Line up all the world's most desirable cars, all the machines that have graced bedroom posters and computer wallpapers over the years, and a significant percentage of those would be Lamborghinis. This is the brand that gave us the decade-defining Countach, the appropriately named Diablo and the outrageously gorgeous Miura. Despite all the exotic and extreme fare the Bologna bull has produced over the decades, nothing in my book is more comprehensively bonkers than the LM002.
From concept to execution, this is a vehicle that's hard to square with reality. But it is real, and it's really square. This is what it's like to drive.
A little history
LM stands for "Lamborghini Militaria," and that's your first clue as to how this boxy beast came to be. In the late '70s, Lamborghini saw an opportunity to get into the government supply business, to create a product that could be bought by the truckload by over-funded, style-conscious military outfits around the globe in search of a dune-conquering battlefield machine.
Things wouldn't quite go according to plan. Lamborghini started with the Cheetah, the granddaddy of the LM, powered by a rear-mounted V8 sourced from Chrysler of all places. That prototype, part of a failed attempt to gain a US military contract, led to the LM001 a few years later. That vehicle fit in very much the same mold and was still powered by a rear-mounted, American V8 -- though this one came from AMC. That machine, too, effectively went nowhere.
Finally, Lamborghini engineers decided they'd put the engine in the more traditional position for off-road rigs: up in the nose. That was a step in the right direction, but in the process, those engineers leapt wildly off the beaten path by swapping out the cheap, reliable American V8 for a V12. And not just any V12: It's the same 5.2-liter lump that powered the LM's stablemate, the Countach.
The architectural challenge required to sling an engine that big into the nose of an off-roader, a vehicle designed for things like approach angles and wading depth, boggles the mind. Even more remarkable is the brazenness of the decision. This was, remember, a military machine. Can you imagine a battlefield mechanic keeping an Italian V12 running reliably?
With hindsight, it's easy to see why the LM was neither a commercial nor combat success. Only about 300 were ever produced from the machine's introduction in 1986 to its discontinuation six years later. This has lead to sky-high valuations. In 2017, one sold at an RM Sotheby's auction for $300,000, and given the recent spike of interest in the vehicle, some estimates put current valuations closer to $400,000.
Thanks to its small production run, half that even of the incredibly rare Miura, spotting an LM002 today at an auto show is a treat. Seeing one running is practically unheard of. Getting to drive one? That, dear readers, makes for a special day.
Despite looking positively massive in photos, the LM is actually petite by modern SUV dimensions. It's shorter and lower than the new, Lamborghini's ballistic, 641-horsepower SUV. Despite that, the LM is heavier. So, so much heavier. Curb weight for the LM002 is 5,900 pounds. That's 1,000 pounds more than the Urus!
Looking at the thing, it's hard to tell where all the weight is, but surely a big chunk lingers under the disproportionately long hood. That the V12 drinks from a 45-gallon fuel tank doesn't help its weight problem. It's necessary though, because while Lamborghini quotes no efficiency figures, the Countach with the same motor was EPA-rated at a measly 7 miles per gallon. The LM weighs nearly twice as much and has all the aerodynamic finesse of a Walmart Super Center.
It's not a difficult climb up to the driver's seat and into a massive cockpit covered with huge expanses of leather and wood. The external theme of wide, flat surfaces continues on the inside, so much so that it feels more like a yacht than an SUV -- a surprisingly cramped yacht, though. Appropriately, if the 5.2-liter engine wasn't big enough, Lamborghini offered a marine-sourced 7.2-liter V12 instead!
That nautical impression was reinforced the first time I tried to turn out of the parking lot. Your average car requires something like two or three turns to go lock-to-lock on the steering. I'm not sure how many turns the LM requires, because I lost count, and I can count pretty high. Suffice to say hustling the LM through a tiny, Italian roundabout is an exercise both of quick hands and upper-body strength.
The pedals, meanwhile, require leg strength. The clutch has the kind of heavy, long throw you'd expect from an Italian V12-powered truck from the '80s. That's no surprise, but I hadn't expected a similarly reluctant throttle. Drive an LM as a daily and you'll never have to worry about skipping leg day at the gym.
The dogleg, five-speed manual has long throws but is easy to operate within the 6,500 rev limit. You might be thinking you'd always be probing that limiter just to hear the engine sing. That's what I thought, but the engine note is a bit disappointing. Sure, it sounds better than most any other SUV on the market today, and it's in a different league from military machines like the Hummer, but the evocative roar of the Countach sadly gets lost somewhere within the depths of the LM's exhaust system.
And performance? Some 444 horsepower are supposedly available, but I'll be damned if I could find them. While a significant number have surely gone to pasture in the decades since this example's manufacture, the LM's titanic curb weight is surely to blame for its sluggish acceleration.
So the LM is slow, clumsy, heavy and not particularly sonorous. A terrible thing, then, right? Oh no, it's quite the opposite. The LM002 is a hoot to drive. It's so raw and ridiculous that my brief period behind the wheel was spent smiling -- despite how many times I had to wind that wheel over for even the mildest turns.
The LM is an icon of a bygone era the likes of which I'm quite confident we'll never, ever see again. Heck, we probably shouldn't have seen it in the first place. Lamborghini's modern SUV, the Urus, is a marvel of modern engineering that drives far better than it rightfully should. The LM002, meanwhile, is a ridiculous idea executed with the sort of gusto only 1980s Lamborghini could deliver. And for that, I love it.
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