, yet instantly loved. I didn’t know what it was called, because the name was too long for my young brain to piece together on its own. All I knew was that it was white, and looked far too wild to be a real car. I picked out the white Hot Wheels car and brought it to my father who explained that the car was something called a Lamborghini. At that moment in time I knew two things about that mysterious car:  The first was its name and the second was simply that I had to have it.  

Instantly that Lamborghini became my obsession. It took top billing among my toy cars and also headlined my thoughts for months. I managed to find a poster during my school’s book fair. I spent five dollars of my own money and never looked back. I then began to hunt for anything and everything I could about this car. The more information I found out, the more enamored I became.

It was called the Countach. The name just rolled off of my eight-year-old tongue. The shape, above all else, was mind bending. An ungodly angular wedge that always looked like it was going 100mph from any vantage point. It was as if God himself had harvested my most wild automotive fantasy straight from my imagination, and then ratcheted up the aggression and injected it with enough testosterone to make Barry Bonds blush. It seemed like more spaceship than automobile. It had a wing that was bigger than life itself. It honestly looked as if it was set to the correct angle, it would definitely send the car into orbit, back to wherever it came from. Then I found another picture of a red Countach whose doors were open, and that furthered the fantasy. Doors that opened up?! Impossibly cool. The black ’ears’ the Lambo became known for looked, to my young mind, as the only potential design anomaly. Why make a car so obviously aerodynamic and then tack on two giant appendages that would only grab the air and slow the car down? Soon I learned that those ears were made to do exactly as I assumed they did, but for a very different purpose. Where I thought the air would only serve to slow the car down, I found out that the designers intentionally made those air ducts to funnel air into the huge power plant that was located, not in front, but, in the middle of the car. The idea that someone had penned a car so audacious, so radical, and then a company had agreed to build it, was almost too much to comprehend.

I came to find out that my introduction to the Countach was actually close to the end of its 16-year model run (1974-1990) and that the model that stole my heart was actually the subtitled the 5000QV (Quattrovalvole, or four valves per cylinder). The LP400, LP400S, LP500S all predated the 5000QV and then the 25th Anniversary Edition took over for the last two years of production. The sheer power and performance specs on the car all but cemented the Countach‘s status as the perennial supercar in my world. Even to my novice car brain, the numbers were beyond anything I had ever seen. It had a 48 valve, 5.2 liter V-12 engine that produced a disgusting 455 horsepower and 369 ft lbs of torque. Those were ridiculously gaudy numbers for any decade, never mind the late 80s. I hunted down 0-60 times that were in the mid-4s and a top speed of 180mph. That type of speed seemed almost too fast to comprehend without a NHRA fireproof suit on. Every aspect of the Countach just seemed to be at the very extreme of limits. Even the rear tires were the widest I have ever seen on any car. They measured 345mm across (in contrast, a modern C6 Corvette uses ‘only’ 285mm on the rears). Those tires helped propel the rear-wheel drive-only Countach to the very zenith of the automotive elite.

For a time longer than I’d care to admit, I actually believed that the Countach was created by the Devil himself. Though instead of growing up and moving away from that thought, the more it began to make sense. What other creation on the planet could inspire so many deadly sins simply by existing? Lust by its audacious angles, pride in every man that owned one, envy in every that didn’t, greed in everyone that wanted the means to own one, gluttony of fuel by the constant temptation to hear that V-12 sing to redline on every shift, sloth in collectors who kept all but delivery mileage on their pristine garage queens, and wrath brought upon 99% of drivers foolish enough to challenge the demonic beast from Sant’Agata Bolognese. It is a theory I haven’t ever proven, but haven’t totally condemned either.

But for all its fanfare, the Lamborghini was more than a car to my young brain. It symbolized raw unadulterated emotion. It was power and imagination. It was the end of a search for the ultimate car, and the beginning of a new era for me. I now knew where my loyalty would lie from that day forward. As much as I loved the American muscle cars, the Italians were on another level of performance and prestige. Even as the Countach gave way to the Diablo, and then the Diablo to the Gallardo and Murcielago, my allegiance and heart never swayed from Lamborghini. I would always check the performance statistics of every car I came across and measured them against the Italian benchmark. Inevitably the other car, whatever it was, almost always garnered the same final judgment: “Not as fast”.

The Lamborghini even became a tool that brought my family closer together. Although my younger brother ultimately crowned a different Italian supercar as the ultimate dream machine (a very impressive adversary known as the F40) and my youngest brother seemed to favor the younger Lamborghini Diablo, it was the Countach that began the fascination for all of us. It was a common ground we found, of appreciation for automotive excellence. Car shows became family events, road trips held infinite possibilities (like heading up to New Hampshire to check back in with my uncle), and unfathomable excitement that maybe, just maybe, we would all see this mythical masterpiece called the Countach.

Twenty years later, nothing has changed. I still ask my Dad to take the Vette out, I still enjoy driving Mom’s car (she has since upgraded from our meek Toyota), and my brothers and I still call each other up just to reel off a list of exotics we caught just a glimpse of in our daily travels. Even my parents will chime in with sightings, but only when they are the special Italian variety. My eyes are always open and looking around for that red flash, and my ears are always tuned in for that special V-12 wail in the hopes that maybe today will be the day that I get to see the car that started it all, one more time.

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Lindee3 | 10:43PM (Thu, Jun 10, 2010)

This is truly written from the heart! I could feel every single word! What a gift you have, Lou!

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