What’s More Radical Than A Countach? How About One With A Supercharger?
Story by Alexander Byles
Photography by Marco Annunziata
Since its first showing in 1971 as a concept in Geneva, the Lamborghini Countach simply stole attention from anything in its vicinity. It was all but sent from the future back then, and the Gandini-penned wedge still epitomizes the ideals of a supercar. Any variant of the Countach commands recognition, but some are more radical than others.
Whether you prefer the early cars devoid of the later versions’ bodywork accoutrements, or the decidedly ’80s aesthetic of the 25th Anniversary edition, there is no arguing against the sheer radicalness of this example. It’s a 1980 LP400S, but it’s not something you could have bought from the showroom 40 years ago. You may have even seen this thing doing the rounds on social media, but the real story of this car isn’t what it seems.
Stabled at the owner’s home in Switzerland, a Countach on the cover of Autocapital from March 1985 set in motion an ambition which was realized more than three decades later. But when the owner found his Countach, it was less than conventional.
“By 2016 I was finally in a financial position to start looking for one, and I spotted this car: a 1980 LP400S Series II.”
Launched in 1978, the fundamental difference between the S and the original LP400 was the styling, with the LP400S essentially resembling the Countach most people are familiar with—that is to say, the wide body. The original LP400 was a dramatic and gorgeous machine, but the addition of the angular fiberglass extensions to the arches of the S model, as well as larger wheels, set the look that defined the decade to come. The second series of the LP400S, of which only 105 were made, all with the “low body” suspension package.
This particular car however once carried far more modifications to the body, including non-original side skirts, rear lights, mirrors, and a wing purloined from the later Quattrovalvole. Inside, the alterations continued with the seats, steering wheel, and shift knob. But the modifications didn’t end there.
While the S model came out of the Sant’Agata Bolognese factory with the same 3929cc motor as the LP400, it had been detuned compared to the LP400 by some 20hp to reduce CO2 and noise emissions. For this particular example though, there were far greater changes within the engine bay, and it certainly wasn’t down on power.
The previous owner, who’d owned the LP400S for over 20 years, was an F1 engineer for Sauber; perhaps this tells us all we need to know. As a skilled engineer on the world stage, he set about upgrading the performance of his Countach to a level that makes the stock ones seem tame by comparison, namely the addition of a centrifugal supercharger from Vortech.
The first modifications to the now-forced-induction power plant incorporated the air intake from a BMW straight-six as well as a MOTEC ECU, however, the intercooler wasn’t performing sufficiently so additional work was required to properly seal the coolers, making them virtually 100% efficient. A challenge discovered therein was that the two throttle bodies weren’t synchronizing—one being fully open, the other perhaps three-quarters.
Resolving additional issues including lumpy idle speed and leaking fuel lines, a fourth version of the engine was then developed by the Sauber man, which included Jenvey single throttle bodies. Several iterations later—this was the seventh “build” of the car—the intercooler setup was changed to an air-to-water system, and the larger cooling system required a new engine hood.
As the owner told me, “Because of these modifications it had remained on sale for a relatively long time, but I realized the potential of this car. It was solid. It hadn’t been involved in any accidents or even minor scrapes, and it was rust-free. Plus there was a clear ownership paper trail showing that the car had been kept in Switzerland since the first owner had acquired her from the Lamborauto dealer in Turin. So, on that basis, we began our negotiations.”
When the current owner acquired the car, at first he planned to restore it to its completely original condition and spec. But, as the car was running and performing extremely well as delivered to him, he eventually decided to retain the supercharger in the engine bay.
“I was even convinced to go back to carbs, and I found the originals—Weber 45 DCOE 96/97—but the previous owner sagely told me to ‘Enjoy the car with the engine as it is, and then if you decide you want to go back to carburetors, so be it’. It was sound advice.”
Since then, a Lamborghini mechanic has made various adjustments, including replacement of the clutch and ball bearing, as well as having the gearbox refurbished. All the other original parts have also been located, including the airboxes, throttles, and Magneti Marelli S85CA distributors (with the LP400S as the final Countach to feature distributors, there was one on either side of the engine).
“The motor runs extremely smoothly, and always starts on the first turn of the key. When it’s cold it is a bit lumpy, but when all the fluids are heated up it runs like clockwork.”
Considering performance, while the original S was at a deficit to the LP400, that’s clearly no longer the case with this car. “Since it has a MOTEC ECU system, the engine can be tuned, most likely up to at least 500hp, but I wouldn’t dare do that!” says the current owner. “The engine right now has a soft boost setting, and most likely produces around 400hp, up about 50 from its factory output.”
Despite retaining the modifications under the engine hood, the owner wasn’t prepared to keep the modifications to the body and interior (It wasn’t to my taste, but we’re all different,” he tells me), so in late 2017 he started on the aesthetic restoration work.
“I spent more or less the whole of 2017 collecting the correct parts, including the original seats, gear knob, and wing, among many others—even the original ashtray! I tracked down parts from all over the world in the process.”
But this Countach is not exactly as it appeared in 1980. Originally painted white, the owner had a particular liking for a green shade that was available at the factory in 1980, Verde Abete. “So I thought, why not? The car should be how I like it!”
A bigger challenge than the respray was sourcing the original body parts, particularly the engine hood. Even though the original hood won’t fit over the supercharger’s piping, the owner has a factory specified original version just in case it’s needed to one day return to the car back to stock. And cost wasn’t always the challenge so much as the parts’ availability. For example, he found a shift knob for $1000, then a few months later found the same piece listed for €60…
Inside the cabin, cream leather surrounds the occupants (“Green fits with cream!” he says), with champagne leather, brown suede, and apricot carpets filling out the interior’s palette. The dash and dials are all original except for the gauges which measure the air/fuel ratio for each side of the engine, as well as the gauge for the Vortech compressor. Finally, the audio setup wasn’t part of the factory specification, but the Panasonic head unit was apparently mounted by dealerships at the time, so it still fits the 1980s look, for better or worse.
But does the owner consider the semi-restoration work finished?
“Yes. For now anyway. It’s always possible to go back to the original carbs in the future, and then to match completely the original specification and parts, but not yet, I enjoy the car too much with this Vortech setup as it is.”
For completeness, the car also comes with service book, owner’s manual, and original tool kit— even a leaflet from the dealer from 1980. If you happen to be in Switzerland, don’t be surprised if you see this car out on the roads. The happy owner is of the camp that believes cars need to be driven often to be enjoyed.
“And besides, People like to see these cars out on the roads,” he adds, “and the Countach is a design that has marked the world of cars for everybody, whether they are enthusiasts or not. It is the supercar.”