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The Countach turns 40

Perhaps the most distinctive car ever designed was captured remarkably by "60 Minutes."

The original Countach LP400 before arches, wings and U.S. federalization.
The original Countach LP400

Not many 40-somethings can still stop traffic just by showing up, but the Lamborghini Countach does exactly that four decades after it debuted here in Geneva in 1971.

Marcello Gandini's masterpiece is this audacious, aloof, leering thing that avoids the overly curvaceous lines that long ago became Italian cliche. Instead it's a piece of Piedmontese origami, all creased, slatted, and ducted. It looks like it was designed yesterday in the way a Mies van der Rohe building or vintage Knoll table does.

Study the pure Countach LP400 to really take in Gandini's work, though in your mind's eye you're probably seeing a winged & flared LP400 S or 500 S, which graced the covers of car magazines for years and even bumped Farrah Fawcett off a few walls in their day.

Just as remarkable is the Countach drivetrain layout: To even out the weight distribution everything is sitting in there backward, with the engine at the far rear, transmission bolted ahead of it (requiring the engine to "face" the back of the car), and a drive shaft carrying power from the front of this arrangement back under the engine to the rear axle.

You don't need to drive a Countach to sample it: Morley Safer of "60 Minutes" did that and did so wonderfully in my favorite piece of automotive video. Long available on the Web only as a blotchy bootleg, I'm pleased to say the "60 Minutes" team has located and digitized a pristine official version of it that you see debuting below.

Watch factory driver Valentino Balboni handle the car, follow David E. Davis, Jr.'s sage appreciation of it, and grin at Morley's veiled terror as he gets "closer to 200 miles an hour than to 100". But most of all, just listen. (Then give me your best guess as to the red light blinking on the dash when Signore Lamborghini is driving!)


Octane magazine comparison of Countach generations

Swiss site with many period Countach images