The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

| 18 Sep 2020
Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Few new additions to the world’s automotive landscape have proved quite so divisive as the rise of the super-SUV, cars that speak more to accounts department moneymen and parents on the school run than they do the true enthusiast.

What began with the exception of the Porsche Cayenne – which very quickly became the Stuttgart firm’s biggest earner – has now turned into the norm with the arrival of the Bentley Bentayga, Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Aston Martin DBX; even Lamborghini has got in on the act with its Urus.

But, far from being the supercar-cum-off-roader we may have hoped for, beneath the Lambo’s angular body lurks nothing more exotic than an Audi Q7.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

You could be forgiven a hint of disappointment at Sant’Agata’s contribution, given the firm’s often overlooked pedigree with utility vehicles.

After all, it started life as a tractor manufacturer and its back catalogue includes one of the most exciting, ridiculous and downright unnecessary cars ever built.

It wouldn’t be the first time that original was also best, and nothing screams ‘respect your elders’ quite like the utterly absurd and absolutely enchanting LM002.

How the supercar manufacturer came to build an off-roader can be traced back to the mid-’70s and a joint project with American firm Mobility Technology International, which was one of a handful of companies vying for the right to produce a new all-terrain vehicle for the US Government – a replacement for the ancient Jeep.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting
Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting
Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

The bones of MTI’s idea were fleshed out by Lamborghini in California, leading to the Cheetah – a wild four-seat off-roader with a rear-mounted 5.9-litre Chrysler V8.

When the tender was lost, most sensible manufacturers might have cut their losses – especially given the Latin firm’s precarious financial position.

But Lamborghini forged ahead, perhaps figuring that flogging the Cheetah to playboys and sheikhs would help to backfill the balance sheet – at least in part.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Four years after the Cheetah was revealed at Geneva, and amid fresh investment in the marque from Frenchman Patrick Mimran, the LM001 broke cover at the 1981 running of the Swiss show.

This time the V8 came from AMC but, like the rear-engined Cheetah, the similarly laid-out LM001 demonstrated erratic handling both under acceleration and off-road, and only one example was ever built.

A year later Lamborghini was back at the Geneva Salon with an all-new prototype featuring one very significant difference: the engine – by now its own V12 – was mounted up front, or anteriore, adding an ‘A’ to the prototype’s LMA designation.

But it would be a further four years before the first production version of the ‘Lamborghini Militaria’ series took a bow, this time in Brussels, after a decade of graft.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Hugely changed from earlier iterations, the LM002 featured a development of the LMA’s tubular spaceframe chassis.

With the engine in the nose there was a marked improvement in handling and off-road ability, while the 5.2-litre V12 from the Countach quattrovalvole, mounted longitudinally and mated to a five-speed ZF gearbox, offered more than twice the power of the Detroit V8s.

Inside, the austerity of the military prototypes was replaced by a high-end makeover, decked out with lashings of leather, wool carpets and even air conditioning.

While it was never a huge seller owing to its high price-tag of more than $120,000 – along with a prodigious thirst and a fuel tank that would cost around £330 to brim at today’s prices – the 241 produced did at least offer some vindication for Lamborghini’s determination to make something of the Cheetah.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Of those cars, ‘our’ LM002 has led a relatively glamorous life, having previously been part of the Drambuie collection and starred in an episode of the BBC’s Top Gear.

But in the intervening years its condition deteriorated to the point that its owner commissioned a full rebuild.

That work quickly stalled, which resulted in the part-finished project turning up at the workshops of Hertfordshire exotica specialist Bell Sport & Classic. Among its team is supercar whisperer Attilio Romano, who headed up the rebuild.

“The car arrived partially disassembled in a number of boxes,” explains Romano. “There was nothing on the front of the engine, no pulleys, inlet or exhaust manifolds – everything was stripped.

“The water pump was half hanging off, from where they had tried to remove it and caused a lot of damage. It took weeks to fix.”

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting
Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

“They’re not like conventional water pumps – you have to change all the internals, the bearings, the seals, all the impellers. When I eventually got it off, the damage was so extensive that it wouldn’t accept new bearings or seals.

“Although it’s a Countach engine, the part is slightly different and we couldn’t find one anywhere. We eventually found a company in Coventry that was able to remanufacture it based on the measurements I sent – though at a cost!

“The suspension was tatty, so each corner was removed, stripped down, cleaned and sent away for powder-coating.

“The biggest problem was the springs: there are two coils per corner, similar to valve springs. One is wound one way and one the opposite, sitting inside the other. Removing them was a nightmare.

“I had to make my own compressor using two old brake discs, a wheel spacer and some threaded rods. The calipers – two per disc – were then sent off to be overhauled.

“I carried on and built up the engine. Luckily, everything else we needed was there. When the car arrived we did an itinerary of all the parts, taking pictures and cataloguing them. If we couldn’t find something, we just referred to the itinerary and there it was.”

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting
Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting
Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

As with any limited-production supercar, the LM002 is riddled with rare or unobtainable parts and eye-wateringly expensive unique components.

“The rev limiter for the exhaust air pump was a real concern,” recalls Romano. “It’s there to bring the emissions to within acceptable limits at idle, but it had been wired incorrectly and burnt out.

“When I put in a new one it still wouldn’t work, and that little box cost £2000! It turned out that the relay was wired incorrectly, and as soon as I realised it burst into life.”

Countless hours were sunk into the rebuild, and all over the car is evidence of Romano’s attention to detail.

From the rear luggage box that was restored to original specification to mud flaps remade from the correct material, the LM002 presents just as it would have in 1987, including a repaint in its factory shade of Blu Acapulco Metallizzato – a gorgeous blue that can appear almost black in fierce sunlight.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Standing in front of the freshly finished Lambo, you get a sense both of its size and how much work was involved.

