Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

| 6 Feb 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

Ferruccio Lamborghini’s stated aim, when he embarked upon his adventure in exotic-car manufacture 60 years ago, was to build ‘the perfect GT’.

Not a technical sensation, then, but a machine that improved on the fast, expensive, but flawed grand-touring cars with which he had indulged himself ever since he first made his fortune in the tractor business.

His often-recounted run-in with Enzo Ferrari over a clutch problem was likely the incident that galvanised his resolve to make something better.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

In 1964, Ferruccio Lamborghini shook up the exotic-car establishment with the 350GT

In many ways, the 350GT got closer to this ideal, in relation to its contemporaries, than any of his subsequent front-engined models: his vision of a nicely finished and somewhat refined two-seater that was more than just a magnificent engine in a slightly ordinary car.

Not that later Lambos were ordinary.

With his young and ambitious team of engineers, and a sparkling new factory in Sant’Agata, it was inevitable that his name would be attached to a variety of faster, more spectacular cars over the following decade.

But if the Miura and Countach made the fledgling firm’s reputation, they were not necessarily the cars a 50-year-old tycoon wanted to drive, at least not every day.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The lozenge-shaped Cibié headlights mark this out as a Lamborghini 350GT – the later 400GT has quad lights

As a wealthy industrialist, Ferruccio was able to pursue this dream in an uncompromising way from the beginning with a car that didn’t necessarily need to make a profit (at first), because his lucrative tractor and oil-heater businesses could shoulder the losses.

The new car was even pitched at a price that undercut the Maranello opposition by $1600.

When the Italian economy tanked in the early 1960s, the widely predicted demise of Lamborghini Automobili did not come to pass simply because Ferruccio was able to keep his baby afloat using his considerable personal wealth.

Even at $13,900, he is thought to have lost around $1000 on each 350GT he sold.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The glorious all-alloy, quad-cam, dry-sump Bizzarrini V12 engine put arch rival Ferrari in the shade for technical adventurousness

There would be no half measures and no V8 engines, American or otherwise: the 350GT would be powered by a bespoke V12 that tapped into the peculiarly Italian mystique given to the layout by Ferrari’s racing success across the previous 20 years.

With 60° between the cylinder banks and firing intervals, it was inherently smooth and naturally free-revving.

It was not a racing-car engine, but a flexible touring-car unit: probably the best of its kind in the world and casually trumping its 3.3-litre Maranello rival in having four chain-driven camshafts rather than two.

It even ran exotic, platinum-tipped spark plugs to cure low-speed fouling.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

You access the Lamborghini 350GT’s airy cockpit via wide-opening doors

Did any subsequent front-engined Lamborghini enjoy such a margin of technical superiority over its Ferrari and Maserati rivals?

With its aluminium block, sunk-in liners, forged pistons and billet crank, it was a classic piece of Italian short-stroke V12 architecture, good for 270bhp at 6500rpm and with each unit tested for 20 hours on the dyno.

Weighing in at 512lb and running its own special Lamborghini-made oil filter, the 350’s engine was detuned for road-use tractability compared to Giotto Bizzarrini’s original conception.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

Lamborghini’s first production car was the 350GT

With softer camshaft profiles, horizontally mounted Weber carburettors, a lower compression ratio and a dry sump, the 350GT V12 had the potential for 40,000 miles between major overhauls.

Lamborghini tried to keep as much of the car’s build in-house as possible (to control costs and quality), but the 350GT had a bought-in ZF five-speed gearbox, a Salisbury limited-slip differential and Girling disc brakes: a few late 350GTs were fitted with Lamborghini’s own ’box (with synchromesh even on reverse) and the factory-made diff that was standardised on the 400GT 2+2.

With four-wheel wishbone-and-coil-spring suspension, the 350GT swept away the natural technical conservatism that was a trademark of the Italian ‘supercar’ manufacturers.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT grabs attention wherever it goes

Not until the 1966 arrival of the 275GTB/4 did Ferrari have a car to match it technically; it seems fair to say that Maserati didn’t really bother to try.

After the fumbled misstep of the prototype 350GTV, the 350GT – launched at the Geneva Salon in March 1964 – was an extraordinarily complete and resolved first attempt at an exotic production automobile.

Making it look the part should really have been the easy bit, but here Lamborghini’s touch was less assured.

Based on a stronger and slightly longer-wheelbase square-tube chassis, its Touring body was perhaps too bug-eyed to be beautiful.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT’s speedo goes to an optimistic 300kph (186mph)

Fashioned in aluminium around patented Superleggera construction principles, it took inspiration from the slightly awkward 350GTV and had a look of its own that was impossible to confuse with anything else.

