The 1990 Lamborghini Diablo Is Even More Sensational Than the Countach

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Photo credit: John Lamm
Photo credit: John Lamm
Photo credit: John Lamm
Photo credit: John Lamm

It’s winter, and this is Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy and that means fog. Nebbia. And it isn’t just any fog, but the type that’s cold and damp and devious . . . it sneaks up your sleeves and down around your collar and right into your knickers. Into this atmosphere comes the Lamborghi­ni Diablo, the long-awaited replacement for the Countach. Sitting there in the cold fog, the car appears to be giving off its own heat. You could warm your hands on it. Hot stuff. And exciting, too, ready to burn into the minds of millions of people as The Car up on the pedes­tal—the automobile you’d give it all up for, ex­cept that your “all” (mine, too!) just may not touch the purchase price.

This story originally appeared in the March 1990 issue of Road & Track.

Photo credit: Road & Track
Photo credit: Road & Track


What’s most important about the Diablo— named for a famous fighting bull—is, of course, the exterior design . That's what gets the blood racing. And with the Diablo, your pulse will soar because its stunning good looks should consign the Countach, exciting as it is, to history. The Diablo is truly the proper replacement for the 19-year-old exotic. The same man who penned the Countach (plus Lamborghini’s Miura, Espada, Urracoand the Marzal and Bravo show cars) did the Diablo. In his Turin, Italy studio, Marcello Gandini has taken the Countach theme and snapped it right into the Nineties. You’ll see much of the Countach in the Diablo—such as the proportions, the aggressiveness of both the front and back of the car, and the unique wheels—but with the softer look of the aerodynamic Nineties. The exterior of the Diablo is imposing, stunning without being shocking, very satisfying to the eyes. Gandini once told us that when designing the Countach, he wanted “people to be astonished when they saw the car.” He succeeded with the Countach, and he does it again with the Diablo.

Here’s how the Diablo-Countach comparison measures up

Diablo | Countach
Wheelbase:
104.3 | 96.5
Track (front/rear):
59.4/64.6 | 60.5/63.2
Length: 175.6 | 165.4
Width: 80.3 | 78.7
Height: 43.5 | 42.1
Ground Clearance:
5.5 | 4.9
Curb Weight (lb): 3640 | 3280
Weight Distribution
(w/Driver), F/R,
40/60 | 42/58

Among the things retained from the Coun­tach are the front-hinged, swing-up doors. To have not used these unique doors would have been as silly as not offering the Diablo in red. The interior of the car also shows its heritage, with thin leather-covered recliner seats separated by a tall center tunnel. There's little ahead of the passenger, while the driver has the usual complement of instruments, now grouped in a rounded rectangular panel instead of the Countach’s box­ like arrangement. Trip computer, heating/air-conditioning controls and the Alpine stereo are still stacked in the center console. And there’s the lovely shift gate. Use of sound-deadening materials has been increased, and passive restraints for the U.S. are in the form of airbags. It’s an excellent job of taking what was loved and bringing it right up to date. Much of the work is not by Gandini, but by an American, Bill Dayton, who did the design while working at Lamborghini.

There’s a smallish trunk—5 cu. ft.—up front, so to take advantage of it, you really should buy the lovely fitted luggage.

Photo credit: John Lamm
Photo credit: John Lamm

Stunning as the appearance may be, it can only be half of a proper Italian supercar. And what Gandini had to do to update the legendary styling, Luigi Marmiroli (formerly of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo Formula 1 teams) had to do for the chassis.

“You must excuse my English,” says Mar­miroli. who is Lamborghini’s technical director, “but remember that the language of these cars is Modenese dialect. Not just Italian, but Modenese.” No excuses necessary, not only because Marmiroli’s English is quite good, but also because language barriers disappear once you begin talking about technical details.

Lamborghini engineers were completely free to do what they wanted with the Diablo, but the basics—mid-engine V-12 placement—were assumed. As Marmiroli points out, “We wanted to continue with the Lamborghini philosophy and to continue the Lamborghini history.” He is proud that the very same men who made the Lamborghini Miura's styling mockup did the same with the Diablo. But he is just as enthusiastic that much of the engineering design and development was done with CAD/CAM and finite-element computers at Sant’Agata and Chrysler’s super­ computers in Highland Park, Michigan.

