Instant Classics

The mother of all SUVs

Photo credit: Lamborghini, Wheelsage

Who, seeing a Porsche Cayenne, a BMW X5or the Jaguar F-Pace would have thought that it was Lamborghini who invented the SUV? And not with the Urus…

Shortly after the mid-1970s, when Ferruccio had already left the Company and conflicts in the Middle East had brought wars and sent oil prices soaring, the new Swiss owners of the company tried to take advantage of the need for military-type vehicles suitable for the desert, necessary for the Arab countries, and created a vehicle that was completely different from anything previously produced in Sant’Agata: a true off-road vehicle they called Cheetah. But the idea had no luck and the dream ended very abruptly.

In 1980 and on the verge of bankruptcy, Lamborghini found a brilliant new owner in the wealthy French family, Mimran. Jean-Claude and Patrick Mimran, with the support of a talented manager, Emil Novaro, took the Cheetah project out of the drawer to assess its  potential.

The only existing Cheetah is owned by a Swiss collector. In this photo you can clearly see the rear engine cooling grills and the large wheels needed for a 4×4 destined for desert and rough terrain

In 1981, after an initial attempt to revisit it under the direction of engineer Giulio Alfieri with the LM001 (where LM stood for Lamborghini Militare) which mounted the mighty V12 engine from the Countach in the rear, the following year the engine was rationally transferred to the front. There were a number of problems to solve: the increase in torque, the use of four-wheel drive and also the need to provide adequate load space and weight distribution. Prototypes rolled out one after the other. Pirelli also got involved in the development of a new high-performance all-terrain tyre that would work on both asphalt as well as on sand and rocks. A valuable experience for Pirelli which led the company to produce the highly successful Pirelli Scorpion.

1981:The idea for the Cheetah was revived with the LM001 retaining the big, rear-mounted V12 engine from the Countach

The public had to wait until the Brussels Motor Show in 1986 to see this road-going vehicle that was simply extraordinary for its size, shape and performance. Now called the LM002, its four-wheel drive coupled to the 5,167cc displacement V12 engine producing 450hp allowed it to reach speeds of over 200km/h and accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 7.8 seconds, despite weighing 2,700kg.

The road holding difficulties caused by the rear engine were corrected on the LM004 but moving it to the front. Even the toughest tests give positive results

Luxury, performance and adventure were the ingredients for a car that in many ways was completely crazy yet was an instant hit with customers that included the King of Morocco, Tina Turner, Van Halen and Sylvester Stallone, all testifying to the fact that the LM002 had become a real status symbol.

1986: The final version of the LM002 presented at the Brussels Motor Show. No-one expected to see a large off-road vehicle, luxurious leather interior from high-end car and authentic Gran Turismo performance capable of over 200 km/h in a single vehicle

The temptation to participate in the big raids was immediate: Sandro Munari, World Rally Champion took one to Greece where it was forced to stop for a trivial problem when he was in the lead. The target was the Dakar. But just as everything was ready, the main sponsor disappeared, and with them, the budget. No race! Too bad, because Munari was sure to win. However, the LM won far more: it paved the way for SUVs and anticipated the great success of the Urus.

300 were built, something that is now called a true instant classic.

The great performance of the LM002 didn’t find a way to express itself in competitions: the transformation for the Paris Dakar, where it was supposed to be driven by the World Rally Champion, Sandro Munari, never made it to the start line after the main sponsor pulled out at the very last minute