Considering that some thought the LP400 cluttered when compared with the original LP500, in the company of the three newer cars its looks have an appealing delicacy. In glorious yellow with a contrasting black Alcantara and leather interior, it’s the most striking of our quartet – and the one that all our assembled testers want to drive first.
Valentino Balboni echoes everyone’s feelings when they see this car. ‘This is the real Countach,’ smiles the ever-helpful test driver who, while he wasn’t part of the original development team, played a role in the model’s evolution in its later years. And it’s hard to disagree. What was once oversized and extravagant now appears dainty and perfectly proportioned, an impression that remains intact from behind the wheel.
Inside, the LP400 Periscopo – so called because of the spy-hole in its roof panel to aid visibility, dropped from later cars – is an object lesson in minimalism. The dashboard is lined in black Alcantara, the door trims are matching vinyl, and the seats are co-ordinated in leather. The reclined driving position is as you’d expect, as is the direct and rather mechanical gearchange – and your view of the no-nonsense instruments (including a lovely, vertically stacked odometer) is unsullied by frivolity.
That relative delicacy of styling seems to translate into the way the LP400 drives, too. ‘This is much lighter than the other cars here,’ says Valentino. ‘You feel it in the suspension, you feel it in the steering, you feel it through the tires. The steering is more precise, but you lose some stability because of the small tires; the car follows the camber of the road. It’s very nice, but it’s much more demanding.’
On the track, you can also feel some flexibility. The suspension on early examples demands respect, especially when you load lateral forces into the rear tires. The car tends to oversteer constantly, but it is also the most controllable here thanks to the narrow 70-Series Michelin XWXs, and a softer suspension set-up that allows a degree of body roll denied by the later cars.
The LP400’s performance isn’t quite as impressive as years of expectation would have you believe. Long gearing blunts its claimed 375bhp, and the car takes some winding up really to start delivering – no bad thing given its epic soundtrack.
Explains Valentino: ‘It was all about Lamborghini wanting to go fast. The Countach team wanted to break speed records for a production car. During development, this model – a standard prototype – was homologation tested at Nardo at 325km/h.’
But there are reminders that this car is nearly 40 years old. The brakes are weak and prone to fade if you’re driving hard. You also need to pump the pedal to get the best out of them which, as Valentino explains, is down to the flexibility of the rear hub.
It’s hard not to love the purity of the LP400. Look at its younger siblings gathered here and you’ll conclude that Lamborghini got it right first time – as long as you can live with the low levels of lateral grip and less-than-perfect brakes. Yet any criticisms levelled at the LP400 by Balboni are tempered by a single sentence: ‘But it’s a Countach!’ A perfect qualifier if ever we’ve heard one.
Engine 3929cc V12, SOHC per bank, six Weber 45DCOE carburetors
Power 375bhp @ 8000rpm Torque 267lb ft @ 5500rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: wishbones, trailing links, coil springs, twinned telescopic dampers.
Brakes Vented discs front and rear
Performance Top speed 170mph. 0-60mph 6.0sec