From the December 2022 issue of Car and Driver.
Wide, wedged and outrageous, the Countach wasn’t the first Lamborghini, but Marcello Gandini’s jaw-dropping design created the archetype that the company has followed ever since. No new Countach could ever match the original in terms of the awe-inspiring response that greeted the vehicle, named after a Piedmontese expression uttered at the concept car. This is why Lamborghini’s decision to produce a new Countach, the LPI 800-4, seemed dangerously close to heresy. The question is: Can the LPI 800-4 compare as an experience?
To answer that, we drove the LPI 800-4 alongside a historic Countach from Lamborghini’s own collection. This 1990 25th Anniversary Edition is the last original Countach built, and it is usually on display in the factory museum. With only 6000 miles it is practically box-fresh. As the last version of the first Countach, it is the most suitable example to match the new car.
Park them side by side, and the differences are at least as obvious as the similarities. The LPI 800-4 Countach sits on the Aventador’s platform and shares its carbon fiber body. Years of evolution make it bigger in every level. Yet there is also a visual kinship across the decades, with the LPI 800-4 clearly an homage rather than an attempt at replica.
Mitja Borkert, Lamborghini’s design director, was able to talk about themes from throughout the Countach’s long life. There’s an LP5000S-esque front end (despite the absence of pop-up headlights), hexagonal wheel arches and raised air intakes reminiscent of the mid-’80s Quattrovalvole. Following the principles of modern car design, the new Countach has better proportions and more harmonious details than the dressed-and-striped 25th anniversary. But the older car is the one you can’t stop looking at.
In performance it is not even close to it. The LPI 800-4 gets the most powerful version of the Aventador’s magnificent 6.5-liter V-12, along with the supercapacitor hybrid system used in the Sián hypercar. The car drives like a turned-up Aventador, as the all-wheel drive system delivers massive thrust with certainty. The closer the engine gets to its 8700-rpm limit, the angrier and more brutal it gets. While the electric motor’s modest 34-hp contribution is indistinguishable from the V-12’s 769 horsepower, its torque smooths the single-clutch automated manual’s gear changes, which are far less brutal than in the Aventador. Like every other modern Lambo, the LPI 800-4 has selectable drive modes, with the sharpest Corsa setting making it feel impressive on the small, tight 1.3-mile Autodromo di Modena we used for photography.
By comparison, the original Countach is pitiful. The cramped cockpit is uncomfortable, and all but the shortest pilots will find their head grazing the roof, even with the seat in its lowest and most reclined position. Coming from a period before ergonomic considerations in supercars, the driving position was shifted heavily towards the center of the car due to the intrusion of the front wheel well. The footwell is so packed with its three pedals that there is nowhere to put a resting clutch foot. The dogleg gear shifter has a folding tab to prevent a first-to-reverse flubbed shift; in a good indication of the cabin designers’ priorities, it sits in front of a large ashtray.
With 449 horsepower, the old car’s V-12 is quieter on startup than the LPI 800-4s and idles with a carbureted wuffle. American Countaches as early as ’83 models got Bosch fuel injection to meet emissions rules, but European models stuck with six Webers until the end. The gas pedal is light, and the response is immediate and sharp. The engine pulls cleanly from low and with impressive power as revs rise. It sounds great, too—much softer than the newer car, with valvetrain clatter audible over the exhaust.
Yet everything else is just so much hard work. The clutch is a leg press set to Lou Ferrigno. The unassisted steering is so heavy at maneuvering speeds that turning the wheel is painful. Even once the car moves, tight corners bring it back to full Hulk weight, and in Autodromo’s tight corners, few of the apexes are even grazed, let alone clipped. Inter-corner speeds are limited by stopping rather than going, and the brake pedal’s mushy responses give none of the confidence you want when pushing a value supercar on a tight track. Does it have ABS? Our chaperone, Mario Fasanetto, who started at Lamborghini in 1985 building Countach engines and is today the company’s chief test driver, just laughs.
The team in Sant’Agata never designed the Countach for the track, and it shows. The car is much better on roads, especially fast motorways from the days when European limits were either non-existent or largely discretionary for supercar owners. The 25th Anniversary’s claimed top speed of 183 mph was probably just Ferrari bait—the top speed we observed in a 1983 Countach 5000S was 160 mph. But even when cruising at the slower speeds of the tamer 21st century, the Countach has the solid, planted feel you want for serious cruising.
Reaching a mountain road gives the modern car another chance to prove its dynamic superiority. The Strada Provinciale 26 near the Modenese town of Samone is a quiet road that combines hairpin bends and scenic views. It’s a backdrop that attracts all the local supercar manufacturers (we’ve been here before with Ferrari and Pagani, as well as Lamborghini). But the Countaches have it to themselves today. After the vein-popping workout of the 25th Anniversary model, the new car feels lighter and nimbler than a V-12 Lamborghini has any right to be.
The original Countach is one of those cars that is awesome despite and because of its flaws. Justifying its divinity requires the kind of convoluted logic corrupt medieval priests would use to sanctify the profane, and even one of the less beloved versions of this undisputed icon still provides an unforgettable experience. By contrast, the LPI 800-4 feels too good—too well-engineered and smooth to be a true successor to such a flawed gem, regardless of the new car’s attractive design. It’s a Countach, but it never will be the Countach.
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