The man who flogged the bull

If you missed it, you weren’t alone, but this week, Automobili Lamborghini took a moment to recognize what would have been the 105th birthday of its founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, a guy who started out making some very undramatic products, considering the outrageous sports and GT cars that would later bear his name. The eldest son of farmers in the Italian province of Ferrara, Ferruccio was more fascinated by the implements that tilled and harvested crops than with actually cultivating them. During World War II, he became a mechanic maintaining wheeled military vehicles, including tractors used for towing aircraft, on the island of Rhodes. The experience inspired him to open a machine shop in Cento after the war, selling low-price tractors, one of which was repurposed from a discarded British-built Morris truck. He mortgaged the family farm to establish his company, which in 1963, switched from building tractors to crafting incredibly fast and luxurious performance cars.

More than any manufacturer of mega-exotics in Italy, including Ferrari, Ferruccio understood that a truly exclusive automobile had to possess expansive interior appointments from the finest materials, not just a purebred powertrain. He nonetheless unleashed the immortal Miura in 1966 and followed it up with the Countach – the name is an expletive in Italian – that enjoyed a remarkable 17-year production run, while at the same time ending up in poster form on more adolescent youngsters’ walls, including mine, than Farrah Fawcett. By the time the Countach make its shocking appearance, Ferruccio had sold his interest in the company, which went through ownership changes and bankruptcy before Chrysler, as it was then known, bought the brand in 1987. Following a stint under Malaysian ownership, Lamborghini is now a holding of the Volkswagen Group, operated by its Audi division. Ferruccio pursued a passion as a vintner in retirement before he died in 1993.

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