Curbside Classic: 1971 Lamborghini Countach LP500 Replica – Ciao, Marcello

Marcello Gandini, one of the greatest car designers of all time, died last week aged 85. Many publications have been running his obituary, or listed his top 10 (or 12, or 20 or whatever) greatest designs to pay homage to an outstanding artist. CC will too, in its own way: look what I found on the side of the road for the occasion.

Born in Turin in 1938, Marcello Gandini (above, on the right) got his start in the thick of things when he was hired by Nuccio Bertone (on the left) in the mid-‘60s to assist and eventually replace Giugiaro as head of Bertone styling.

Sporty Gandinis, clockwise from top left: 1966 Miura, 1975 Dino, 1973 Stratos, 1969 Iso Lele


One of the first big impact designs he delivered was the revolutionary Lamborghini Miura, unveiled in 1966. Remaining at the helm of Bertone until 1979, Gandini’s accomplishments are too numerous to list, going from the Alfa Romeo Montreal to the Innocenti Mini, along with a string of one-offs, studies and prototypes.

Family Gandinis, clockwise from top left: 1972 Fiat 132, 1974 Audi 50, 1982 Citroën BX, 1974 Maserati QP2


Nearly all Lamborghini and many Maserati products from 1970 to 2000 are part of his portfolio. The Citroën BX was one of the last designs he authored for Bertone, before working as a consultant for Renault from 1980 to 1985.

Quirky Gandinis, clockwise from top left: 1969 BMW, 1968 Alfa Carabo, 1990 Bugatti, 1967 Fiat 125


Marcello Gandini continued to be in high demand in the ‘90s, penning the Bugatti EB-110 prototype and the (De Tomaso) Qvale Mangusta. He officially retired in 2005, but remained very present on the automotive scene right until his passing on 13 March 2024.

Of all carmakers, Lamborghini arguably had the deepest relationship with Gandini, in that the impact of his work remains engrained in present-day models, long after the Italian marque was taken over by VW. It all started with the Miura and continued with the likes of the Espada, but from a styling perspective, the one that durably influenced Lamborghini was the Countach, made from 1974 to 1989. However, even in its earliest incarnation, it was the product of a series of compromises.

The purest form of the design was the very first LP500 prototype, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show back in March 1971, though Gandini had actually premiered this extreme wedge design on the Alfa Romeo Carabo show car back in 1968.

The Countach prototype was admired by all who saw it and was featured in many contemporary magazines. From an aesthetic point of view, it was a great success, instantly outshining the Miura, whose production was now curtailed to make way for the Wedge of the Future.

But it also gave Lamborghini a number of technical headaches, which required immediate attention if the car was to ever become a production model. This was due to the new Lambo’s extremely short (less than six months) development time, which essentially turned the whole schedule completely on its head. Having started with the end product, Lamborghini engineers were now going to have to work backwards to make the Countach a reality.

One of the main problems was the mid-mounted V12’s persistent overheating. The louvred air intakes were completely insufficient, so a major redesign, with large scoops and side NACA intakes, had to be devised. These modifications were made on the steel-bodied prototype itself, bit by bit. The chassis was also completely re-engineered.

The show car’s interior (above), stylish and futuristic though it was, also had to be completely redesigned from scratch. Our replica feature car’s interior is closer to that of the 1974 Countach than the prototype’s.

In addition, the marque was entering a period of turmoil as its founder started looking for a way to save his business: both the car offshoot and the main tractor business were bleeding money. By 1974, Ferrucio Lamborghini had sold all his shares in the company that bore his name. But at least he had left the Countach as his legacy.

This replica is impressively close to the real thing. At least, that’s what it seems like from a non-expert’s point of view. It is absolutely stunning – the photos really don’t do it justice.

One novel feature that was present on the original car (and is reproduced in this excellent replica) was the “periscope” rearview mirror. Looks like a high-mounted stop light, but it’s not.

A side-by-side comparison between the Japanese replica and the original car is not on the cards, given that the original car, which was gradually turned from a show car to a test mule, was scrapped fifty years ago soon after the above picture was taken. It’s a puzzle why they sacrificed the prototype in this fashioned, as it was structurally quite different from the production car, so this crash-test did not prove much of anything.

According to Japanese websites (this car has already been spotted by a number of folks here), this replica was made by a dedicated Countach fan who lamented the fact that he could not afford the genuine article. But being a man of some means, and acquainted with an extremely talented coachbuilder, he decided to recreate the 1971 Countach using a gen 3 (W30) Toyota MR-2 chassis.

Why the MR-2? Because it is mid-engined, features a very rigid frame and happens to have the exact same wheelbase as the Lambo. And it’s a 1.8 litre Toyota, so quite a bit cheaper to run than the 4-litre V12 that the original car had. However, the MR-2 was apparently imported from the US, presumably so that it could be LHD.

This genuine one-off labour of love took three years to realize, getting its license plates in 2019. Turns out it was somewhat prescient, as Lamborghini themselves were in the process of painstakingly re-creating the LP500 prototype in Italy at the time – albeit one that would be 99% identical to the original, chassis, interior and drivetrain included. That car was finalized in 2021 in the very same yellow hue sported by our feature car, as well as the 1971 original.

I don’t know whether Marcello Gandini was aware of this replica, but there has been a spate of re-creations of long-lost one-offs over the past few years. The 1970 BMW Garmisch, another stunning Gandini/Bertone work, was recently resurrected at great expense by the German carmaker recently, with the designer’s assistance. It must have been very gratifying for him to see his work was held in such high esteem.

Given how bastardized the poor Countach’s design was in its later years, it is fitting that at least two replicas of the original shape have emerged – if only to remind us what a stunning and gutsy chef d’oeuvre it was at heart. Even if, in this case, said heart is a humble Toyota 4-cyl. engine…


This heralds the start of Gandini Week at CC – time permitting, three more Italian beauties designed by the maestro will follow.


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