Production was pegged at 10 cars a month, but only 14 examples would be built in 1964 and a further 67 in 1965.

Just 120 350GTs – each road tested for 200 miles by engineer Bob Wallace – were built in total, the last four in 1967.

The 4-litre, two-seater 400GT and steel-bodied 400GT 2+2 accounted for a further 247 cars before the demise of Touring of Milan foreshadowed the introduction of the much less curvy (and easier to build) Islero in 1967.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT’s styling was arrestingly distinctive rather than truly beautiful

The first thing that strikes you about the 350GT is its size.

A little shorter and a little wider than a Mk2 Jaguar, but sitting much lower on its deeply inset 15in Borrani wires, it’s really quite compact.

It is prettier in the metal than in pictures: slim and well-proportioned, with hardly a straight line to be found other than the tops of the ungainly rear arches.

The huge area of curved glass gives the delicate-looking roof an astronaut’s helmet/goldfish-bowl feel – and almost unrivalled 360° vision – but the electric windows struggle to bring the highly curved door glasses down smoothly.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

‘If the Miura and Countach made the firm’s reputation, they were not necessarily the cars a tycoon wanted to drive every day’

Lozenge-shaped Cibié headlamps and twin fuel fillers on the rear wings tell you that this example is a 350GT rather than a 400.

The delicate corner-bumpers, Fiat-sourced doorhandles and quad tailpipes are common to both models.

Actually, that is not quite true: early 350GTs had a one-piece front bumper, no vents mounted on the tops of the wings, nor a reversing light.

The first nine were also ‘2+1s’, with a single, mid-mounted rear seat.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini’s seats extend into vestigial headrests

The engine bay is well filled, with three Weber 40s on each side feeding into inlet tracts between the cam boxes (good for gas flow, but not for plug access), their slurping noises partially dampened by massive air cleaners.

It was probably the adoption of sidedraught carburettors that forced the designers to move the ZF steering box to its position way out behind the left-hand headlight.

The twin coils and distributors – driven off the exhaust cams – sit at the front, with bean-tin-sized reservoirs for the brake and clutch hydraulics tucked inside the left-hand inner wing.

The battery – and the remote vacuum tank for the brake-booster – live in the short, shallow but neatly trimmed boot.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

Early Lamborghini 350GTs were three-seaters, but this car’s rear shelf is for luggage only

Getting in, the long doors open wide but you can easily crack your knee on the ’screen pillar – perhaps the only foible the 350GT has in common with a PA Vauxhall Cresta – as you slide into seats with possibly the first attempt at built-in head restraints in a production car.

Similarly, I can’t think of anything predating the 350GT that shares its single windscreen wiper: later cars had conventional twin blades.

The style of trim is workmanlike, but of good quality, with details such as the padded headlining and chrome-finished door shuts a clue to the care and thought that went into making these first Lamborghini bodies.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT has a squat stance, but is not a big car

The dash, in padded faux leather, is all function.

The giant main instruments, with ’50s-style font markings on the outside of their glasses, run to 300kph and a 7000rpm redline.

The oil-pressure gauge is directly in the driver’s sight – behind the wood-rimmed wheel – and rarely drops below the centre mark even at tickover in this car, which has covered about 5000km since its most recent rebuild.

Lesser dials for oil and water temperature, charging and fuel run along the centre, backed up by seven Fruit Pastille-like multi-coloured warning lights.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini’s 15in Borrani wheels get three-eared spinners

Guinness-bottle flick-switches work lights, wipers, fan and other accessories; the chunky, unmarked heater controls are apparently Lancia in origin.

The tiny glovebox wouldn’t hold much more than the advertised gloves, but the space behind the seats is ample compensation for the smallish boot.

At a pinch it could serve as a short-journey perch for 1960s/’70s-style unrestrained infants.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT’s shape was honed by the craftspeople at Touring Superleggera in Milan

Nervous passengers get a grabhandle on the dashboard, but there is not a seatbelt to be found anywhere in this Lamborghini, which was sold new in Zurich in 1965.

It was next accounted for in 1971, as a shabby-looking SFr6000 offering on a local garage forecourt.

The following owner revived the car and kept it for 40 years before the father-and-son team of Koni and Fabian Lutzinger of Lutzinger Classic Cars in Zurich acquired the 350GT and restored it to original condition, at huge expense, for their mouthwatering personal collection.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT’s rather shallow boot is just enough for European road trips

Settling behind the thin, wooden-rimmed wheel you notice that the top-hinged pedals are off-centre in relation to it, but nicely arranged for fancy heel-and-toe footwork.