Photo credit: John Lamm
Photo credit: John Lamm

Both the Diablo and the Countach use a space frame, but there the similarity ends. In the older car, the frame was all of round steel tubing. For the new model, the tubes are of square section, to which it is easier to attach components. Those tubes in the central part of the Diablo are of high-strength steel to build a protective cage around the occupants. Tubing at the front and rear of the car is of milder steel to allow for controlled crush in case of an accident. Some pieces up front are even scored to direct the manner in which they bend under load. Also adding stiffness to the center portion of the Diablo is a carbon-fiber center tunnel and a steel roof.

Fenders and doors are of aluminum alloy, which is stronger than the pure aluminum used in the Countach and results in a better finish. There are six major aluminum body panels, which are stamped in Turin, then fitted and welded together at Lamborghini. The engine cover, front decklid, rocker panels, bumpers and spoilers front and back are also carbon fiber. Marmiroli says these composite pieces are done at Lamborghini, where they have been under development for four years, and are used because of their superior finish and strength.

Photo credit: John Lamm
Photo credit: John Lamm

One of the stranger pieces is the lower rear spoiler, which is primarily a bumper to meet U.S. standards and secondarily an aerodynamic device. Measured in a wind tunnel, the Diablo’s Cx comes in at 0.31. For those who insist, there is a rear wing available, though the car's basic design is so beautiful it would be a shame to alter it.

As you might expect in such an exotic car, the suspension is upper and lower A-arms front and rear. This hasn’t changed in basic principle from the Countach, though naturally the hardware is new and there are geometry alterations. One design change at the front allows for a second type of hub used in the all-wheel-drive Di­ablo. Marmiroli prefers to call it the Viscous Transmission version, so as not to confuse it with an off-road machine. As in the Countach, the Diablo’s engine is mounted nose to rear, with the clutch, then the 5-speed gearbox, ahead of the V-12. Power to the rear wheels goes by a crankcase-mounted driveshaft to the rear differential and then to the wheels. With the VT model—available as an option in 1991—a viscous coupling in the gearbox sends power forward through a carbon-fiber driveshaft to the front differential. Should the rear wheels start spinning, up to 15 percent of the engine’s power can be routed to the front wheels for better traction.

Other chassis details include 13.0-in. vented front disc and 11,2-in. vented rear disc brakes, with no ABS. Steering is non-assisted rack and pinion. Tires are Pirelli PZero, with 245/40ZR-17s on 17 x 8'/2-in. cast alloy wheels at the front and 335/35ZR-17s on 17 x 13-in. at the back. By contrast, the Countach is fitted with 225/50VR-15s front and 345/35VR-15s rear.

Photo credit: John Lamm
Photo credit: John Lamm

These huge tires and the 4-wheel drive will be helpful in getting the Diablo’s power to the road. The engine fundamentals are unchanged: a 48-valve aluminum V-12 with two camshafts per head. Yet much of what’s inside is new, from the mechanical parts to the displacement, which climbs from 5.2-liters to 5.7, with the bore and stroke larger than before. The compression ratio rises from 9.5 to 10.0:1. On goes a new induction and fuel-management and injection system and up goes horsepower, to 485 from the Countach’s 455. Torque also climbs significantly, from 368 lb.- ft. at 5000 rpm to 428 at 5200. And all this despite the Diablo’s using unleaded premium and catalytic converters, as they are now the norm in Europe as well.

All of which brings us to that most famous of questions: “What’ll she do?” A lot in a big hurry. Factory tests show 0-100 km/h (62.0 mph) in 4.1 seconds and through the standing kilometer in 20.8 sec. Top speed? Lamborghini claims 205 mph. This is performance that will put a Countach on the trailer, with its 0-60 time of 4.7 sec. and terminal speed of around 180. Lamborghini takes pride in pointing out that these numbers (generated at the Nardo test track in southern Italy) mean a Diablo will out­ perform a Ferrari F40, which certainly lacks the civility of the big Lamborghini.

After “What’ll she do?” usually comes “How much?” Lamborghini and Chrysler aren’t saying yet, but we’re guessing the price to be around $175,000, minus the fitted luggage. Add 4-wheel drive and the price climbs to the $200,000 region. Lamborghini will build an estimated 500 Diablos each year, with deliveries beginning in late spring. Oh, and don’t expect any incentives to buy, or cash-back offers, or low interest rates. Diablos will be strictly cash and carry.

Photo credit: Road & Track
Photo credit: Road & Track

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