At just over six and a half feet wide, the LM002 is a whisker narrower than the current Range Rover Sport, but it looks much bigger thanks to its towering bonnet and enormous custom-made 325/65 VR17 Pirelli Scorpion tyres.

From the front it looks as if it should be jumping a line of half-crushed Crown Victorias in a packed stadium somewhere in Alabama, not about to navigate the narrow and twisting Hertfordshire back-roads.

Open the surprisingly light driver’s door and you’ll find a cabin that sits in stark contrast to the scale of the exterior.

The floor is flat, with no sill to speak of, and you slide straight into a comfortable leather seat, snugly held between door card and dominant transmission tunnel.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

The lack of space is immediately apparent – even for a lithe driver the interior feels compact, and that’s before you look in the back, where room is on par with a typical two-door hot hatch.

You can’t help but wonder how they managed to make such a large car feel so small, and whether it was in some way intentional: though not desperately practical, the snug feel does evoke something of the supercar that lent the LM002 its engine.

Aside from the high-quality hide cladding the seats and the upright Nardi steering wheel, the rest of the interior strikes a fairly utilitarian note with the chunky switches, each with its own protective rubber casing –the sort of thing you might find on a building site cement mixer.

It’s a curious blend of industrial chic and luxury you won’t find anywhere else.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

The starter is lazy and when it does eventually tickle the car into life the engine is quieter than you expect – a gruff, gravelly rumble that’s best enjoyed from outside, where you get the full effect of the twin rear pipes.

Far from the delicate pedalbox of a contemporary supercar, the clutch, accelerator and brake each feel as if they are mounted on arms forged from scaffold poles.

And with good reason – the clutch is a brute that leaves your left leg shaking with the effort as you slot the dogleg manual ’box into first.

Manoeuvring the Lambo is as much a test of your nerve as your quads, with visibility somewhat restricted.

The mirrors are tiny, while the view ahead is dominated by a huge central bonnet bulge accommodating the carburettors.

Mercifully it doesn’t extend to the driver’s side, but judging the location of the offside front corner is made more difficult by a second hump housing two large air filters, designed to prevent sand and debris from entering the engine while prospecting for oil or joyriding in the dunes.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

With such a formidable kerbweight and those huge tyres all round, the steering’s power assistance was always going to be aggressive, but it’s also a touch unpredictable, flitting from heavy to super-light in the blink of an eye.

Even so, you quickly grow accustomed to the car’s size and before long you’re slotting the long-throw lever through the gears to revel in a soundtrack that only gets better as the revs keep rising.

Those anticipating the panther-like yowl of a Countach at full chat may at first be disappointed, but the trademark Bizzarrini engine sound isn’t altogether absent.

The growl is there, but deeper, lower and more animalistic. Imagine that same big cat, but rather than flashing across the plain to snaffle a wayward gazelle, it’s lugging a chest of drawers up a flight of stairs, straining and heaving with the effort.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

It’s particularly noticeable going uphill: plant your right foot and the Lambo squats briefly before charging irresistibly skyward, defying gravity, aerodynamics and several other laws of physics in the process.

It’s difficult to wrap your head around something so large – so square – moving quite so quickly, short of dropping it out the back of a helicopter.

In truth, that feeling has more to do with the car’s mass than its outright speed: despite there being more than 440bhp available, the sheer weight of the Lambo means that, even if you throw mechanical sympathy to the kerb, it still takes over 7.5 secs to reach 60mph.

But boy does it feel quicker. If you’re brave enough the LM002 will reputedly hit 118mph in top gear, but few examples have ever had their legs stretched to quite that extent.

It’s so big, so tall and so involving to handle that even at sensible speeds it takes almost all of your concentration to thread it between looming hedgerows and oncoming traffic.

Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

But, just as you wouldn’t judge Usain Bolt on his talent at the pole vault, it’s unfair to rate the LM002 solely on its ability to handle narrow country lanes.

The Lamborghini was designed for the desert – bespoke sand tyres were an option from new – and it’s out in the wilds that this car is really at its best, where its 12in ground clearance, locking diffs, and60º approach and 45º departure angles can be fully exploited.

Like the Cayenne, Bentayga and DBX, the LM002 looks wholly unsuited to prowling the King’s Road.

But unlike those fads of fashion, misformed through selective breeding like British bulldogs struggling to breathe, the Lamborghini excels when in its element.

Images: Olgun Kordal

Thanks to Bell Sport & Classic


Classic & Sports Car – The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Lamborghini LM002

  • Sold/number built 1982-’92/241
  • Construction steel spaceframe chassis with riveted aluminium and glassfibre panels
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 5167cc 60º V12, six Weber 44DCNF carburettors
  • Max power 444bhp @ 6800rpm
  • Max torque 368lb ft @ 4500rpm
  • Transmission ZF five-speed manual, two-speed transfer box, with part-time 4WD
  • Suspension independent, by double wishbones, coil springs and telescopic dampers
  • Steering power-assisted recirculating ball
  • Brakes ventilated discs front, drums rear, with servo
  • Length 16ft 1in (4902mm)
  • Width 6ft 7in (2007mm)
  • Height 6ft 1in (1854mm)
  • Wheelbase 9ft 10in (2997mm)
  • Track 5ft 3½in (1615mm)
  • Weight 5950Ib (2699kg)
  • 0-60mph 7.7 secs
  • Top speed 118mph
  • Mpg 8
  • Price new $120,000
  • Price now £250-300,000*

Prices correct at date of original publication


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