The road ahead beckons, and from my vantage point it looks like a rollercoaster. The joy is especially potent because the car in which I’m about to attack this deserted piece of moorland blacktop is the original supercar – a Lamborghini Miura P400S – and Martin Kent, its generous owner, has given me but one instruction when he hands over the keys: go and enjoy myself. Who am I to argue?
Whether enjoying yourself in a Miura is as easy as it sounds is something few people will ever be lucky enough to find out, due to its rarity. But given that it’s arguably the most beautiful car ever built – correction: it is the most beautiful car ever built – created by a team of engineers focused on delivering absolutely the best high-performance car ever made, and honed by some of the most accomplished test drivers, it’s difficult to see it not happening.
When Ferruccio Lamborghini set out on his mission to dethrone Ferrari from its position at the top of the performance car tree, he knew it would take something very, very special to realise that ambition. His first car, the Touring-bodied 350GT, might well have been an incredibly good place to be in at speed, and it had the quirky looks of a car that grows in your affections, but ultimately it was his starting point. He knew that reputations are hard won, and easily lost, and following up the 350GT with the right car was always going to be vital. He needed to go one better, to completely vanquish Enzo’s finest.
But Ferruccio was in luck. When it came to his big V12 road cars, Enzo Ferrari was conservative, and as the 1960s pushed on he continued with the front-engined layout that had served so well for cars such as the 250GTO and 275GTB/4. Ferruccio’s ambition of producing a mid-engined racing car for the road would ultimately lead to Lamborghini making a technological leap beyond Ferrari.
The mid-engined layout was unusual for road cars and was still in the throes of proving itself in the sports racing arena, even if Formula One had long since been sold on the idea. That made the Miura something of a risk – could it be made to handle as well as Ferrari’s balanced GTs? Would status-conscious buyers go for something so obviously race car inspired? That risk was minimised thanks to Ferruccio’s decision to commission Carrozzeria Bertone to style his new creation – a task that was left to its ambitious young designer, Marcello Gandini. What he produced was magic.
When it was unveiled in Geneva at the spring 1966 motor show, the world stood agog. Previewed the year before in chassis form – itself a thing of beauty – the Miura’s centre section was dominated by Bizzarrini’s 60-degree quad-cam V12, transversely mounted. Once it was shown complete with Gandini’s body, the world was convinced, and grown men couldn’t stop themselves stroking it. Lamborghini was no longer the arriviste; it was part of the establishment.
During its seven-year production run, the Miura changed everything. Rivals clamoured to build their own versions, some with more success than others. But it wasn’t without its faults – it went on sale prematurely and, although dynamically it was spot-on, its aerodynamic failings became legendary. Tales of its propensity to take off at 170mph spread like wildfire. But, despite the shortcomings, the Miura was the future.All thoughts of that future are brought into sharp focus on the moorland road that lies ahead. Any worries about the Miura’s gorgeous body acting like an aeroplane wing are countered by UK speed limits. That leaves me free to concentrate on the real-world tactile pleasures on offer.
Even before the off, things are looking very good indeed. For one, the driving position, so glibly described throughout the years as being tailored for the long-armed, short-legged ‘Italian ape’, is actually perfectly acceptable for an understanding Anglo-Saxon. My legs might splay around the low-set steering wheel but that merely adds intimacy, and, as for the offset pedals, after a couple of miles they don’t even register. The deep, wraparound windscreen and low-line dashboard afford a fantastic view, framed by seductively curvaceous front wings. You know they’re going to make the Miura so much easier to place in the bends.
Starting up is explosive: first prime the four downdraught triple-choke Weber carburettors, then leave your feet off the throttle as you turn the key. The Miura briefly stutters into life before a quick blip of the throttle clears its throat with a blood-curdling shriek that’s more racer than road car. You only need to stab the throttle once, but you’ll want to do it so much more. Leave that temptation for the open road.
The Miura initially feels light and delicate to the touch. The steering requires minimal effort, even when parking, and the gearchange is positive and wonderfully mechanical in feel. The pedals are also ideally weighted – if you like a meaty clutch action – and nicely spaced, despite the offset.
But as much as the Miura likes to pleasure its owner by feeling ‘right’, it’s the soundtrack that will haunt you forever. Explore the rev range more thoroughly, and accept that it does its best work beyond 3500rpm, and you’re in for an almighty treat. As speeds rise, the shrill V12 takes on an altogether harder edge that’s overlaid by the howl from the straight-cut transfer gears. It’s loud, but an oh-so musical soundtrack that the exhaust system can’t help but get involved with by spitting and popping furiously.
