When you see a Lamborghini for the first time, you are probably wondering if an alien owns it. It looks otherworldly. This blog post is going to delve into the story behind the man who created Lamborghini Automobili, Ferruccio Lamborghini. I hope you find his life as interesting as I do.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was born on April 28, 1916 to Antonio and Evelina Lamborghini in the beautiful region of Northern Italy. Not much is known about his childhood, other than the fact that his parents were viticulturists. What we do know is that Ferruccio Lamborghini was fascinated with farming machinery, rather than the farming lifestyle. Following his passion for mechanics, Ferruccio went to the Fratelli Taddia technical institute in Bologna. In 1940, Ferruccio was drafted into the Italian Royal Air Force for WWII. He started off as a vehicle mechanic at the Italian garrison on the island of Rhodes. He eventually became supervisor of the vehicle maintenance unit there. When the island fell to the British in 1945, Ferruccio was taken prisoner. He was unable to return home until 1946. Upon his return, he married, but his wife died in 1947 while giving birth to their son, Antonio Lamborghini.
After that, Ferruccio opened a small garage near Bologna. In his spare time, Ferruccio modified an old Fiat Topolino that he had purchased, one of the many that he would own over the years. He took his extensive mechanical abilities to the tiny city car and turned it into a thundering, two-seat, open-top, 750-cc, roadster. He entered the car in the 1948 Mille Miglia. His participation in the tiny Topolino ended after 700 miles, when he ran the car into the side of a restaurant in the town of Fiano, in the province of Turin. As a result of the crash, Lamborghini lost all enthusiasm for racing, a bitter sentiment that would last until the late 1960s.
In 1949, Ferruccio started Lamborghini Trattori, a small tractor company that would eventually become the European equivalent of John Deere. His increasing wealth allowed him to buy more expensive, faster cars than the tiny Fiats that had provided with reliable, albeit slow, transportation for many years. In the early 1950’s, he owned such cars as Lancia’s and Alfa Romeo’s, and at one point, he owned enough cars to drive a different one for every day of the week. He added a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, a Jaguar E-Type coupe, and two Maserati 3500GT’s. He once said of the latter, “Adolfo Orsi, then the owner of Maserati, was a man I had a lot of respect for: he had started life as a poor boy, like myself. But I did not like his cars much. They felt heavy and did not really go fast.”
In 1958, Lamborghini traveled to Modena to buy a Ferrari 250GT, an early Ferrari with a Pininfarina body. He went on to own several more 250GT’s, including a Scaglietti-designed 250 SWB Berlinetta and a 250GT 2+2. He thought that Enzo Ferrari’s cars were good, they were too noisy and rough to be proper road cars. He categorized the 250GT’s as repurposed track cars with poorly done interiors. Ouch.
He found that Ferrari’s had bad clutches, requiring frequent, expensive trips to Modena to replace them. Ferrari technicians would squirrel the cars away for hours on end to perform the service, which immensely dissatisfied Lamborghini. He had expressed his dissatisfaction about Ferrari’s after sales service multiple times before, which he perceived to be extremely substandard compared to other auto manufacturers. He brought this to Enzo Ferrari’s attention, but was rudely dismissed by the pride-filled Ferrari. He eventually successfully modified one of his personal 250GT’s to outperform stock 250GT’s, he decided that he was going to start an automobile manufacturing venture of his own, with an aim to create the perfect touring car that he felt nobody could build for him. His belief was that a grand touring car should have attributes lacking in Ferrari’s, namely high performance without compromising tractability, ride quality, or interior appointments. Being a clever businessman, Lamborghini knew that he could triple the profits if he used tractor parts from his tractor company.
The 1970’s OPEC Oil Crisis caused a large financial crisis for Lamborghini. Lamborghini Trattori, which exported about half of it’s tractors, ran into trouble when the South African importer cancelled all of their orders. The Bolivian military government cancelled a large shipment of tractors ready to ship from Genoa. Since all of the Lamborghini Trattori employees were unionized, they could not be fired or laid off, which put immense financial strain on the company. Lamborghini sold his entire share of the company (72%) to SAME, a rival tractor company, in 1972.
