WILD THING

With slab-like styling straight from the ’80s and a Countach’s V12, the LM002 – Sant’Agata’s original SUV – made for one very unlikely Lamborghini

words DENNIS VAN LOENHOUT

WHEN YOU’VE driven only a mile in a car, and it has left you confused and just a little bit scared, does that make it special? I don’t know, but is there another word to describe the Lamborghini LM002?

Just look at it! Wherever it goes, fingers are pointed by the dozen, mobile phones are reached for and jaws are dropped.

Lamborghini’s gigantic SUV came into being more or less by accident, the residue of a military project that, sadly, failed to impress the military. That DNA oozes from this car. The evil howl of its engine and the shadow it casts over anything in its path confirms just how intimidating this machine is. If a Countach or Diablo is a rarity, an LM002 is from another world completely. That’s it – maybe alien is a better word.

In its day, people who knew about cars scrambled over each other to say how Lamborghini was too good for the LM002, how the company should go back to making the cars it was famous for. Never one to care much about other people’s opinions, W Lamborghini didn’t kill the LM002 off. It stuck with it, and exploited the car’s ‘specialness’ to enhance its own aura quite masterfully.

Granted, Lamborghini never made another SUV after the LM002 disappeared in 1993 (until the Urus), but it really didn’t need to. The LM became the stuff of legend, maybe even more than the Countach – that may explain why the likes of Tina Turner, Sylvester Stallone and Mike Tyson all owned one. It attracted unsavoury types too – including Muammar Gaddafi and Pablo Escobar. Time to get in and explore then. Terry Pratchett would probably have enjoyed the ride, because the combination of surrealism and parody is striking.

Arguably, there isn’t a car in the world that is as defined by its clutch as this. Of course, with its fourwheel drive and that amazing 5.2-litre Countach V12 engine up front it was always going to need a heavyduty clutch, but what Lamborghini came up with is frankly baffling. ‘Heavy’ doesn’t begin to describe it – it feels like you’re physically separating the gearbox from the engine using only your left leg. Reversing the thing down a narrow road with obstacles on both sides is pure torture. You’ll find yourself trying to feather the clutch so you’re going slowly enough to see every obstacle around you. You can’t expect any help from the wing mirrors, because they’d frankly be too small even on a Fiat Panda. Continued use of a clutch like this causes so much leg ache that you have to stop and rest every minute or so.

Hard work, then, but this beast does reward as well. Take the engine – it mesmerises from the second you start it. It snorts, hisses and roars, shooting fireballs through its exhaust.

And it is huge – it hardly fits under the giant bonnet, and even then only

Military Grade

Failed venture creates luxe SUV Failed venture THE LM002’s life story is a little, well, ridiculous.

Lamborghini was wooing the US Army with its Lamborghini Militaria – (hence ‘LM’). It all started with the Cheetah prototype. Lambo stuffed a heavy Chrysler V8 in the back – which made it tip over on just about every climb, turning it creates luxe SUV into a laughing stock. By the time Lamborghini came back with the front-engined LM002, the military had already taken its business elsewhere.

So Lambo turned it into a luxurious SUV, which debuted in 1986 and stayed in production until 1993. Rumour has it that some Middle Eastern SUV armies did buy a few LM002s, but it’s not completely certain that this car ever saw any military action. In the end, only 301 LM002s were ever built. So it has always been an extremely rare machine. A handful have been privately imported to Australia, but if you want one yourself, you’ll need deep pockets. The car in this story is for sale in the Netherlands, with an asking price of about $400,000. At least you’ll only need to do your right leg at the gym.

‘Heavy’ doesn’t begin to describe the clutch – it feels like you’re

physically separating gearbox from engine using only your left leg

The engine mesmerises you. It snorts, hisses and roars,

shooting fi reballs through its exhaust

with the help of two gigantic bulges that completely obscure the frontseat passenger’s view out of the windscreen. Rev it, and the hisses, roars and fireballs keep on coming.

Lamborghini definitely understood that, when it comes to soundproofing, less sometimes really is more. It is thrilling to hear.

Once you’re rolling, you’re immediately aware of the weight of the thing – all 2700kg of it. Every movement in the suspension is accompanied by a rebound caused by the near-three-tonnes of mass shifting about. You’ll soon stop noticing it, though, partly because there are more things to get used to – including a gearlever that’s a good stretch away for those of us without freakishly long arms. And the Pirellidesigned bespoke Scorpions – in the outrageous size of 345/60 R17 – tramline noticeably.

However, the steering has a good feel to it, making it surprisingly easy to place the LM002 on the road.

Indeed, once you’ve summoned up the confidence to take the Lambo by the scruff of the neck, lead it to a favourite stretch of road and drive it like you would a hot hatch, it’s very satisfying – the gearchange is sweet and the brakes do a fine job of slowing this behemoth.

And that addictive V12 howl is accompanied by enjoyably rapid progress when you use its 331kW, combined with impressive roadholding for such an enormous car. It even makes a decent job of cornering at speed, albeit with a healthy dollop of body roll thrown in. When you become tired of driving it like a hooligan – and driving an LM002 does take quite some effort, as we established earlier – you can switch into ‘cruise’ mode, which gives you some time to take in your surroundings. You sit up really high, in a cabin that reeks of luxury.

There’s leather everywhere and the carpets are almost deep enough to hide in. The stereo system (Alpine originally but replaced in this one by a more modern JVC unit with satnav) is mounted on the roof, just in case you feel the need to listen to something other than the V12.

Mind you, you may feel the need to listen to some calming, chill-out sounds after the trauma of filling up. In recognition of the LM002’s catastrophic 31.4L/100km thirst, Lamborghini fitted a 169-litre fuel tank. Brim that, and you’re looking at hundreds of dollars per fill-up, based on pump prices as we go to press. And that may not even make it on to the list of really big bills: regular servicing costs will make all but the super-rich wince, and a set of tyres costs a small fortune. The price of repairing any damage to the aluminium and glassfibre body doesn’t really bear thinking about – which is why we didn’t venture off the tarmac. We did try out its transfer box, though, and in low-ratio it feels like it could pull the very foundations from under your garage. What an experience. Shame the GIs never got these – it would have been worth joining up just to drive an LM002. M

The Specs

Supercar heart for army SUV

LAMBORGHINI LM002

BODY 4-door, 4-seat SUV DRIVE four-wheel ENGINE 5167cc V12, DOHC, 48v BORE/STROKE 85.5 x 75mm COMPRESSION 9.5:1 POWER 331kW @ 6800rpm TORQUE 500Nm @ 4500rpm POWER/WEIGHT 123kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual WEIGHT 2700kg SUSPENSION Independent, front and rear oscillating arms, coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers L/W/H 4950/2040/1850mm WHEELBASE 3000mm TRACKS 1615/1615mm (f/r) STEERING Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) Ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers BRAKES (R) Servo-assisted drums WHEELS 17.0 x 11.0-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 345/60 R17 (f/r) TYRE Pirelli Scorpion PRICE AS NEW USD$134,500 (AUD$178,000) PROS It’s pretty bloody cool; Countach engine CONS Anything but dynamic; clutch is like doing the leg press; only 301 made STAR RATING 11133