1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S

1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S

German cars dominate Rob Castilla’s classic car CV. Time, then, to put him in a timewarp Lamborghini Countach 5000S to find out exactly where his automotive loyalties lie.


Photography IAN SKELTON

The ultimate poster car made real? A lucky reader finds out.

Just outside of the minster town of Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire sits Sasso Automotive, a wonderful enclave of high-end classic and modern classic machinery. As befits proprietor Mark Ciuffetelli and son Luca’s heritage, its offerings are mainly, although not entirely, Italian in flavour. ‘That’s on my list,’ states Classic Cars reader Rob Castilla, pointing at a Lancia Delta Integrale Evo II Edizione Finale. ‘And that too’, he adds, of a Ferrari F355 GTS. We’re in the right place, because Rob’s list is dominated by Italian metal, with a few German and British cars, and one from the US.

1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S

The Pagani Huayra Roadster – the very last one to be built – detonates into life, causing dropped jaws, and Rob to elicit a, ‘But that’s not…’ as its carbonfibre magnificence is shifted to allow egress for ‘our’ car. As his eyes spot a wildly angular – and still unique – octagonal posterior being reversed slowly towards us, he utters the single word that is revered by a whole generation of supercar lovers. ‘Countach!’

Rob’s exclamation may not have been spoken in perfect Piedmontese, but it’s a good impersonation of the Lamborghini profiler who famously first clapped eyes on Marcello Gandini’s masterpiece, thus lending the model its name (in the Piedmontese dialect, it translates as something like ‘Wow!’).

In fact, given Rob’s outright enthusiasm, I’d bet it’s 50/50 as to whether he opted for that or an expletive. ‘Just look at it – it’s out of this world. It looks more like a spaceship than a car. Of all the classics on my list, this is the one – my ultimate dream car. I had the poster on my wall… I grew up watching the Cannonball Run films multiple times… I can’t believe this’.

1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S

I hear an intake of breath as Mark pops the Lamborghini’s scissor door open and exits. ‘It’s possibly the most original 5000S left,’ he says of this two-owner, 3000-mile example and one of just 33 right-hand-drive cars produced. ‘It lived in South Africa for more than 30 years with its original owner. The second, an English gentleman, took former Lamborghini chief test driver Valentino Balboni there with him to inspect the car – who said it was the best untouched Countach he’d seen – before having it recommissioned under his supervision. And now, it’s all yours’.

Rob accepts the proffered keys with an incredulous shake of the head and a smile. ‘It’s almost too good to use,’ he says, whistling, as he takes in the immaculate Rosso Siviglia paintwork, the muscular rear haunches with their multitudeof shoulder scoops and NACA ducts, and that exceptionally low front end. ‘Incredible. There was huge pressure on this car, considering its predecessor’.

Indeed. After all, how did you solve a problem like Miura? And by ‘problem’, we mean the thankless task of following one of the most beautiful cars of all time, and the acknowledged first ever supercar. Well, in Lamborghini’s case you produce something even more extraordinary. And how.

1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S

The production vehicle followed two years after the futuristic 1971 Bertone show car, and in remarkably unchanged form. Unstressed alloy bodywork sat atop a spaceframe chassis, with its 3929cc V12 turned 90º and situated longitudinally with a five-speed gearbox ahead of it. Power came in at 375bhp, a smidge down on its SV model predecessor, but nobody noticed that – they were too busy looking and making their own exclamations.

Rob lowers himself into a sea of champagne leather. ‘It’s not the easiest to get into. The driving position is better than I expected, and the seat is comfortable. I’m surprised by just how much room there is for my upper body – I’m not the smallest of guys. It’s just superb – it’s pristine and still smells like a new car’. I use my own slow motion, hitch-kick manoeuvre and join him in the cabin. ‘Every single individual perforation on the leather remains pin-sharp. I love the original period Alpine stereo cassette player; it’s really retro and places you back in period, with The Terminator just about to appear in the cinema’.

The V12 thunders into life, its aural machinations enveloping our luxury cocoon, and offering a titillating portent of what’s to come. ‘That’s remarkably light,’ he says, pulling down on the door and securing it. ‘I’d expected it to heavy and awkward – that’s a surprise’. The clutch is depressed with an audible ‘ooof’, dogleg first gear engaged, the small sports steering wheel gripped… and we’re off. There’s some low-speed manoeuvring necessary to avoid various vehicles on Sasso’s snaking driveway. ‘The controls are heavy. The clutch and accelerator are both so hard when you press them. It feels like they’re pushing me back into the seat – I’ve never felt anything like it. I can’t see much out of the driver’s door mirror; the passenger one is of more use. Rear visibility is negligible and the footwell is tight’.

1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S

The adage ‘never meet your hero’ is in danger of putting in an appearance. So, thank the automotive lord for a long, arrowstraight section of asphalt. Rob engages second gear, guns the throttle, and all 12 cylinders erupt, the six Weber carburettors barking as they ingest air. ‘Listen to that! It’s all induction noise in here, and it is glorious!’ Up into third gear and accelerating hard. The brow of the hill reveals distant traffic lights that are becoming non-too-distant very quickly. Rob engages the brakes and downshifts, momentarily pausing the maelstrom. The smile on his face leaves no doubt; he’s a happier bunny now.

