Raging Bull - 1987 Lamborghini LM002 Rally
Back in 1977, famed Italian exotic car builder Lamborghini tried its hand at the incredibly lucrative market for military assault vehicles. To this end the Cheetah was constructed, a quirky rear-engined machine uncharacteristically powered by a 5.9L Chrysler V8. Unsurprisingly the rear-engined layout gave the car unpredictable handling, and the tendency to flip over backwards over jumps.
Additionally its meager 180 horsepower petrol engine was too inefficient and woefully underpowered, as it had to deal with 2042 kilograms (4,502 lbs) of fiberglass and steel. The weird machine’s many foibles lost the company a valuable contract to the American military, which was picked up by AM General’s HMMWV instead.
The Cheetah fiasco sent Lamborghini into an inescapable downward spiral, as the company had diverted resources from the BMW M1 project to build their terrible tank. In response BMW terminated its contract with the Italians, which caused further losses for the struggling sportscar manufacturer. As a result of the rapid implosion, Lamborghini had to declare bankruptcy in 1978. In 1984 the company was subsequently bought out of receivership by Swiss brothers Jean-Claude and Patrick Mimran, who had built their fortune in the food industry.
Now under sensible Swiss ownership, things started to look up for the plagued exotic car maker. The famous Countach was finally updated to comply with American regulations, and the lower-tier Jalpa was brought in to complement it. The Mimrans didn’t stop there though. While going through the archives, the brothers stumbled upon the Cheetah and its stillborn successor, the LM001. From the ashes of the LM001 program a front-engined prototype emerged in 1982, bearing the name LMA002. After four years of development, the car was released to an astonished public at the 1986 Brussels Auto Show.
The tube-frame titan utilized the 5.2L 48-valve V12 taken from the top of the line Countach LP500 Quattrovalvole. A five-speed ZF manual gearbox transferred 455 horsepower and 501 nm (359 lb ft) worth of grunt to all four wheels, which were shod in truly enormous (345/65-17) Pirelli Scorpion run flat tires. If the customer so desired, these bespoke tires could be overwhelmed with the unbridled fury of a 7.2L version of the V12 originally intended for power boat racing. Weighing in at at colossal 2700 kg (5952 lbs) the massive monster commanded respect everywhere it went. The car’s incredibly masculine looks and go-anywhere appeal quickly earned it the nickname “Rambo Lambo“.
The car gained a reputation as a poster-boy for the rich excesses of the 1980’s. Through its in-your- face, concrete slab appearance the LM002 provided every insanely rich man the chance to be fulfill their fantasy of being the ultra-macho king of the road. Overcompensation had never looked and felt quite so good. Evidently in a temporary bout of insanity, one of the Mimran brothers gifted a fresh 1987 example to his unsuspecting wife.
The tyrannical appearance of the LM002 also caught the eye of a certain Henri Pescarolo, former F1-driver and four time Le Mans winner. Pescarolo managed to peer through the glitz and glam of the brutish bull, and deduced the ill-mannered military reject would make a perfect rally raid machine. To this end he contacted Lamborghini with a daring proposal to turn the Rambo Lambo into a potential Dakar winner.
Under Ferruccio’s management, the company had always ignored the world of motorsport. To Lamborghini racing was an effective and largely pointless way of wasting copious amounts of money. Moreover, his experiences with his race-derived Ferrari 250GT had been less than positive. The Mimran brothers weren’t bothered by this principle however, so they quickly went to work on the proposed desert racer.
Extensive modifications were needed to bring the elephantine Lambo up to speed. The V12 engine was given a complete overhaul, along with an open racing exhaust. The end result was a mind-boggling 600 horsepower, delivered with a savage high pitched engine note. As the huge power would come with a huge appetite, the LM002 was fitted with a fuel tank big enough to sustain its own ecosystem at 600 liters.
With the power sorted the team shifted their attention to the chassis, and began an intensive weight reduction program. In the process the team stripped of its lavish interior and fitted with lightweight panels, plexiglas windows and the obligatory roll cage. To keep the car planted on all surfaces, the LM002’s suspension also received major upgrades.
A deal with Pescarolo failed to materialize due to financial issues however, but Lamborghini pushed on regardless. The finished car was instead given to rally legend and 1977 World Rally Champion Sandro Munari (ITA), who also worked as a public spokesman for Lamborghini.
With Munari at the wheel the monstrous LM002 was entered into the 1987 Rally of the Pharaohs, which took place in the deserts of Egypt. Unfortunately one of the project’s major financial backers lost his life in a power boat accident prior to the race. Out of respect the team decided not to contest the event.
The tragedy postponed the LM002’s debut into 1988, when it reappeared at the Greece Off Road Rally. Sandro Munari had switched seats with Mario Manucci (ITA), and took up navigation duties. The pair enjoyed a cannonball start, and eventually settled in a comfortable 3rd place.
Unfortunately technical issues prevented the big Lambo from finishing, but the car’s performance had been overwhelmingly positive. Around the same time however, American automotive giant Chrysler had taken control of Lamborghini, and the rally project was put on hold indefinitely. As a result the LM002 Rally never fulfilled its mission as it was unable to compete in the Dakar Rally.
