Ferruccio Lamborghini – a Biography of the Man Who Wanted a Better Ferrari

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.

Paul Walker, the Star of the Fast and Furious Franchise, is Dead

The Fast and Furious franchise co-star, Paul Walker, is dead at age 40.  Paul Walker was riding in the passenger seat of his friend’s 2005 Porsche Carrera GT.  Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials say that speed was clearly a factor in the death of Walker and his friend.  Walker’s friend, Roger Rodas, also died in the crash.  They were travelling at a high rate of speed, lost control of the car, hit a light post, and the car burst into flames.

Walker was riding in the passenger seat of Rodas’ 2005 Porsche Carrera GT for a quick spin after his charity event for the Philippines relief effort, when the car crashed about 500 yards away from the charity event.  About one minute after the horrific crash, the car burst into flames that would have made it impossible for Rodas or Walker to escape.  A preliminary autopsy report from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office stated that Paul Walker did not die from the trauma from the crash, it was the flames that killed him.  It is not known whether Rodas died immediately, or if he died the same way as Walker.  A full coroner’s report released in 6-8 weeks will tell what killed both men.

Walker was not married, but he had a 15-year-old daughter.  His father, Paul Walker, Sr. declined to comment to CNN and FOX News about the status of Walker’s daughter, Meadow Walker.

I will give you a brief biography on Paul Walker’s acting career:  His first movie was Monster in the Closet, but his breakthrough happened with Varsity Blues.  When he started the Fast and Furious movies, he and Vin Diesel became icons.  Hollywood is stunned at Walker’s death.  Vin Diesel, the co-star of the Fast and Furious franchise, said “I will always love you Brian, as the brother you were… on and off screen.”  Diesel gave a public address at the crash site by using the public address system from a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy car.

The car, the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT, is notoriously difficult to handle.  It has a top speed of 208 mph, an engine that revs to almost 10,000 RPMs, and it has over 600 horsepower, according to Eddie Alterman, Editor-in-Chief of Car & Driver Magazine.  Alterman stated, “This was not a car for novices.  Acutally, the Carrera GT program began as a racing program.”

Todd Trimble, an exotic car mechanic based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, said the car is very hard to drive.  “It’s (a) pure racer’s car.  You really need to know what you’re doing when you drive them.  And a lot of people are learning the hard way.”

Brand new, the car cost $450,000, and it’s becoming extremely expensive to maintain.  An oil change alone costs $900, according to Trimble.

Because the high-revving V10 is in the middle of the car, the car is extremely agile, and turns much quicker than a car with a front or rear-mounted engine.  Eddie Alterman, who had originally driven the Carrera GT at it’s debut in 2003, said “The Carrera GT is able to change direction very quickly, much like a race car.  It was beyond a super car.  It is what we call a hyper car.”

Randy Pobst, one of my favorite race car drivers (I had the opportunity to meet him at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where I was invited to watch Randy drive around the track in a SRT Viper and Chevy Corvette ZR-1), coached the Fast and Furious crew for the second movie.  “Stability control is really good at correcting slides, keeping the car from getting out of shape.”  The Carrera GT doesn’t have stability control, so it has an unforgiving reputation.  He said that “Paul was by far the best driver — a natural car guy.”

The Carrera GT has a steep learning curve.  It doesn’t have many electronic nannies to help correct drifts and slides.  It also delivers power at extremely high RPMs, as well as a manual transmission.  This means that you have to constantly rev the engine and blip the throttle to shift without stalling.  That’s not a problem on a racetrack, but it certainly is in day-to-day driving.

Since the Carrera GT was a failed racing program from the late 1990s, it was designed to crumple around the driver, and not injure the driver.  With Walker and Rodas’ case, they were probably going too fast for the car to save them.

Paul Walker was known as an extremely generous, loving, kind man who felt that everybody was his family, and that everybody deserved a second chance.  He was a gearhead from Day 1, and he amassed a car collection that anybody would be proud of.  Paul Walker, Sr. declined to comment on the status of the car collection.  He stated, “”Every now and then I’ll really break down. Talking really seems to help…there’s just such a tremendous amount of stories,” he shared. “I was just told that my son gave a marine a diamond ring to give to a gal he was going to marry. I never heard that story. He did stuff like that all the time.”

Paul Walker, Jr., you will be remembered as a cool-headed, kindly individual.  Your legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of every car and movie enthusiast, as well as your friends and family.  Your untimely death was extremely sad, but we will learn to cope.  I wish your family and friends well.  To those of you that knew Paul as a brother, friend, co-actor, or even a business acquaintance, my thoughts go out to you at this grief-stricken time.

Roger Rodas, you were a good friend to many, as well as a fellow petrolhead.  You will be remembered as a level-headed, caring individual, who had a head for saving the Earth, racing, business, and helping other people.  My thoughts go out to your friends, family, and those you helped.  You were considered a friend to many, including those you helped.