Histroriography: The Pin-Up Star

When I was a teenager, the best selling poster amongst my male peers was something for all fantasies to come true.

Just peer inside a teenage male’s bedroom around 1977 and you will see what I mean. It is substantial of an image – blonde, layered hair, tanned with a brown sundress or bikini in a pose that is simply unforgettable.

I am talking of course the late Farah Fawcett.

It was about the time at the end of her marriage to Lee Majors that she took this iconic photograph. Her starring role in "Charlie's Angels" cemented her place in celebrity lore. Her TV movie, "The Burning Bed," did not deter his sexy image amongst young men's bedroom walls.

However, as disco was dying and the decades began to turn, Ms. Fawcett was about to get some competition on the wall. It would come not from a human being, but something more mechanical. It was something that is considered just as sexy, despite some misgivings of its original design. It had muscles and presence, but the allure of a post-disco companion.

Yet, no one ever heard of the poster's subject until they began showing up on many bedroom walls. Who have ever heard of the manufacturer? They made farm tractors before they made this sexy beast? And, where is Sant'Agata? Italy?!? Really?!?

What the teenagers of the early 1980s did not realize was the story behind their new icon on the wall. It would have never made it into a poster if it did not receive the attention it did at the right time. Just like its predecessor, it created a serious change in the automotive world.

This story began in 1966. The Lamborghini Miura was a pivotal model for the young maker of sports cars since it changed the way they were designed and how they performed. By moving the engine towards the middle of the car, it was the first vehicle to mount a V12 transversely onto an axle.

More important was the Marcello Gandini-penned Bertone design that made everyone notice. It redefined "sleek." Though impractical, a Miura driver had always one thing in mine – driving fast. It was easy to do in this masterpiece. The Miura's run ended in 1972, just in time to usher in another Bertone design by Gandini onto the world.

The 1971 Geneva Motor Show provided the backdrop of this pin-up superstar. The prototype was a departure from Gandini's Miura towards Bertone's signature lines, creases and angles. The silhouette was futuristic, a study of the integration of trapezoids across a body that only stood 42 inches. Even stunning were the scissor doors with mounts on the apex of the A-pillar – iconic then and now.

Lamborghini Countach LP500S from the Scarsdale Concours. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Nrbelex via Wikipedia.com

However, the chassis denoted another departure from the Miura. Instead of mounting the V12 transversely parallel with the rear axle, Lamborghini switched it to a longitudinal mount instead. This allowed Lamborghini to build larger engines for their big car – eventually reaching 5.2litres by the end of its run.

It took a few years for the prototype to become a production car. By 1974, the Countach found it's way to some of the most exclusive garages worldwide. By its final year in 1990, over 2,000 examples were made over three main sub-generations. Its second iteration – the LP400S – revealed the dream of all youth to adorn their bedroom walls with.

The watershed year was 1978 when the LP400S was introduced. On top of engine modifications, Lamborghini sought to resolve one of the Countach's biggest problems. Though aerodynamic, the Countach lacked true down force to keep it planted on the road. The LP400S added wheel arch extensions and a front air dam to manage airflow around the wheel housings. An optional wing was added to the rear. The latter changed the image of the Countach for good – giving it a Stealth fighter fantasy for those who dreamed of the big bull from Sant'Agata.

It helped to have the Countach as a dream car in the media to help poster sales. Adrienne Barbeau and Jill Tuckman had a black one in the movie "The Cannonball Run." If there were one media moment that introduced this country to the Countach, you would have to thank Hal Needham for the casting. Incidentally, Farah Fawcett was in that film.

What many of you who had the posters did not know was the struggle to keep the Countach on the road. At the height of its iconography, Lamborghini was in financial receivership. They continued building cars, but on borrowed time and money. By 1984, the Mimran brothers bought the company, who later sold it to Chrysler.

It also meant that the Countach was a flawed vehicle. Never mind the reports about quality control, since they lacked a solid feel inside. As with the Miura, the Countach was completely impractical. Some say that it was worse than the Miura in many respects. It took skill to put one in reverse, using the scissor doors and your own body to accomplish the task.

Yet, you love them. You moved Ms. Fawcett over to put one on your wall.

Perhaps it is the iconography of the Countach that made the legend real. Lamborghini's subsequent models only serve to extend that legend – the Diablo, Murcielago and Aventador. Since the Countach, Audi served to enhance and improve the big bulls in terms of quality, performance and, to a minute extent, its practicality. Yet, you never own a big Lambo to bring your golf clubs or a week's worth of clothes for a long distance jaunt.

I will admit never being fond of the Countach at its time. If I wanted a car to put up on my wall – which I frankly could not recall at present if I did or not – it would have been either a Ferrari penned by Pininfarina, something American, British or (West) German. I even found the Maserati Khamsin more compelling than the Countach – for some rationale that serves as to why I am found of something with fewer cylinders, and a different drive placement. The Khamsin was designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, as well.

The idolatry of the Lamborghini Countach came at the right time. The Reagan/Thatcher 1980s spurned a want of upward mobility. That era shouted excess, while creating a wider gulf between the haves and have-nots worldwide. Perhaps it was apt that a poster would suffice for the real thing.

Which one would you choose on your childhood bedroom wall?

Cover photo by Randy Stern

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