Like nearly all contemporary boys and men I have admired stylish, fast automobiles. As a boy, I was aware of the American rivalry between General Motors and Ford admirers. It didn’t take long until I discovered that there aren’t many important differences between the two American makes.
At any rate, my real interest in cars has always been with external style and design. The most inspirational shapes, in my mind, were sports cars built by Mercedes Benz, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari. Ferrari was and still remains my personal favorite for styling among all car makes. I’m not a car snob, by any stretch, so a reasonably affordable Ferrari 328 GTS would more than satisfy my itch for a sophisticated car.
There is another Italian car brand that’s also interesting to me both because of radical styling and because of its founder. That company’s beginnings included farm tractors and the founder’s personal disagreement with Enzo Ferrari.
Ferruccio Elio Arturo Lamborghini was born in the Province of Ferrara, Italy on April 28, 1916 to Antonio and Evelina Lamborghini. The Lamborghinis were wine-grape farmers in Northern Italy. Already, as a youth, Ferruccio was more interested in farm machinery than farming itself. His mechanical interests led him to study at the Fratelli Taddia Technical Institute of Bologna, Italy.
Lamborghini was drafted into the military in 1940. He served as a mechanic in the Italian Royal Air Force at the garrison on the island of Rhodes. When the territory was captured by the British, Lamborghini was taken as a prisoner of war. After his release by the allies, Lamborghini opened a garage where he began his tractor business by salvaging and converting war surplus parts into farm equipment, much needed by local farmers.
By 1949, the Lamborghini tractor company had graduated into an actual industrial corporation, “Lamborghini Trattrice”. The tractors were then fabricated and manufactured from scratch, with no more leftover war surplus. His tractors soon became famous as the best ones available in Italy. Lamborghini soon organized tractor-pull contests to promote his machines’ superiority.
As a hobby, Lamborghini modified a vintage Fiat Topolino. He then entered the 1,000 mile “Mille Miglia” automobile race in 1948. After 700-miles, Lamborghini’s Fiat smashed into the side of a restaurant. This close-call ended Lamborghini’s desire for car racing.
Lamborghini’s business interests were quite lucrative and he was able to expand his holdings into architectural heating and air-conditioning, Lamborghini Calor. Lamborghini’s exceptional wealth enabled him to collect legendary exotic sports cars. Among his favorites was a Mercedez Benz SL300, a Jaguar roadster, and a Ferrari 250 GTS.
The next phase of Lamborghini’s business life began innocently enough with a mechanical problem with his Ferrari’s clutch. Lamborghini personally complained to Enzo Ferrari about the defective clutch. Legend says that Ferrari insultingly replied, “The problem is not with the car, but with the driver”. Lamborghini should take care of his tractors and leave the issue of cars to more informed people. Afterwards, Lamborghini personally removed his own Ferrari’s transmission and discovered that it used the same type of transmission as his tractors.
The incident inspired Lamborghini to consult some of Enzo Ferrari’s more talented employees to remedy the Ferrari 250 GTS’s transmission problem. In 1963, the team decided to go into business as competition to Ferrari. The result was “Automobili Lamborghini”. The new company aimed to compete with and improve upon Ferrari’s dominance. Lamborghini’s goal was to create a grand touring car of ride quality, high performance and luxurious interior appointments. Furthermore, he knew that he could earn triple the money over tractors by offering a fast, exotic sports car.
Lamborghini also found inspiration in his astrological birth sign, Taurus the Bull. Controversially, Lamborghini had close ties to Spanish bullfighting. Not only is the Automobili Lamborghini’s logo that of a charging bull, but their model lines are named after trophy-winning bulls or famous breeds of the animal.
Automobili Lamborghini had been in business less than a decade when financial trouble appeared on Ferruccio Lamborghini’s horizon. In 1971, the export dependent Lamborghini Trattori company came up against major order cancellations. The Union of South Africa stopped all of it’s orders. Meantime, the military regime of Bolivia called off most of its requests for tractors. Because of the immense squeeze, Lamborghini sold all of his shares in Lamborghini Trattori to his business rival “SAME”.
The tractor company’s difficulties began a domino effect of financial problems for the Lamborghini business empire. Research and development costs at Automobili were slashed and Lamborghini sought out buyers for Trattori and Automobili. In 1972, a wealthy Swiss businessman and friend of Lamborghini ended up with 51% of the business group.
1973 witnessed the Arab oil embargo and the worldwide oil crisis. All manufacturers of fuel guzzling, high performance cars felt a severe pinch as consumers switched to more fuel efficient, practical cars. The oil crisis affected Lamborghini especially hard. Ferruccio Lamborghini dumped the remaining 49% of his shares to another wealthy Swiss industrialist.
With the car and tractor business out of the way, Lamborghini concentrated his interests on Lamborghini Calor heating and air-conditioning as well as Lamborghini Oleodinamica, a maker of hydraulic equipment and valves.
The following year, Lamborghini jettisoned the remainder of his industrial interests and retired to his 740-acre estate in central Italy. He passed the time of his retirement in hunting and wine production. On the side, Lamborghini managed several small businesses and developed his personal golf course.
In early February of 1993, Lamborghini suffered a heart attack. He was hospitalized then died on February 20th. He was buried at a monastery cemetary near Bologna, Italy.