Looking Back On Lamborghini’s 1990s Flagship With The Last Diablo Ever Made: The 42 of 42 Diablo VT 6.0 SE
Photography by Andrea Casano
Before the new year, I had a remarkable opportunity involving a police escort, the old city center of Modena, a team of test drivers, and the last production model of the Lamborghini Diablo, owned by the company itself, which generously lent the car for an unforgettable day. This is #42 of 42 Diablo VT 6.0 Special Editions (SE), the capstone to a legendary supercar that spanned and defined an entire decade. It has a 550hp naturally aspirated V12, all-wheel drive, special edition magnesium and carbon fiber components, and that amorphously defined but instantly recognizable mark of any great supercar: total presence.
The Lamborghini Diablo is arguably the most interesting member of a family rife with extreme personalities. Hear me out for a minute, I know it has large shoes to fill. The Miura was the paradigm shifting mid-engine answer to Ferrari’s dynastic dominance in the 1960s; its Countach sequel defined not just one, but two decades of supercar styling (and nearly every 1980s vision of excess); the LM002 combined the excess of all-wheel drive V12 power with a military-grade dune buggy’s design brief; and the Diablo’s successor, the Murciélago, has rightfully taken its place among the greats in the last generation of predominantly manual transmission exotics. The Lamborghini family tree is no twig-branched sapling.
The Diablo possesses all of the brand’s hallmarks—it’s fast, low, wide, loud, expensive, and named after a bull—but to many car enthusiasts, the car is considered something of a transition period for the brand, a sort of membrane between the original Lamborghini and today’s Volkswagen-managed version, and is thus less “pure.” It’s not a totally inaccurate assessment of a car that was passed between three different management teams, but the implication that it was muddied as result is truly unfair. It is not less of a Lamborghini because it was overseen by so many different corporate characters. A lesser car would not have survived such tumultuous boardroom dealings, but rather than being washed out by M&A bean-counting and shifting identities, the Diablo managed to rise to the occasion, and it stands out amongst other flagship Lamborghinis by embodying its transitory nature while still being instantly recognizable as a raging bull. This car has always been too cool to be diluted, but it still has a lot of different ingredients.
What I mean is that this car represents a few firsts, and fittingly, a few “lasts.” Among the brand’s road-going supercars, the Diablo was the first to exceed 200mph, the first to feature all-wheel drive, the first to lose its roof, and the first to receive factory support in a motorsport specification. On the other hand, it was the last Lamborghini that Marcello Gandini had a hand in designing, and the last with pop-up headlights (less significant, but still…).
For a car whose decade-long production was handed off so many times, it’s amazing how strongly it identifies with both classic and modern Lamborghini traits, and how it puts them together in such harmony. This is not a car reeking of corporate compromise and overstayed welcome, although there are a few turn signals and headlights borrowed from other companies—but hey, the McLaren F1 has bus taillights.
The Diablo was first developed in the mid 1980s as the Countach was preparing to finally bow out, and none other than the Miura-and-Countach designer, Gandini, was tasked with drawing the new shape in an effort to continue his legacy of defining not just Lamborghini’s, but the world’s vision of a supercar. However, the owners of the company, the Mimran brothers, decided to sell their stake to Chrysler before the Diablo project was completed, resulting in a reshuffle that saw the Gandini design rethought by Chrysler’s in-house team led by Tom Gale. The result would become the first production-ready version of the Diablo, which was overseen by Chrysler for a few years while the company entertained some motorsport plans before the Lamborghini marque was sold again, this time to a group of Indonesian investors in 1994.
The new owners’—mainly MyCom and V’Power—tenure was also a brief one, and they sold their stake shortly after to Audi, who took control in 1998. This is when the Diablo assumed its final form, as an all-wheel drive precursor to the upcoming Murciélago. To update the styling in tandem with the drivetrain change, Audi assigned its R8 racer designer, Luc Donckerwolke, to refresh the Diablo for its updated rear-wheel drive SV and all-wheel drive VT (“Viscous Traction,” named after the viscous coupling of the all-wheel drive’s center differential) iterations. Donckerwolke ditched the pop-up headlights for fixed projectors borrowed from the Nissan 300ZX and bumped the standard wheel size to 18”, but left the design otherwise very much intact.
For the Diablo’s swan song in the form of the VT 6.0, Audi AG decided to revise the exterior again by eliminating a few extraneous air inlets, changing the taillight surrounds to body-color, adding a retro-themed wheel design, and most noticeably, altering the look of the front end by adding a twin-intake front fascia (which would be adapted to the Murciélago soon after) and modernizing the turn signals.
Mechanically, the VT 6.0 used a version of the track-spec Diablo GT’s six-liter engine with revised intake and exhaust systems, cams, and a new ECU map. For the very very end, Lamborghini released the car pictured here, the Diablo VT 6.0 SE, of which only 42 examples were offered in an equal distribution between two colors: Oro Elios, as shown here, and Marrone Eklipsis, a darker bronze color that represented the sunset to the Oro Elios’ sunrise. The SE model had the same performance capabilities as the VT 6.0, but extra bragging rights were conferred via additional carbon fiber trim inside the cabin and engine bay, as well as a pretty trick magnesium alloy intake system.
On the day of the shoot—I had slept very little the night before, as one does before having such a precious piece of history at their disposal—the forecast was for fickle weather. Clouds, sunshine, rain, a little fog, have fun. I met with my friend at Lamborghini, Giuseppe, to take the car into the center of Modena along with the factory test driver tasked with the day’s driving, Vincenzo. At this point I must also thank my good friend Enrico, who also works at Lamborghini and was the catalyst for making this shoot possible—it’s amazing how much can be accomplished simply by asking nicely!
As we made our way toward the first shooting location, I was walking beside the car and watching every set of eyes follow us. I would normally be shy with that much attention, but I know that they are simply staring, like me, at the Diablo. It’s an aggressive machine that stands in stark juxtaposition to the much, much older architecture of Modena, but there is still a sense of synergy between the contrasts. The color surely does a great job of ingratiating the car among the masonry and sculpture, and although the Diablo is quite sharp and straight-edged, the curves that it does allow seem fluid and natural here, surrounded by the countless arches bordering the town square.
The way the Diablo meshes with this environment lends it some timeless credibility, but once we are nearing the end of the day and doing car-to-car shots as we slice through the rain along the trendy modern shops, the car transforms into something that looks downright contemporary. This is the nature of the Diablo, to me. It’s a car that was born and bred under at least four distinct management teams, designed and refined by an International cadre of aesthetic talents, and it took on many an identity as a result. The kicker is that it’s somehow singular. This is the Diablo, not some devil may care automobile.