Lamborghini Countach 5000 QV
The Countach was my first Italian supercar purchase. At the time I owned a very special Mercedes 500SEC, a factory Porsche slopenose, and inevitably, a Pantera. This car had sat in the middle of the dealer's show room taunting me for a couple of years. Finally, I'd made enough money that I had to go look at it. I took a test drive with dealership owner Bruce Canepa, who regularly races. Suffice it to say that I came back from that experience with smoke boiling out my ears. This car was not just fast, it was blistering.
Unfortunately, Bruce knew all too well how much the hormones were raging through my young body. He was a sales guy, after all, and very good at it. We negotiated for the better part of a day before I gave up on ever owning the car. He had simply priced it too dear. Imagine my surprise when I was talking to a broker, mentioned I really wanted a Countach, and discovered that said broker knew the owner of Bruce Canepa's car, that it was only there on consignment, and would I like to extend a private offer? Wasting no time at all there, I quickly re-extended the offer I'd been trying to get Bruce to accept. Within a day, we were arranging to pick up the car. I'm sure Bruce was not pleased, and he went out of the exotic car business not long thereafter.
The Countach was every school boy's dream if you grew up during the time they reigned supreme. I can remember arguing during high school English class with one friend about the relative desirability of the Porsche 928 (then new) versus the Countach. We were diametrically opposed, but agreed that when we obtained our respective best of breed we would exchange opportunities to drive them. I'm still waiting on the friend's 928!
Let me recount for you what it was like to live with this beast. And let me say that lately, I've forgotten much of The Bad and would like to own one again. Maybe when the economy turns around!
The looks are ferociously unstoppable. Everywhere you go people are interested in the car. Over the years I've noticed how differently people respond to different cars. Invariably Ferraris seem to bring out the worst in people. If someone sees you in a Ferrari, they assume you're an arrogant arse who just got lucky somehow and that you don't really know how to drive the car. Cobras get the best audience response of any machine I've ever known. Porsches are just Porsches. They've looked the same almost forever, everyone knows they're fast, and so there isn't a lot to talk about. Don't buy a Porsche if you want recognition and style! The Countach just shooks people to their core with it's outrageous design.
I remember driving from my Borland offices at Scotts Valley up to Mountain View one time to visit Price Waterhouse's research center there for a meeting. A friend and I drove up in the black beast and when we got out noticed there must have been 20 people with noses pressed to glass watching to see who would emerge from this amazing machine that had alit in their parking lot.
Driving the car was also quite wonderful. Rear and side visibility were nonexistent (more on that later), but the position was laid back and tight, like a race car. The steering was very precise, if a little heavy when parking. This car cornered as if on rails--I don't think I've driven a car that inspired more confidence. The tube frame gives it absolutely no discernible chassis flex and you are so low and the wheels so wide that the car just hunkers down and goes. I suspect on the track it would display a lack of nimbleness that would belie the tremendous feeling of security, but maybe not.
Press the loud peddal and the real fun begins. I've sample Ferrari Boxers and Testarossas (owned one of each) and this car makes them seem toylike in the performance department. The 5000QV's had well over 400HP in a relatively light chassis, where the Ferraris were laboring to get to 400HP. Early on I had the catalytic exhaust replaced with a European system and that really opened up the car. I've gone faster in a Countach than any other car mostly because they feel so secure and accelerate so quickly that I could get there before losing either my nerve or my license. The brakes were good too, though I've heard complaints they fade too easily on the track. Best of all was the sound. Ferraris sound good, and I think my 355 sounded the best of any car I've owned, but the Lambo was a close second.
Gear change was also pretty good, but required a firm hand. Certainly much nicer than a Ferrari gearbox, but not quite as light as a Porsche.
Comfort and ergonomics were actually not bad in the Northern California climate. I remember picking the car up from the garage one time. A friend and I buzzed down to Monterey in my 930 S. I drove the Countach back and he drove the S--what a glorious sight that must have been! In any event, it was a fun drive despite a little sprinkling rain.
