350 GT Meets Aventador Ultimae: These Are The Very First And Last Lamborghinis To Be Powered By A V12 Engine
Photography by Andrea Casano
Part beautiful, part brutal, completely captivating, these bulls form the bookends of one of the greatest legacies in the automotive world: the Lamborghini V12. What you’re looking at is the very first production Lamborghini with a dozen cylinders, the 350 GT, driving through Modena’s historic city center alongside the very last of the breed, the Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae.
The contrast is striking. The mix of sight and sound is otherworldly, reflecting and echoing in this quintessential Motor Valley city—this is sports car stimuli at its frenetic finest. And while neither of these cars are the first to come to mind at the mention of the manufacturer, they are the perfect pair to represent Lamborghini’s journey thus far.
One is a svelte front-engined GT, the other an angular mid-engined supercar with twice the drive wheels and nearly triple the horsepower of its distant forebear. They are separated by almost six decades of technological and aesthetic evolution, but they are both distinctly Lamborghini.
The Sant’Agata Bolognese-based carmaker says that this final edition of the Aventador is the last of its cars to be powered by a V12 engine, but before we get to the end let’s start at the beginning with the 350 GT. Born from the 350 GTV prototype that Ferruccio Lamborghini used to introduce the world to his sports cars in 1963, the 350 GT was the result of making the prototype into a production-ready model.
Giotto Bizzarrini had been the brains behind the GTV’s tube-frame chassis and high-strung V12, but he departed the company to focus on his own before the production version was created, which left that task to Lamborghini’s new Technical Director, Gian Paolo Dallara, and his assistant (and later technical director of Lamborghini), Paolo Stanzani.
Their work on the project was realized as the 350 GT, a 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V12-propelled two-door grand tourer with lightweight coach-built aluminum bodywork by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, which was very similar in appearance to the GTV prototype created by Giorgio Prevedi and Franco Scaglione.
The chassis was a tube frame design that was more driver-and-road-friendly than the original motorsport-inspired Bizzarrini design that still retained the four-wheel independent suspension design, while Stanzani’s revision of the carbureted quad-cam V12 resulted in a less powerful but more reliable and agreeable power plant. The 350 GT was altogether tamer than its prototype GTV version, but in absolute terms it was still a very impressive display of engineering. To use an aeronautical analogy, an SR-71 Blackbird is more intense than an F-35 Lightning, but the latter is still quite far removed from the realm of Cessnas.
With only 120 examples produced, the 350 GT is a rare machine, but this specific example photographed here is even more special, seeing as this is the oldest Lamborghini in existence. Chassis #0100 was the basis of the GTV prototype, and chassis #0101 was crashed and subsequently destroyed during testing, which leaves this car, chassis #0102, to carry the mantle.
And speaking of early Lamborghini history—thanks to the company’s remembrance of and respect for its past—I was joined on this beautiful day by a number of early engineers and other employees from the time when the 350 GT was still a new car–these were among Ferruccio’s very first hires, and in their presence I feel an even greater sense of gravitas standing next to this seminal machine. With wistful smiles of nostalgia they circled the car, opened it up, leaned in and over it, talking excitedly and quickly amongst themselves but also taking the time to stand back, alone for a moment, to reflect on the company’s history and their contributions.
In addition to having impeccable memories of the 350 GT, these guys are still very active engineers, and still very open-minded. I half-expected that they would not show that much interest in the newer model, but they were soon gathered around the open engine compartment of the Aventador Ultimae, scrutinizing the V12 and its ancillaries in great detail, discussing the positioning and function of every component in a level of technical detail and insight that only high-performance engineers can.
Lamborghini had some of its current test drivers in attendance as well, and employed them on this day to take the original crew out for some rides in the 780-horsepower Ultimae (it’s only fitting that the most powerful Aventador is also the final edition). I ask them upon their return, “So, how was it?” Of course, they loved it, as any true enthusiast would, but one answer has since stuck with me: “Despite so many years having passed, the V12 has kept its character.” This is the final realization of almost 60 years of twelve-cylinder optimization, and while it’s quite a bit faster than where it began in the 350 GT (the Ultimae will do the quarter-mile on a drag strip in under 10 seconds), it’s heartening to hear that the people who experienced the beginning can still see the connective threads present in the cutting edge.
Regardless of whether you prefer the early years or the current Lamborghini lineup, the fact that the cutting edge can still be defined by a naturally aspirated twelve-cylinder engine is undeniably worth celebrating. Turbocharging, hybrids, and electric drivetrains (all of which Lamborghini has embraced in addition to keeping the V12 tradition alive for so long) seem to be the inevitable future, for better, for worse, for progress.
Whichever side you fall on, Lamborghini’s magical six-decade period of V12s will only become more romantic. I’m sad to say goodbye to the naturally aspirated excellence of this exotic engine architecture—and having a test drive of my own behind the wheel of the Ultimae only sharpened these pangs of desire—but I am grateful to have grown up during the second half of this mythic period of time. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I would like to deeply thank Lamborghini for making this special experience possible. To be even a tiny piece of its ongoing story is a great honor, and a memory I will forever cherish.