The Lamborghini Miura redefined what a car could do and created the modern supercar archetype as we know it. It is almost certainly Lamborghini’s most important car and might even be considered the most important supercar ever made.
Lamborghini’s Miura was a big deal when it launched. It not only looked like something out of the future, but it also considered to be the world’s first two-seater, mid-engine production sports car and was the fastest production car at launch. The Miura has defined the Lamborghini brand as we know it and has inspired some of the most legendary cars ever produced.
The Miura story starts long before the car was even a twinkle in the eye of Lamborghini’s designers and engineers. Lamborghini itself was born out of spite for Ferrari. Ferruccio Lamborghini had dared to criticise one of Enzo Ferrari’s sports cars, leading him to dismiss Lamborghini as just a maker of tractors who knew nothing about cars. Lamborghini set out to stick it to Ferrari by making their own Grand Tourer cars, founding the Lamborghini car company along the way.
Lamborghini’s first production car was the 350GT, a big grand tourer with a V12 engine up front that is totally different to the fire breathing supercars it is known for today. The 350GT was similar to what their rivals, Ferrari and somewhat Jaguar, were making in the early 1960’s. Lamborghini’s 350GT was enough of a success for the Italian company to keep making more than just agricultural machinery.
While the 350GT was amazing in its own right, it wasn’t until the Miura in 1966 that Lamborghini really took the fight to Lamborghini. Although many consider the Miura to be the world’s first production mid-engine, two seater supercar, the concept was actually pioneered by René Bonnet with the Matra Djet in 1964.
Not only had the mid-engine setup been used in the Matra Djet, but it was used in racing cars since the 1930s and 40s. The Porsche 550 Spyder, the Ford GT40 and the De Tomaso Vallelunga all used a mid-engine setup as well, but none of these were considered to be production cars.
Lamborghini debuted the Miura’s rolling chassis at the 1965 Turin auto show, with many believing they were building a racecar, not a production model. The Italian company then unveiled the P400 Miura (named after a type of bull) at the 1966 Geneva show, which stunned the motoring press and attendees with its striking, sexy design.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was originally hesitant on the idea of a mid-engine, two seater car as he believed it would distract from the company’s focus and would be too expensive. Knowing this, Lamborghini’s top three engineers, Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani and Bob Wallace developed such a car in their own time.
This ultimately lead to the P400 prototype, which Ferruccio Lamborghini believed would be a valuable marketing tool, if nothing more. He gave his engineers free reign of the design, letting them design the car at night.
The styling of the prototype P400 was the work of Bertone and was finished just days before its debut at the Geneva motor show in 1966. Incredibly, none of Lamborghini’s engineers had checked if the V12 power plant would fit inside the engine bay before the show. This led to them filling the engine bay with a ballast and keeping the engine bay shut during the duration of the show. Lamborghini’s head of sales, Sgarzi, was forced to turn away members of the motoring press and showgoers who wanted to see the P400’s engine.
Bertone’s designer Marcello Gandini had just replaced the company’s previous designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, and was responsible for two of Lamborghini’s most famous cars, the Miura and the Countach. The Miura had a sexy waistline running from the shark nose to the tail. A large and curvy windscreen rose to a roof that stood only 1050 mm from the ground. Its headlamps were sourced from a Fiat 850 Spyder and would swivel into the body when not in use, reducing drag.
The positive reception to the P400 concept at Geneva meant that the car was put into production, despite Mr Lamborghini’s initial thoughts on the design. Lamborghini named the car the “Miura”, after the famous Spanish fighting bull, which also featured on the company’s new badge.
Although inspiration for the Miura’s mid-engine layout came from the Ford GT40, Dallara did not copy its format straight because a longitudinally-mounted V12 engine and 5-speed gearbox would have made the car too long and created undesirable weight distribution. This meant that the V12 engine was mounted transversally and the gearbox was located behind it. The gearbox and engine were combined in such a way that the Miura only needed 2,500mm for its wheelbase, just 100mm than the Ferrari’s of the time.
