Lamborghini’s Front-Engine Grand Touring Coupes (Part II)

Today we return to our coverage of Lamborghini’s front-engined grand touring coupes and the story of the company’s first prototype. A teardrop-shaped two-door with clean lines and an angular rear, the 350GTV was the first passenger vehicle ever made by Ferruccio Lamborghini. His past experience was as a successful businessman and builder of stylish Italian tractors at Lamborghini Trattori.

The high-powered 3.5-litre V12 was finished (albeit to race car spec) and the coupé body was casually assembled by Carrozzeria craftsman Sargiotto, who usually made plastic moldings not cars. Was the next stop the 1963 Turin Auto Show? No.

While the two key components of the 350GTV – the body and engine – were complete, they weren’t exactly mesh all good. When the Sargiotto body folks were assembling the GTV, they ran into a problem: the body panels wouldn’t fit around the V12 engine. Apparently, the meetings between designer Franco Scaglione and engine manufacturer Giotto Bizzarrini never took place!

Monsieur Lamborghini had a crucial decision to make at that time. Either the car needed extensive redesign work (and new construction) or a new, smaller engine had to be purchased. Ferruccio chose door number three. Since the GTV was never intended to be a production car, it didn’t matter if it handled well, hit the promised top speed or wowed onlookers with its engine.

So the GTV was never a running vehicle. The engine was removed and the body was completed without a power plant. Without an engine, the coupé sat too high on its springs, so that the front end was weighted down with a large number of bricks. Since the GTV wasn’t meant to be driven just anywhere, it also took the pressure off the rest of the finishing work: there were no windscreen wipers, no brake pedals or accelerator and no brake calipers. Given everything it lacked, the GTV was also a preview of the latest superleggera-style Lamborghinis.

The 350GTV was displayed at the 1963 Turin Auto Show as scheduled, with the public unaware that they were looking at a static display full of bricks. The exciting new racing V12 for the GTV was displayed on a stand next to the car it was supposed to occupy. Ferruccio himself attended the show to show off the GTV, which wowed the audience. Press reactions have been mixed, but that doesn’t matter because the GTV has created that key ingredient for a new brand – buzz.

Lamborghini made a brochure to sell the completely unready 350GTV and sparked interest in a similar production car. Lamborghini later signaled to the press that it was also planning a racing version of the GTV. Given its condition at the auto show, the race version of the GTV was probably an easier dream to achieve than a production version. Nevertheless, the 350 never translated into a race car.

After the company’s rushed but splashy first prototype, Ferruccio Lamborghini had to make some changes to the 350GTV to make it more production-ready. He was unhappy with some aspects of the prototype and knew he couldn’t sell a production car with the racing version of the V12 (which didn’t fit under the hood anyway).

However, he did not revert to the original designer Franco Scaglione, but instead turned to the well-known company Carrozzeria Touring (1925-) in Milan. The order was to “make it more convenient”. Touring has done its best to turn the 350 into a touring car while retaining some of the essence of the GTV prototype.

First to go was the excessively flat and raked hood. In its place was a more rounded hood with a higher hood line. The bonnet was still hinged at the front, but the entire front end of the 350 was no longer a single piece: the bonnet existed as a rectangular cutout in the fenders and above the headlights, like could be expected.

The headlights themselves were no longer hidden but protruded from their own fender extensions. There were only two headlights instead of four like many sports cars of the time, and they were large and ovoid. Beneath them, the front of the 350 was no longer bumperless. There were two simple wrap-around chrome bumpers that only covered the front corners. They ended in a large oval-shaped grille, which was sectioned by two horizontal chrome bars.

The sharp crease in the GTV’s front fenders was gone, replaced by a much smoother body line and more rounded fenders. The character line started near the bumper and went over a rounded wheel arch (not cut straight as before), and it ended short of the door handle.

The curved A-pillar remained largely unchanged from concept through production, although the coupé lost its vent window and the side window at the rear of the B-pillar was lengthened considerably. And while that window grew, the concept’s dramatic U-shaped rear window was significantly reduced in the production 350.

Out the door, the side styling remained much the same from concept through production. The wrap-around chrome trim was replaced with a pair of separate chrome bumpers that mirrored those in front. The new style of bumpers did not wrap to the underside of the car, but instead ended in large, vertical chrome guards. The fender shape at the rear was much softer than on the prototype car, and the revised 350 lacked the pronounced trunk crease that defined the original’s rear appearance.

The pointed, slanted taillights were also absent. In their place were ovoid red lenses that lacked much of the character of the concept ones. The six tailpipes have also been removed and replaced with large chrome quad exhausts.

Inside the 350, Lamborghini tried something new. Although the show car was a two-seater, the practical mission meant that more seats were desired for those big transcontinental trips with friends. Or rather, friend: the production 350 had a 2+1 arrangement, where a single friend accompanied driver and passenger in a centrally placed rear throne. The placement was perfect for keeping the conversation going on long getaways.

The rest of the interior followed the same general “Italian sports car” styling theme of the concept, but added more gauges for the driver to monitor the car’s vital signs. There were also more luxurious warning lights and door panels.

At the same time, engineering work took place on the 3.5-liter V12, and it was refuse from 370 horsepower to 280. The disagreement meant the engine produced 240 lb-ft of torque. Lamborghini set a goal for its engineers that the V12 would be good for 40,000 miles of heavy use between services. A tall order when the starting place was a racing engine. It should be noted that the engine designer, Giotto Bizzarrini, had already left Lamborghini to start his own exotic car company, as he did not get along well with Ferruccio. The two never got along.

The Bizzarrini engine compression has been reworked and lowered from 11.0:1 to 9.4:1, as has the 9,000 rpm redline. The camshafts have been modified to facilitate valve timing. The engine carburettors have been completely reworked, although they are still from Weber. There were fewer exotic racing alloys in the engine and running gear, to reduce costs.

The carburettors were side-draft instead of the downdraft arrangement on the initial version of the engine. Downdraft carbs require a 90 degree turn for air to reach the motor, while sidedraft carbs are simpler and more direct. The engine was originally a dry sump racing style, but was replaced with a simpler, more standard wet sump. And speaking of lubrication, the stock Bizzarrini engine’s multiple oil filters have been reworked so that the V12 uses a single Lamborghini-specific oil filter.

Since the GTV’s chassis had never been tested and had been designed by Bizzarrini with racing in mind, it also needed an overhaul. Lamborghini retained the prototype’s four-wheel independent suspension, and test driver Bob Wallace worked with Italian company Neri & Bonacini (1950-1967) to fine-tune the chassis. After the chassis was reworked and redesigned (more next time), Lamborghini contracted Neri & Bonacini to build the chassis for previous examples of the 350GT.

Things fell into place very quickly in transforming the 350GTV from a concept car into the 350GT that customers were actually going to buy. His development time is probably kind of a record, really. We will come back to this in Part III.

[Images: Ferrari]

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