Although the factory project had ground to a halt, the LM002’s brief career had inspired a number of plucky privateers. That same year a bright red Lambo was entered into the Dakar Rally by Swiss team World LM Racing. The nearly stock machine was entered into the Marathon class and piloted by M. Kurzen and J.D. Coucet. Unfortunately the team failed to complete the grueling event.
Nearly a decade went by without the presence of the manliest of Lamborghini’s on the international rally stage. As Lamborghini had turned its on motorsport again and the LM002 ceased its very limited 328 example production run in 1993, it seemed the brand’s rally effort had suffered an early demise.
Thanks to the unbridled madness and enthusiasm of one man however, the LM002 would receive a second chance. Swiss-Italian racer Andrea Barenghi decided to revisit the concept of the Italian macho marauder. In a funny twist of fate, Barenghi acquired the very same car that had been gifted to Mrs. Mimran back in 1987.
Over a year was spent preparing the gigantic luxury barge for its desert adventure. The 5.2L V12 was taken out of the car and fitted with a bespoke injection system and numerous heavy duty air filters to keep out the dust. In addition, the exhaust system was rid of its catalytic converters, allowing the screaming engine to reach the same 600 horsepower as the factory car. The five speed manual gearbox from the road car was retained, as it was strong enough to deal with the extra grunt.
Keeping into account the very Italian nature of the engine, Barenghi’s engineers took special care to improve cooling and lubrication to increase longevity. A drastic weight reduction plan shaved off a hefty 500 kg (1102 lbs), bringin weight down to a mere 2200 kg (4950 lbs).
The crash diet aided the heavy duty AP Racing brakes to stop the rumbling titan in less than a few kilometers. Luckily, the car’s chassis been built so impossibly tough it needed next to no strengthening to prepare for the abuse of high speed desert driving. To ensure the LM002 would be able to comfortable cruise at speeds of over 180 kph over sand for extended periods of time, the standard 290 liter fuel tank was replaced by a positively nebulous 800 liter unit.
When all was said and done Andrea Barenghi entered the imperious machine into the 1996 edition of the Dakar rally. For the second time since its inception, the legendary rally started from Granada, Spain instead of Paris, France.
Barenghi was joined by navigator T. Ramu, and entered into the prototype class. This meant the LM002 had to face competition from factory entries from Citroën (ZX Dakar) and Mitsubishi (Pajero T3). Against such an overbearing force, the rogue Lamborghini seemed to have little chance to make an impression
Despite the obvious budget disadvantage, the big brawler showed surprisingly good form. The LM002 was able to keep up with much more professional machines with ease, and displayed a near bullet-proof reliability record. Everything about the car had been made oversized and extremely tough.
Unfortunately, the same could be said of the tires. The special off-road version of the Pirelli Scorpions weighed as much as 36 kg (80 lbs) a piece. During normal road use and mild-off road use this didn’t pose that much of a problem, but the Dakar demanded much more.
Due to the incredibly harsh and bumpy terrain and countless impressive jumps, the LM002’s suspension started to grow tired. The weight of the gigantic tires coupled to all 2200 kg’s of Lamborghini crashing down after each aerial excursion caused the team to encounter one busted damper after another.
The constant repairs severely slowed the car’s progress. Sadly the damper massacre was unrelenting, and Barenghi was rapidly running out of spares. By half distance, he finally had to throw in the towel after he had no replacement parts left. In all the team had gone through 24 dampers before being forced to give up.
Following the disappointing showing at the Granada-Dakar, Andrea Barenghi sold the LM002 to Gildo Pallanca Pastor (MON), owner of Venturi Automobiles. Pastor then set out to try and turn the rabid rally car back to a luxury toy to tour Monaco and show off with. He sent the car to a shop for modification, but eventually abandoned the idea. Pastor eventually sold the car off to Autodrome Paris.
The French collection house brought the car back to its original condition with the help of Lamborghini scholars and subsequently sold it to an undisclosed buyer. Another unraced LM002 Rallyy close to factory-spec is also in existence. The cars spent some time in Belgium in the 1990’s and was then bought by a wealthy collector. The Japanese gentleman reportedly enjoys driving it on public roads with the original open exhaust still in place.
The Lamborghini LM002 Rally was an incredibly brash attack on the noble sport of long distance rallying. Although it stemmed from a failed military project, the lavish mobile caviar container known as would return to its roots with a vengeance. The car was finally allowed to practice the desert warfare it had been intended for.
Unfortunately life on the stages wasn’t particularly good to the big bruiser. Traversing terrain at speeds that would scare John Rambo himself proved to take a toll on the Lambo, as it failed to finish in each and every event it entered. Hampered by its high weight and planet-sized wheels, the car’s final iteration was nothing more than a ludicrously fast damper buster. Despite its many setbacks, the Lamborghini LM002 Rally holds its place in history as the first official factory racing car to come out of Sant’Agata Bolognese.