Not long after that, the entire Lamborghini franchise found itself in dire straights. Development at Lamborghini Automobili slowed as costs were cut. So, Ferruccio started negotiations with Georges-Henri Rossetti, a wealthy Swiss businessman and close friend. Ferruccio sold Rossetti a 51% share in the company for US$600,000, which was enough to keep Lamborghini Automobili alive. He continued to work at the factory even though he had no official controlling share in the company. Rossetti rarely involved himself in Lamborghini Automobili’s affairs.
The 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis didn’t improve financial matters, either. Consumers flocked in droves to smaller, more practical cars with better fuel economy. By 1974, Ferruccio had become so disenchanted with the automobile manufacturing business that he severed all connections with the automobile manufacturer that bore his name. He sold his remaining 49% share of the company to Rene Leimer, a friend of Rossetti.
After departing the automotive world, Lamborghini started an industrial valve and equipment manufacturer, as well as a heating and air conditioning company, Lamborghini Calor.
In 1974, Lamborghini exited the industrial world and retired to a 740-acre estate named La Fiorita on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, in Central Italy. Returning to his farming roots, Lamborghini took delight in hunting and making his own wines. He even designed a personal golf course. At age 58, he fathered Patrizia Lamborghini.
At age 76, Lamborghini died on February 20, 1993 at Silvestrini Hospital after suffering a heart attack 15 days earlier. He is buried at the Monumental Cemetery of the Certosa di Bologna monastery.
Bullfighting is an integral part of the Lamborghini identity. In 1962, Lamborghini visited the Seville ranch of Don Eduardo Muira, a renowned breeder of fighting bulls. He was so impressed with the raging bulls that he decided to adopt a raging bull as the emblem of Lamborghini Automobili.
After producing two cars with alphanumeric designations, Lamborghini once again turned to bullfighting for inspiration. Don Eduardo was filled with pride when he learned that Lamborghini had named a car after his family and their legendary line of bulls. The fourth Lamborghini Muira was unveiled to him at his ranch.
The Lamborghini Islero was named for the bull that killed the legendary bullfighter Manolete in 1947.
The Lamborghini Espada was named after the Spanish word for sword, and sometimes used to refer to the bullfighter himself.
The Lamborghini Jarama had a special double meaning – it was intended to refer to the historic bullfighting region of Spain, but Ferruccio was worried that there would be confusion with the also-historic Jarama motor racing track.
After naming the Lamborghini Urraco after a bull breed, Lamborghini broke from tradition and named the Countach, not for a bull, but for a rather rude expression used by Piedmontese men to describe a beautiful woman. I don’t know why either. Legend has it that designer Nuccio Bertone uttered the word in surprise when he saw the Countach prototype. The Lamborghini LM002 SUV and Lamborghini Silhouette were the other exceptions.
The 1982 Lamborghini Jalpa was named for a bull breed.
The Lamborghini Diablo was named for the Duke of Veragua’s bull that fought an epic battle against El Chicorro in 1869. It also means “devil” in Spanish.
The Lamborghini Murcielago was named for the legendary bull whose life was spared by El Lagartijo for his ferocious performance in 1879. It also means “bat” in Spanish.
The Lamborghini Reventon was named for the bull that killed the young Mexican bullfighter Felix Guzman in 1943.
The 2008 Lamborghini Estoque concept car was named for the estoc, the sword traditionally used by matadors.
The Lamborghini Aventador was named for a bull that was bred by the sons of Don Celestino Cuadri Vides. The bull was killed in a particularly gruesome fight, and after the fight, the left ear was cut off of the bull and given to the matador for good luck.
The Lamborghini Gallardo was named for one of the five ancestral castes of the Spanish bullfighting breed.
The Lamborghini Huracan is named for a bull that fought in 1879. Huracan also means “hurricane” in Spanish.
All of Lamborghini’s companies are still around in some form or another today. Lamborghini Trattori is still a subsidiary of SAME. His son, Tonino (Antonio) Lamborghini designs a line of clothing and accessories under the Tonino Lamborghini brand. His daughter, Patrizia Lamborghini, runs the private winery on his estate.
A museum near the factory honoring Lamborghini, the Centro Studi e Richerche Ferruccio Lamborghini, opened in 2001. The museum is located just 25 km (15.2 miles) from the factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese. Tonino may even be there to greet you, as you have to write ahead to get in, as conferences often happen and the museum is closed to the public.