Few cars had an influence as disproportionate to their sales as the original Lamborghini Countach. Marcello Gandini‘s revolutionary design made it onto a million bedroom walls and school folders—yet Lamborghini sold fewer than 2000 of the actual car during a 16-year production run. For context, Lamborghini produced just under 3000 Diablos in 11 years and slightly more than 4000 Murciélagos in nine years; it’s already made more than 10,000 of the soon-to-retire Aventador. Yet many would agree that the Countach was the most important of the brand’s many highlights, the supercar that established the recipe numerous others followed.
One person who never had a Countach poster on his bedroom wall was Lamborghini’s design director, Mitja Borkert, who spent his childhood in what was then a repressive communist state.
“I was born in East Germany, so there was no Countach, no Porsches, nothing like that at all,” he said in Italy last month. “The first Marcello Gandini design which I saw, but I didn’t know who he was, was a Citroën BX. We went to the Baltic Sea on holiday, and there was a strange car parked with covered rear-wheel arches. It was one of the most exotic things I had seen.”
Despite living in a monochrome world where most cars were either Trabants or Wartburgs, Borkert managed to develop a passion for car design. His brother, serving in the East German military, would smuggle car magazines back from Hungary, and Borkert would cut out images to create his own catalogs. “I was my own journalist, let’s say,” he said. The first Lamborghini he remembers seeing a picture of was the LM002: “That shocked me—and I also thought that was all that Lamborghini did.”
Borkert’s fortunes changed as a teenager when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, allowing him the freedom to study car design and then enjoy a career with Porsche before moving to Lamborghini in 2016. He thinks his lack of early exposure to the brand has actually helped the perspective he has brought to the new car.
“I am always going to be 10 or 15 years behind the guys who had the posters,” he said, “and that means my attitude to the car is going to be different, that I maybe see different things.”
That’s why the new Countach is inspired more by the details of the original, rather than simply an attempt to be any kind of modern replica. The result is a car that shares much of the original Countach’s wedgy form, but takes cues from throughout the model’s long history.
“I took inspiration from the LP500 for the grille with the integrated ‘Countach’ script and the front lights that are super slim. LEDs mean we can do that,” Borkert said. “But I always had an open heart for the Quattrovalvole version, the one that had the hexagonal wheel arches, so we took that inspiration as well. I really wanted to create the perfect Countach for the 21st century.”
Borkert and some of his colleagues had begun work on the project with an eye on the 50th anniversary of the original Countach’s unveiling at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show. That was disrupted by COVID, leaving Borkert in Germany with his family, trying to work remotely with modelers at Lamborghini’s studio in Sant’Agata as well as other designers around the world. It got to the point where he was 3-D-printing parts at home to see what the car would look like off a screen.
Then, in November last year, a more significant potential challenge to the project arrived with Stephan Winkelmann‘s return to Lamborghini as CEO. During his previous tenure, Winkelmann had been strongly and publicly against looking to the past as a way forward.
“Work had begun before I came back, and I left the company with the idea that we were never going to make a retro car, never ever,” Winkelmann told us, “so I came back and said ‘Why are we doing this now?’ But when we looked at the car, and Mitja talked to me about it, I came to understand.
“The key is that it is a Countach for the 21st century,” Winkelmann said. “What they did very well is to have elements of the different versions of the Countach inside, but without overloading it or making it too old in terms of design. Mitja and his team have done a very good job.”
Said Borkert: “Let me say that the work began before Stephan Winkelmann, but we finished the car with Stephan Winkelmann. If he didn’t like it, it wouldn’t have happened. I always hear the retro discussion, but in my opinion if a designer is doing it in a good way—a modern interpretation—it is fine.”
But don’t expect Lamborghini to make a habit of historically themed new cars. Winkelmann is dismissive of the trend toward officially sanctioned continuation models, even with a back catalog ideally suited to such things. “That is not for us,” he said. “I am not so much in favor of redoing cars even if I love them. I look at the Miura and think it is great, but we need to be focused on the future, and we want to be the ones who make new icons. There will never be a car which is just fulfilling retro design—never.”
For Borkert, the most anxious point in the project came when he took a model of the new Countach to Marcello Gandini’s house to get the maestro’s reaction.
“It was a little bit like meeting God,” Borkert admitted. “I was nervous like a young boy meeting his hero. For me, Marcello Gandini is the greatest.”
Fortunately, the 82-year old’s reaction was positive. “He liked the car,” Borkert said. “But he also understood what I was trying to do. He said he likes that I am taking his philosophy into the future, that I am studying his designs and how everything is connected in terms of proportion and alignment.”
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