Beloved by enthusiasts everywhere, Lamborghini cars are built for speed and to look the part. Extreme style and extreme performance are the chief characteristics of Ferrari's national rival. Unless your zip code is 90210, you're not likely to see a scissor-doored Lamborghini ahead of you in the Starbucks drive-thru or parked next to you at the mall; these are exclusive automobiles designed to cater to a small, very specialized audience.
During World War II, company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini served with the Italian Air Force's mechanics corps, where he became proficient at working with engines. After the war, Italy was plagued with scarcity; one such shortage involved tractors. Sensing an opportunity, Lamborghini purchased surplus military machines and reconfigured them as tractors. It was a canny move that resulted in a thriving business for the young entrepreneur, one that quickly made him a very wealthy man.
By the 1950s, Lamborghini's business had become even more successful, expanding to include heaters and air-conditioning units. As a car enthusiast, Lamborghini drove the best sports cars of the day. Somewhat disappointed with the Ferraris, he vowed to build a better car. Armed with millions of lira in investment money, he retreated to the small village of Sant'Agata to build a state-of-the-art automotive factory. On his payroll was noted automotive engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, who'd previously worked at Ferrari.
Automobili Lamborghini SpA. was officially founded in 1963. That same year, the very first Lamborghini, the 350GT, debuted at the Turin Motor Show. The car's name came from its engine size, a 3.5-liter four-cam V12. Then came the 400GT, which was produced until 1968. But it was the stunning midengine Miura, produced from 1967-'73, that catapulted Lamborghini to worldwide acclaim.
Lamborghini's tractor business suffered hard times in the early '70s, which led him to sell a controlling interest of Automobili Lamborghini SpA to a Swiss industrialist. The Italian's problems were worsened by that decade's oil crisis, and he wound up selling the remaining amount of his shares. Still, Lamborghini had found the wherewithal to bring out the Miura's replacement, the iconic Countach, for 1974. The company also invested millions in the development of a new vehicle, the military truck-style Cheetah, but its sales were disappointing. By the end of the decade, the automaker had declared bankruptcy.
The company got back on its feet in the 1980s. The key was Lamborghini's over-the-top Countach. Though introduced previously, the Countach was now fully styled with outlandish vents, aggressive fender flares and a huge rear wing that made it the perfect exotic car for that's decade's brash mentality. Perhaps hoping to cash in on the firm's revived popularity, the company's managers sold Lamborghini to Chrysler in 1987.
The '90s started out with the debut of the Countach's successor, the Diablo. Not long after, though, another change of ownership took place in 1994, when Lamborghini was acquired by three Far Eastern companies. Megatech was the largest of the trio and the primary shareholder. By the late 1990s, Lamborghini was in financial hot water once again. As before, the lack of a diversified product lineup was hurting the company's ability to compete globally. It was acquired by Volkswagen (which also owns other luxury marques such as Audi and Bentley) in 1998.
The new millennium saw the debut of the Murcielago, which replaced the Diablo, and the (relatively) more affordable Gallardo. Today, the current German/Italian marriage seems to be quite stable, and the rise in quality and refinement of Lamborghini's vehicles leaves no doubt as to its benefit.