You sit quite upright compared to the rake of the panoramic windscreen, forehead at close quarters with the slightly lethal-looking tinted Perspex sunvisors and the almost impossibly slender A-pillars of the floating roof.

With the battery cut-off on the rear bulkhead turned to ‘live’, the starting procedure is standard Italian V12.

Ignition on and the twin Bendix fuel pumps come to energetic life; with the fuel bowls filled – and the throttle pumped three times – the V12 catches on the first try, but needs a couple of minutes to settle down to its clean, gentle 500rpm idle.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT has ‘Fruit Pastille’ warning lights atop a line of auxiliary dials

On the road it feels like a good half an hour before the oil-temperature gauge starts to register, but the engine is completely tractable, sweet and ready to work with superb low-speed flexibility and broad-shouldered mid-range muscle.

The gearchange doesn’t quite reach the same standards, but only because it is slightly noisy in the lower ratios.

Its movements are light, short and accurate, and nicer than the shift encountered in the later factory-built gearbox, if memory serves.

Its growls a little in bottom gear, but will do almost everything in its 80mph second, with third the ideal ratio for gurgling through suburban traffic.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The ZF gearbox betters Lamborghini’s in-house unit

It’s an odd thing to say, but the near-160mph 350GT is an honest pleasure to drive slowly.

The fantastic vision puts you at ease straight away, and there is nothing jarring or out of register about the feel or response of any of the main controls.

The ride doesn’t smooth out with speed: it is outstanding at both ends of the spectrum, hardly reacting to drain covers or undulations on the well-tended Zurich byways.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

‘This 160mph Lamborghini 350GT is an honest pleasure to drive slowly, with nothing jarring or out of register about any of its controls’

I fully expected the 350GT’s unassisted steering to be one of the car’s weak links, but it proves to be one of its many highlights, quickly displacing any suggestion of low-speed ponderousness and slightly low gearing with a light accuracy of response that is almost unique among exotic front-engined GTs of the ’60s.

From the inside you are not aware of any significant roll or dive, just an ability to go quite neutrally around all but the tightest corners, with grip to spare and all the power you need.

The clutch bites fairly high and quite sharply, but has an appropriate amount of heft.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 350GT sports a quirkily elegant profile, with crisp lines

It is well matched to the weighty but progressive action of the throttle pedal, which gives beautifully harmonised control over a strong, sustained flow of acceleration that just keeps on coming in every gear.

Turbine-like, it has that sensation of endless silken thrust you only really get with a carburetted V12.

As the revs climb the pull gets stronger, the quality of the noises more exquisite but not necessarily louder, and such wind noise as there is fades into the background.

Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

The Lamborghini 400GT replaced the 350GT shortly after Touring of Milan’s demise

The 350GT really starts to make sense at speeds we never approach: what a joy it would be to cruise it at 130mph with acceleration in hand, or urge it along a favourite B-road where its slender dimensions and superb vision make so much more sense than the idiotic supercars of 2024.

Drive a Lamborghini 350GT today and there is a well-rounded competence about it that goes beyond the usual supercar virtues of exciting sounds and spectacular acceleration: it has those qualities in abundance, yet it also gives you every reason to believe it is a nice car to use at any speed and for any purpose.

If that sounds like scant praise, it is not meant to.

Few – if any – exotic-car manufacturers of the 1960s achieved such a perfect balance of desirable qualities. And none of them achieved it straight out of the box.

Images: Jayson Fong

Thanks to: Fabian Lutziger and Lutziger Classic Cars


Classic & Sports Car – Lamborghini 350GT: driving Ferruccio’s first

Lamborghini 350GT

  • Sold/number built 1964-’67/120
  • Construction steel chassis, aluminium panels over tubular steel frame
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 3497cc 60° V12, six Weber 40 DCOE carburettors
  • Max power 270bhp @ 6500rpm
  • Max torque 239Ib ft @ 4000rpm
  • Transmission ZF five-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension independent, by unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering ZF worm and nut
  • Brakes Girling discs, with servo
  • Length 14ft 8in (4500mm)
  • Width 5ft 3in (1630mm)
  • Height 4ft (1220mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 4½in (2550mm)
  • Weight 2315lb (1050kg)
  • Mpg 16
  • 0-60mph 6.4 secs
  • Top speed 156mph
  • Price new $13,900
  • Price now £400-750,000*

*Prices correct at date of original publication

Enjoy more of the world’s best classic car content every month when you subscribe to C&SC – get our latest deals here


60 years of Lamborghini

Practical performance: Lamborghini Espada vs Maserati Indy vs Ferrari 365GT4 2+2

Aston Martin DB5 vs Mercedes-Benz 300SL vs Ferrari 275GTB: million dollar babies