Take a moment. Think back through the years that you’ve been a fan of supercars, be it as a kid with a Lamborghini Countach or Ferrari 40 poster on your wall, or an adolescent that was exposed to Top Gear UK and their often hilarious supercar reviews. Then take a moment to think: Where did the name supercar actually come from?
While it’s definitely been around since this website was built over 20 years ago, for the longest time there were heated, passionate discussions about which car, which classic, was the first to truly embody the word. Some say that the gorgeous Ferrari 250 GTO was the first supercar, as it embodied the exotic nature, the power, and the prestige one associates with the term. Others say that another gorgeous car, the Jaguar E-Type, was the start of the supercar, as it was a car that was only truly available to the wealthy and elite (another hallmark of supercars).
However, for 99% of enthusiasts, the Lamborghini Miura was the first—the true genesis of the term. Launched in 1966, the Miura took the established thoughts on performance and sports cars and tossed them off the edge of the nearest cliff. There had been nothing like it before, and because of three engineers passionate enough to use their off-work time to design it, the world was forever changed.
A Rolling Revolution in Automotive Design
To understand why the Miura, which was at the time called the P400 Prototipi, was such a game changer in the world of sports cars, we first need to look at the time period when it came out. In the 1950s and 1960s, the quintessential design for any sports car in Italy was the berlinetta. This involved a long hood with a V12 underneath, a short, but luxurious cabin, with a sweepback or fastback slope down to the tail end of the car.
We can see this design in such legendary sports cars as the Ferrari 250 GT series, as well as the first Lamborghini, the 350GT. It was simply established that if you wanted to be taken seriously, you built a berlinetta, end of story. Big engine up front, transmission in the middle, power to the rear wheels. If you wanted to build a smaller car that could still be considered sporty, such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA, you were building a sports coupe, not a sports car.
However, if there is one thing Italians are passionate about, it’s motorsports, and three engineers that worked for Ferruccio Lamborghini—namely, Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani, and Bob Wallace were all fans of racing. In fact, both Dallara and Wallace were involved in motorsports before joining Automobili Lamborghini.
The reason that this is so important to the design of the Miura is that starting in 1960, many cars in Formula One started to place their engines behind the drivers instead of in front of them, creating the mid-mount engine layout. Those three engineers saw this, and after doing their work for the 350 GT and the 400 GT cars for Lamborghini, they would get together after hours and work at figuring out how to bring that balance and dynamic to a road car.
The P400 Prototype
The three engineers had, in fact, asked Ferruccio Lamborghini if they could start their design during their work at the company, and he famously denied them, stating that he wanted to stick to what was known and what was in demand: the berlinetta GT style. It is fairly astounding then that the car was not only designed during evenings and weekends, but that so many technical issues were worked through out of the sheer engineering challenge of it all.
While F1 cars of the day used highly compact inline-fours and V8s, the signature Lamborghini engine was the 3.9L V12, which would throw the entire balance of the car off if it was mounted longitudinally. The solution was to turn it 90 degrees, so that it was mounted transverse and in front of the rear axle, but behind the cabin. This, in and of itself, presented a challenge in that the engine was as wide as the cabin was in this position, and it did not allow for a transmission to be attached to the end of it.
While the legacy of the Miura is present in supercars to this day, the cultural impact of it can barely even begin to be measured. It was a watershed moment. Because of the Miura, one of the craziest supercars ever, the Lamborghini Countach was made, which was the original “I need a poster of that!” car that suddenly filled the walls of teenagers’ bedrooms throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Even this very website is a result of the Miura. Without the car becoming the ultimate sports car of the 1960s, and needing to create a new word to define what it was, the term supercar may not have become common parlance. Yet, because of the shockwaves that it sent around the world with its unbelievably gorgeous styling, mixed with its incredible top speed, the term “supercar” was created, and Supercars.net came to be when the internet was still less than a decade old.
The best way to think of the effect the Miura had on the world is to borrow a term from a quaint little British science fiction show known as Doctor Who. The show deals with time travel and paradoxes, but when something so cosmically important happens that it can never be changed, no matter how much anyone tries to, it becomes known as “a fixed point in time.” To the human race, in all its motoring history, the Miura is just that: a fixed point in time. There was the time before the Miura, and the time after it, and nothing anyone does can change that.