Accelerating away, the P400S is as bracing as you’d expect with 370bhp and 289lb ft on tap. Even the hottest of today’s GTIs couldn’t keep up in a straight line. As for its ultimate ground-covering ability, let’s just say that it feels more than capable of hitting 170mph in the right conditions. And surprisingly quickly, too.
However, the Miura’s ultimate talents lie in the twistier stuff. Throw it into a series of tight bends, using the classic slow-in, fast-out approach, and it’s still devastatingly effective. The steering is idiosyncratic, though. Such is the intensity of communication, you’ll be forever making course corrections on account of its propensity to follow every surface and camber change. It also has minimal self-centring, and the result is that you’ll find yourself unable to relax, keeping a decisive hold of the wheel in order to ensure the car is going where you want it to.
In essence, it’s a proper driver’s car, one of the greatest ever. And one that’s as good today as it ever was.
Just how Enzo Ferrari reacted to the Miura when he first saw it was not recorded, but it’s clear that he didn’t believe that it was any rival to his top-end V12s. Sure enough, when the 365GTB/4 Daytona went to market a year after the Miura, it was a very different beast to its upstart rival. Sant’Agata’s car played on its sports car credentials, but Maranello’s latest offering was an altogether more sober creation – a cerebral GT capable of eating continents without a trace of indigestion.
And although the Daytona’s a more understated car than the flamboyant Miura, its styling, penned by Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti, is still considered one of the finest pieces of design ever to grace the roads – even though it took him just a week to finalise it.
Whereas the Miura was a clean-sheet design (engine aside), the Daytona was the culmination of the careful process of evolution. Under the dramatic bodywork lies a tubular chassis, similar to the 275GTB’s, and a version of its V12, bored out to 4390cc. In terms of power it was close behind the P400, developing 352bhp. And that meant both cars went head-to-head for raw performance – and whether Enzo liked it or not, the pair resided on a lot of the same people’s shopping lists between 1968 and ’73.
Performance is genuinely impressive, matching the hot-shot Miura’s acceleration all the way, before going on to a top speed of 175mph. Without taking off.
The Daytona is a friendlier machine, that’s for sure. The low-slung driving position is far more conventional, and the all-round visibility is even better. Its dashboard is throughly stocked and the interior feels like a convincing luxury effort, tastefully finished in colour-coordinated leather. Already the contrasts are apparent.
The story of variance continues when you fire up the Daytona. The V12 takes a similar effort to stoke into life, but once it catches it settles ino a calm and controlled idle. Throttle response is slightly lazier than the on-edge set-up of the Miura, but it still feels deep-lunged when you give it a stab of throttle. Where the Miura is suffused with energy and brio, the Daytona is cultured and subtle. But also utterly melodious.
One major problem, initially, is the over-sized steering wheel. But there’s a good reason for this, and it’s down to weight: at parking speeds, the steering is embarrassingly heavy and the turning circle expansive. These factors combine to create a first impression of unwieldiness. But don’t despair, because with speed the Daytona’s steering comes to life, and it takes a surprisingly deft touch to successfully feed the big car through corners. Kickback is a problem, though, and it can be violent at times, but steer the Daytona with your fingertips and it’s not a problem.
So we’ve already ascertained that the Miura is the perfect steed for attacking the Stelvio Pass. But where would the Daytona be most at home? Initially it didn’t look promising for the big Ferrari, as its understated talents are more than shaded by those of the Miura. But it’s a grower and, once you’ve mastered the subtle art of cornering it neatly, it’s hard to come away not believing that it would be the perfect companion for that larger-than-life road, the Route Napoleon. It’s refined, grippy, prodigiously fast and deliciously balanced on sweeping bends.
Unsurprisingly, the Miura and Daytona are miles apart, and there’s no doubt that they appeal to very different people. The Miura is like a teenage supermodel whose drop-dead looks and poise will melt your heart and render you speechless, while the Daytona is like a West End leading lady – deeply beautiful, capable and talented.
And that leads us back to our original question: was Ferruccio’s Miura a better supercar than Enzo’s Daytona?
In a word, yes. After a day on the moors with them both, I ended up deeply admiring the Daytona but in love with the Miura. And isn’t that what supercars are all about?
Thanks to Martin Kent, owner of both the Miura and the Daytona.