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Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

Ferrari vs. Lamborghini, The Early Years

Ever since the 350GT made its debut in 1964, the Lambo vs. Ferrari comparisons, contrasts and late-night heated discussions have been never-ending

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—March 2004 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

Ferruccio Lamborghini made his first fortune building tractors and his second producing heating appliances. At age 47 he set out to amass yet another fortune by designing, building and selling the ultimate grand touring auto. Thumbing his nose at Ferrari, located only 40 kilometers down the road, was an extra bonus.

Ever since the 350 GT debuted in 1964, the Lambo vs. Ferrari comparisons, contrasts and late-night heated discussions have been never-ending.

Classic Lamborghinis fall into two categories: the early front-engined cars, the 350 GT, 400 2+2 and Espada; and the first two mid-engined supercars, the Miura and the Countach, in all their various incarnations.

The comparable Ferraris from the same period start with the 250 Lusso and go through the Testarossa. While primarily a Ferrari guy, I’ve driven and owned my share of Lambos, and here’s my take on how they stack up against each other, apples to apples (rigatoni to rigatoni?) as much as possible.

We begin with the 1964 350 GT and its logical Ferrari counterpart, the 250 GT Lusso. The Lambo is clearly the technological winner, equipped with a 320-hp, four-cam V12, six two-barrel Webers, ZF five-speed, alloy body, fully independent suspension and a dual booster brake system. The Lusso had only a twin-cam 3.0-liter V12, three Webers, a four-speed tranny, and a steel body. Output was a meager 250 hp.

When new, the Ferrari outsold the 350 GT, 350 to 131. Having owned and driven both, the 350 GT is faster and more comfortable. But the market looks at things differently. A best-in-the-world 350 might get to $135,000, while the equivalent Lusso is going to come close to $275,000.

Why? The Lamborghini’s styling is not inspired, with a kind of “dumpling on a pancake” look to the greenhouse/body combination that has not stood the test of time. On the other hand, the Lusso has always been regarded as having singularly elegant styling. Despite being slower, the Lusso offers a more spirited driving experience, and produces the legendary V12 sound that conjures up images of Ferrari’s unmatched racing heritage.

Skipping past the 400, which was really just the 350 with tiny back seats added in a meaningless attempt to broaden its market appeal, Lamborghini’s next evolutionary leap was the Miura. Introduced in 1966, it was built as the P400 from 1966 to 1970, as the Miura S from 1970 to 1971 and the SV from 1971 to 1973.

The Miura was a visual and technological tour de force, and instantly made every other supercar on the planet obsolete. It had drop-dead gorgeous good looks, a lightweight monocoque “tub,” and a highly sophisticated sidewinder 4-liter engine with six Webers that produced 385 hp at 7,850 rpm. All up, with fluids, the Miura weighs in at only 2,800 pounds.

While the S had some improvements over the P400, it was the SV that represented the ultimate incarnation. It featured a much stiffer chassis, a split sump to separate the previously co-mingled engine oil from the transmission oil, and vented disc brakes. It also had nine-inch wide rear wheels encompassed by larger rear fender flares, all in an effort to keep the back end from passing the front, not an uncommon occurrence for Miura drivers whose enthusiasm exceeded their talents.

(Note: Over time, Miuras have become known for setting themselves on fire. The carburetors are mounted directly above the spark plugs, and leak if the floats stick. Thus fuel spills directly onto the hot cylinder heads, leading to instant toasted bull.)

Just as the SV was the best Miura, the Daytona was the most highly developed front-engined V12 Ferrari of the period, making a comparison between the two appropriate.

The Daytona is much heavier at 3,600 pounds, less powerful at 352 hp, sits much higher, and is certainly more subtle in its styling. However, once again the Ferrari outsold the Lambo, 1,279 units to 762 (all Miura models).

Obviously, the entire Miura series was technically more sophisticated, in theory faster, and certainly made a bolder statement than the Daytona. But Miuras suffered from poor build quality, redefined the term “instant rust,” are ultra-high maintenance, and lack the panache imbued by the Ferrari racing heritage.

Furthermore, I have never found enough road or courage to begin to find the top speed claimed for any of the Miuras; their reputation for extreme front-end lift at triple-digit speeds has reportedly led to many white-knuckle experiences. I can assure you that the Daytona will walk away from a Miura SV under acceleration.

But while Daytonas may have sold better when new, the SV is clearly the current market winner. A Miura P400 will cost $75,000 to $100,000; a Miura S, $100,000 to $150,000; and an SV $200,000 to $250,000. Daytonas sell in the $125,000 to $150,000 range. The high value of the SV is partly due to its limited production, with just 150 built, but mostly because its Gandini design will always be regarded as a landmark.

The last of the classic Lambos is the Countach, produced in a variety of versions from 1974 to 1989. It is appropriately compared to the 1974–89 Boxer, and the first-generation Testarossa (1985–91).

Once again, when unveiled the Countach was a technical and styling tour de force, although it quickly grew visually cluttered with wings and in the U.S., federal bumpers. The Boxer and even the Testarossa are more conservative mechanically and stylistically. Ferrari won the sales race, selling 3,623 Boxers and over 6,000 Testarossas, while just under 2,000 Countachs left the factory.

While it may seem strange to call a Boxer “user-friendly,” in fact the Miura and Countach are both so user-cruel that the Boxer seems like a Mercedes S-Class by comparison. The Lambos are sometimes referred to as 45-minute cars, meaning that before an hour is up, the driver wants out. The three-quarter and rear vision from a Countach is a joke; backing up a Countach is an exercise left to the young and limber, as the driver must open the door, sit on the sill, turn backwards and aim while balancing himself, the gas and the brakes.

Should I even mention that the Countach styling is so outrageous that you feel like a drug dealer the minute you get behind the wheel? While the Miura and the Countach may spec out better than the Boxer or Testarossa, in real life the Ferraris simply walk away from the Lambos. And the Ferraris are supported by a far more extensive dealer and parts network. Need a clutch in your Boxer or Testarossa? Figure on $3,500 to $4,500. For your Countach, that’ll be $10,000 to $12,000. Lamborghini ownership is not for the faint of heart, nor thin of wallet. Today Boxers sell in the $65,000–$95,000 range, and Testarossas in the $50,000–$65,000 range. Countachs are worth slightly more, with 25th Anniversary Editions bringing close to $100,000 if you find the right buyer on the right day.

So if you’re looking for a car that says “look at me,” the Miura or the Countach are the ticket. If you actually want to use your exotic—as opposed to visiting it in its dedicated service bay at your local shop—or if you enjoy a few hot laps at the next sports car club track day, I’d stick with the prancing horse.

Next month we’ll continue our look at raging bull vs. prancing horse with “From the Diablo to the Present: Multiple Management Shuffles and the Germans Now Run the Show.”

MICHAEL SHEEHAN has been a Ferrari dealer for 30 years as well as a race car driver and exotic car broker.