The Devil we know.
It’s just about to tick over into a new decade, the 1990s, and Italian ego-masseur Lamborghini is getting ready to take the silly blanket off of its brand new car.
Expectations are high, the new car is going to be the successor to the Countach, a wedge-shaped Speedball of a machine that could bring you up just as easily as it could bring you down. It was spectacular, intimidating, aggressive, and an utter pain in the culo.
The new car would be better. The new car would be a step forward and an evolution of Countach, applying the same “look at me I’m absolutely mental” design concept but with all-round better everything. A new name was chosen for the next mad Lambo, and it reflected the mischief and power Lamborghini supercars should have – ‘Diablo’, Spanish for ‘Devil’.
Being something from the Netherworld, it had to have an engine that could growl like Cerberus, so Lamborghini dropped a 5.7-litre V12 into it, slapped it on the rump and sent it on its way to over 200mph, a jaw-dropping speed back in 1990. Over the course of its 11-year lifespan, the Diablo would eventually be able to reach 210mph following enhancements and modifications – one of which being enlarging the displacement of this dark heart to 6.0-litres.
It was utterly fearsome, the engine in the Diablo became a bit of a Lamborghini trademark, with a roar so powerful you could hear it not in your town, but in the towns neighbouring your town. Its successors, Murciélago and Aventador, continued this cacophony of V12 into the new millennium.
If you’re wondering if Lamborghini managed to correct the – how shall we say? – extremely challenging driving characteristics of the Countach the answer is a solid no. The new Diablo may have had a better driving position but the driver’s visibility was pretty poor and the heavy, wide Diablo was a serious handful out on the roads. Contemporary reports from road testers point out that a Porsche 911 Turbo would easily leave one for dead out on the road, and cost about half as much of your hard-earned Lira, too.
At least it still looked great though, that wedge shape remained but it was sanded off around the edges and looked more mature than the Countach, a car which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Flash Gordon. Rumour has it Marcello Gandini originally designed the Diablo to be closer to the Countach, but his bold design was watered down by then-parent company Chrysler. He was none too impressed and threw an espresso at the wall before leaving to design another supercar at Citeza.
Like any good daemonic entity the Diablo became more powerful over time, and its weaknesses began – slowly – to get ironed out, albeit in the form of more expensive, slightly madder versions of itself. Critics regarded 1995’s Diablo ‘SV’ as the better Diablo, with its notoriously difficult handling much improved, even though the top speed was reduced slightly, the results the engineers produced on the SV more than made up for a lack of posh-bar bragging rights. As a little boost for buyers, the stripped-out SV was also cheaper than the normal Diablo, something that would not happen in this era.
1999 saw people begin to get nervous about a Millennium Bug, but not Lamborghini. They decided to enhance the Diablo with a brand new interior design, electronically adaptable dampers, and headlamps from a Nissan 300ZX. Wait, what? Yep, headlights from the Nissan 300ZX. No more pop-up headlights, sadly, but the new look was certainly no bad thing. Perhaps the best looking Diablo we got came along post-facelift when Lamborghini produced 80 units of the ‘GT’, the ultimate Diablo which was derived from the GT2 race car that had made so many knees weak at circuits across the world. The Diablo GT got extensive carbon-fibre body parts, new suspension, an extensively modified engine, and a whole host of other changes to make it possibly the best supercar of its time. 575bhp, 1,490kg, carbon fibre all over the place, and ever-further improved handling. This was Diablo’s finest moment, it’s a pity that only 80 were produced.
Though it began life as an awkward, unruly son of a Countach, Lamborghini matured the Diablo into something very special, finally getting beyond the looks over substance status that had been fairly put upon it. The SV and GT were particular highlights, and to this day they’re still some of the most coveted supercars on the used market.
It wasn’t perfect, but then again who wants to be perfect when you can just be downright devilish?
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