At green we’re off again, the Countach scything through the countryside. Mark reckoned there’s fuel in the tank, but with the gauge registering nil we swing round a roundabout and nip into BP’s Beverley West service station just in case. The net result of our forecourt arrival is predictable – all eyes are on the Lambo, and that’s even before the doors do their party trick. ‘You’d never get tired of that reception – this car is pure theatre’.

Fuelled up, we head west on the A1079 – a combination of straights punctuated by sweeping curves. I leave Rob to focus on driving until he’s ready to offer analysis. ‘At speed the heaviness disappears. The steering becomes super-precise and nicely weighted. Now warmed up, the gearchange is easier too. You still can’t force it – shifting remains a real workout. You need to feel what the mechanics of this car are doing and be sympathetic to it, but getting it right feels so rewarding. It’s pretty quick, but it feels faster than the numbers suggest; that’s probably because of how low to the ground it is and that noise behind us. But the brakes are average at best’.

1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S - engine

It’s getting hot in the cabin, so Rob engages his horizontally divided electric window. Separate glass heads north and south, stopping after an inch and half in either direction. ‘Is that all you get? I can’t believe the Lamborghini engineers got away with that!’ He opts for the aircon instead. ‘It’s not a torrent, but at least it works’. We park up to take a more detailed look around the car. ‘I know the vents and ducts were needed to help reduce engine bay temperatures, and that the huge wheelarch extensions were needed to house the custom Pirelli P7 tyres and unbelievably dished alloy wheels. Just look at them,’ he says, pointing to the obscenely wide 345/35 ZR15 rear boots. ‘You’d have to be going some to unstick these. The LP400 Periscopio is praised for its purity, but for me it’s always been about the later cars. The rear spoiler didn’t improve downforce, but it looked good. This car looks sleek without but, for me, it’d have to be a 25th Anniversary with wing’.

Interesting. With its additional strakes and more aggressive visuals, the 25th has always been considered a bit Marmite – although it did inherit the Quattrovalvole’s ‘full fat’ 455bhp engine. ‘In white?’ I ask him. ‘No, this colour,’ he replies. Ah, we’ve had our wires crossed – I too had a poster, albeit a white Countach and had assumed his would be the same. It seems he’s living his Cannonball Run 2 fantasy after all, just post-hosedown.

We jump back in, two strapping laddies, far removed from the movie car’s spandex-clad Marcie Thatcher and Jill Rivers. ‘I’m getting better at getting in,’ he says. The empty M62 offers Rob the opportunity to fully open the taps, and the Countach doesn’t disappoint. ‘With its long gears and unexpectedly comfortable interior, it’s such a capable cruiser; you could easily devour mile after mile like this in it. There’s only one thing I haven’t experienced, though, and that’s how is handles on tighter roads’. We veer off the motorway in search of sinuous tarmac and find a suitable selection close to Sasso HQ. ‘It’s handling this surprisingly well,’ he says, racing through an S-bend. ‘It’s stable and well planted. The suspension feels lovely and taut, which must be down to the car’s very low mileage. Working it like this is hard graft, and the weight of controls makes me think you’d only ever be able to drive it at about 80 per cent of its capabilities’.

As well as Rob’s handling epiphany, the other thing our repeated (ahem) runs here have achieved is to free up the fuel gauge needle – Mark was right, because there’s plenty remaining in the tank. My driver clocks it and gives me a pleading look. Alas, though, for a classic with much of its inherent value tied up in that minute mileage, a touch over 50 miles covered today will have to suffice. We head back to base, with one final, brutal lengthening of the V12’s considerable legs.

‘How was it?’ asks Mark back at the showroom. ‘Incredible,’ Rob replies. ‘It’s been a privilege to experience one like this in impeccable condition; I’d expected it to show its age – it is pretty much 40 years old – but it drives like brand-new’. So, to the all-important question: having experienced it, does it remain on his dream-drive list? ‘Yes, at the top of it – today has only cemented its place. Anyone who knows me would know that if I came into money, a Countach would be my first purchase. I wouldn’t drive it every day, but I would drive it. Yes, it’s hard work but it’s such a mechanically rewarding car. I would have to compare a 25th Anniversary model, with a rear wing and in the same colour first, before I bought it. Just to be sure’.

‘A final thought?’ I ask. He shakes his head ruefully and smiles. ‘Countach!’ That’ll do.

Thanks to: Sasso Automotive (sassoautomotive.com)

Spoiler alert – there isn’t one. But Rob could live with that.

TECHNICAL DATA 1983 Lamborghini Countach 5000S

  • Engine 4754cc, dohc V12, with six Weber 45 DCOE carburettors
  • Max Power 375bhp @ 7000rpm
  • Max Torque 302lb ft @ 4500rpm
  • Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Steering Rack and pinion
  • Suspension Front: independent by unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, hydraulic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: upper lateral
  • links, lower reversed wishbones, upper and lower trailing arms, twin coil springs, twin hydraulic dampers
  • Brakes Ventilated discs, vacuum-assisted
  • Weight 1490kg (3285lb)
  • Performance 0-60mph: 5.4sec
  • Top speed: 173mph
  • Fuel consumption 12mpg
  • Cost new £49,855
  • Classic Cars Price Guide £200,000-£350,000

Ducts help the huge engine bay to keep its cool Looks full of V12 promise. Just wait till you hear it. Gearchanging needs finesse. ‘Part of the appeal’, says Rob

‘With its long gears and unexpectedly comfortable interior, it’s such a capable cruiser’
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