Lamborghini carried over the Bizzarrini-designed quad-cam 3929cc V12 engine from the 400GT (revised 350GT with a larger engine). Power was increased from 320hp to an impressive 350hp thanks to an increased compression ratio and the position of the carburettors. When the Miura’s top speed was tested it was found to be around 273km/h (170mph), making it the fastest car in the world at the time.
Reception to the P400 Miura
While in theory the P400 Miura was the ultimate car at the time, the reality was something different. As the car was rushed to the market and underdeveloped a number of drivers complained of excess chassis flex and problems with the skinny tyres. The car also suffered from instability at high speeds due to aerodynamic lift. These problems led to Lamborghini developing a number of revisions of the Miura over its production life.
Lamborghini unveiled the P400S Miura at the Turin motor show in 1968. A new reinforced chassis was developed for the P400S and new Pirelli low-profile tyres were fitted. Power was also increased to 370hp by the means of larger intake ports and faster cams. Despite these changes, the P400S’s performance was around the same as the standard P400, however, handling was improved overall.
Bob Wallace, Lamborghini’s development driver, created the Miura Jota in 1970 for the FIA’s Appendix J racing regulations. It was designed as a test mule and the car received extensive to the chassis and engine. Steel chassis components were thrown out in favour of lighter aluminium alloy parts and the window glass was replaced with plastic, saving around 800 pounds of weight compared to the standard Miura.
The Miura Jota’s engine was fettled to produce an impressive 440hp at 8800rpm. This was done by increasing the compression ratio, altering the cams and modifying the exhaust system to be less restrictive. The Jota’s suspension was also altered, making it wider (9″ in the front, 12″ in the rear) and lightweight wheels were fitted.
Only one Miura Jota was made and was eventually sold to a private buyer after extensive testing. The car crashed and burnt to the ground on a ring road around the city of Brescia in April 1971.
The P400SV Miura was born in 1971 and was designed to be the ultimate version of the car. It was the final production Miura and is considered to be the most famous model produced. The SV benefited from the development work done on the Miura Jota and solved a number of problems with the standard Miura.
Lamborghini addressed the aerodynamic lift issue with the Miura by raising the rear suspension of the P400SV, while lowering the front slightly. The rear track was widened and so were the rear tyres, leading to the more pronounced rear fenders. Like the Jota, Lamborghini stiffened the SV’s chassis and it was known to be the best handling production Miura to date.
The V12 power plant produced an additional 15hp thanks to another round of enlarged ports, altered carburettors and different cam profiles. Lamborghini separated the transmission from the engine sump to improve lubrication under high g-force and solved the issue of metal shavings from the gearbox travelling into the engine
Seven examples of the P400SV/J were built by Lamborghini while the Miura’s production was still going. An Eighth car was built at the Lamborghini factory in mid-1980’s from an unused Miura P400S chassis.
One P400SV/J was sold to the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This Miura was stored under guard with another SV Miura at the Royal Palace in Tehran. After he fled the country during the Iranian Revolution, his cars were seized by the Iranian government. This car ultimately ended up in the hands of Nicolas Cage.
A couple of other one off Miura’s were built during and after the cars production. Bertone created a roadster version of the Miura and displayed it to the world at the 1968 Brussels Auto Show. Another one off car was the P400 SV/J Spider that was shown to the world at the 1981 Geneva motor show with a number of other new Lamborghini models.
The Spider was finished in pearl white and was fitted with wider wheels and a rear wing reflecting the marque’s revival. Many believed that the car was considered to be a prototype for a possible limited series of Miura Spiders, where as it was really just a car built on behalf by the Swiss Lamborghini Importer Lambomotor AG.
The Miura’s most significant influence to history was that it kickstarted a two-horse race between Ferrari and Lamborghini that still continues today. Ferrari responded to the Miura in 1969 with the launch of the Daytona 365GTB/4, which regained the world’s fastest car title from Miura. This tug of war between the two continued with the launch of the Countach in 1974, but that’s a story for another time.
This is the complete history of the Lamborghini Miura and everything you need to know about the car that started it all.
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