So why did I sell if this car was so great? Let's get that out of the way up front. When my income is doing well, I buy toys like crazy. When I'm out of work, I start selling them. I really regret selling my Porsche 930S, twin turbo Pantera, and Countach. Those are the three. The reason is they'll be hard to reacquire, with the Countach being perhaps the easiest.
This is not to say the Lambo was any bowl of cherries to deal with. I bought the car with 2000km on the odometer, and added another 1200km to it. During that very brief 720 mile run the car stranded me 6 times!!! Let me issue a stearn warning to would be Lamborghini drivers: you will be stranded, it's not "if", it's "when." Secondly, when you are stranded, other drivers have absolutely no sympathy. Few are willing to stop and help. They look, they wave, they laugh, and they drive on. At the time I had the car, 3 A's had a stupid policy that they had to send a tow with hook before they'd send the flatbed. Didn't matter how long I argued on the phone. The hook would get there, immediately agree I needed a flatbed, and so I got to wait twice for every tow.
What were the problems that led to my strandings? They were electrical in every case. Aside from the normal electrical problems of a car not driven much, i.e. the battery is weak, the Italian engineers had a propensity to place key electrical components in areas that were bathed in huge amounts of engine heat. Lest we be too hard on them for this, Ford used to put starters right where the header would bake them to death too. But the Countach was worse. The alternator sits right above the catalytic converters, for example. I remember waiting at a turn signal one time and having the car just mysteriously go completely dead. We pushed it into a Taco Bell to await help. Turns out the alternator was fried and we had simply run the battery until it was completely exhausted. BTW--no idiot light to warn us this was happening either! Another time the fuel pump relays (good German Bosch parts) got baked--they sit behind the radiator inlet scoops where the hot air can shorten their lives considerably.
I wound up finding a very talented young Mexican mechanic who new Lamborghinis, having worked for Al Burtoni and Al Mohr, and was willing to make house calls. My wife used to complain, "There's some guy down in our garage messing with your cars."
"It's okay dear, that's just Louie fixing the Lamborghini."
"Again?," she would exclaim. "How much will that cost?"
Yuck. Ultimately the car's worst malady was a small electrical fire that struck the wiring harness somewhere behind the dash. I got it out before there was more than just smoke, but Louie had to rebuild that harness by hand. When I asked him why he couldn't just order a new one, he explained there were no standard harnesses. There wasn't even a standard wiring diagram. They never updated the original diagram. You just had to trace it all down and work it by hand.
I got to where I referred to these little mishaps as "Italian Moments", much the way people use the term "Blonde Moments." I'm not the only one to have problems with a Countach by any stretch. Most of the exotic salespeople refer to them as "Countrashes" behind the owner's backs! Today these cars are cheap--$60,000. Their low reliability is probably a big factor there, although Ferrari Testarossas are also quite cheap.
The other bad point about the car was side and rear visibility. I know it has a rear window and side mirrors, but they're useless. The good news is that you can be sure anyone nearby is looking at the car. So, you use your turn signal and start easing into the lane you want. If you hear a horn, back off and try again. Also, nothing out there is likely to out-accellerate you, so if you see an opening, stab the throttle and take it before anyone is the wiser!
When backing up or moving
the car around to park, open the door and sit on the sill, with your head
and shoulders outside the car. It's bizarre, I know, but all Countach
owners learn to do this and it makes surprising sense once you try it!
I've saved the best for last. Some people think the car is brutishly ugly and contrived. Some think it just looks crazy. To me, it's beautiful. I always loved the Bertone Carabo show car for it's perfect use of straight lines. The Countach is the only road car that carried off a similar purity. These pictures are not of my car--sadly I only ever took 1 picture of it, but rather of a car that looks almost identical.
Mine was black with gold wheels and no wing. I like it better without the wing.
I had these Euro-style bumbers...
I did not have straked lower brake ducts...
You can really see the wedge shape here...
Aggressive meaty rear. Look at rear tire width!
Here is the engine. Somewhat cramped. You need small hands to work on one.
I had a cream colored interior too.
All material © 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.