Lamborghini’s Front Engine Grand Touring Coupes (Part III)

After the Lamborghini 350GTV show car debuted in Turin, Ferruccio Lamborghini was keen to convert the coupe’s good publicity into selling a real production Lamborghini. But the prototype lacked the landing gear, an engine that fit under the hood, and there were a lot of other miscellaneous problems. As we learned last time, the redesign work on the chassis, engine and body of the GTV started at a rapid pace. That’s where we step in today.

Carrozzeria Touring quickly completed the styling of the new 350, and Lamborghini engineers hurriedly completed the engine and chassis revision. In a shocking product turnaround that simply wouldn’t be possible in modern times, the new and production-ready 350GT was launched five months after the 1963 Turin Motor Show. Its debut took place at the 1964 Geneva Motor Show. Production at the Lamborghini plant began just two months later.

The new car sported an all-aluminum body, eschewing the mixed steel usage of the concept version. However, the 350GT’s more realistic styling and engine-ready shape meant the production car was larger and heavier than the 350GTZ. The prototype’s wheelbase of 96.5 inches was extended to 100.4 inches for the GT. Likewise, the GT’s length of 182.7 inches was over 10 inches longer than the Scaglione concept.

The width also increased slightly in the transition, from 68.1 inches to 69.3 inches. But the most notable difference in concept from the production 350 was the height, which rose from a very low 41.3 inches (that’s Ford GT40 territory) to as much as 48 inches. The GTV’s theoretical weight was 2,848 pounds, but without an engine or lots of running gear, that’s mostly a useless number. The production 350GT weighed 3,197 pounds and was still very light by V12 coupe standards.

Although the 350GT was assembled in Sant’Agata at Lamborghini’s headquarters, the bodies were built by their designer at Carrozzeria Touring. The 350’s tubular chassis structure was retained from the basic original Bizzarrini design for the GTV, but adapted to square tubing, which was easier to manufacture.

The final design of the production chassis was completed by Gianpaolo Dallara (1936-) who stayed with Lamborghini after Bizzarrini stormed. The chassis of the GTV was unsuitable for use in production vehicles because the door openings were very small due to its tube structure and a tube led through the door openings.

Dallara added pipes and front and rear mounts for the engine, suspension and rear differential to a center floor panel. The cradles and sturdy floor meant the door openings could be enlarged to normal size, and provided a better place to attach the body panels than Bizzarrini’s design.

Touring used their Superleggera production method (which they patented) to attach the aluminum body panels to the Neri & Bonacini frames. Touring did much of the engineering work on the GT, supplying complete bodies with attached bumpers to the Lamborghini factory.

Lamborghini set a production target of 10 complete cars per week, but that was a vision for the future. By the end of the 1964 production year they had completed a total of 25 350GTs, or about 1.6 cars a week.

The first completed car – number 17001 – was ready for engine installation at the Lamborghini factory on March 9, 1964 when it arrived from Touring. Nicknamed the 101, this car was the one shown at the Geneva Motor Show shortly thereafter. Lamborghini kept the next two examples for themselves and the first Lamborghini ever sold was number 104, delivered on the last day of July 1964. This example is now in a museum in Sinsheim, Germany.

Despite being developed quickly and on a tight budget, the production 350GT had a very impressive performance for its time. The V12 accelerated to 62 mph in 6.8 seconds and further to a top speed of 158 mph. Few cars could rival a 350GT in 1964.

A total of 120 350GTs were produced (rather slowly) between May 1964 and late 1966. At this point, the Miura was new to the market, and most attention would forever be diverted to Lamborghinis with the engine installed in the front.

Part of the slowness of production was due to the quality control and rigor of testing Lamborghini applied to its debut model, contrary to what lore would suggest. Lamborghini put the 3.5-liter V12 on a test machine for a full 24 hours. The engine ran on electricity for 12 hours and on petrol for the second half of the time, pushing it ever further. The tests provided detailed data that was analyzed and noted in detail before the engine was fitted to each car. The car was then tested for over 300 miles to make sure everything worked.

Production of the 350GT overlapped with its replacement, the very similar looking 400GT. As the chassis was the same some 350GTs were later converted into unofficial 400GTs by adding the larger 4.0 liter V12 from that car. However, there were some versions of the 350GT that were significantly rarer than the standard 120 examples.

First was the 350GTS, the spider version of the 350 coupe. Lamborghini chopped off the roof of the GT and showed it at the Turin Motor Show in November 1965. In the transition to convertible, the 350 lost its +1 rear seat as the area was used to store the folding fabric roof. Touring built the convertible, which did not receive full production approval: only two were completed, both in 1965. One example was black with green interiors, the other gold-colored with brown skins.

The 350GT’s other personality also came out in 1965 as the 3500GTZ by Zagato. Designed by Ercole Spada (1937-), who would later design the BMW 7 Series E32, the 3500GTZ was a hardcore sports coupe. It used a hacked version of the 350GT chassis and looked nothing like the 350GT it was based on. The 3500GTZ more closely resembled a Datsun 240Z from a few years later, sporting large, circular, enclosed headlights set into chrome housings. Its fenders didn’t have the sculpted look of the GT, and its hood was longer, wider, and sleeker. It looked more like a Ferrari.

The 3500GTZ skipped the GT’s curved A-pillar and also dispensed with the side window behind the B-pillar. Instead, it used a large wraparound rear window and adopted a liftback appearance (although it’s still a coupe). A high, blocky tail with a large vertical surface replaced the GT’s subtle curves, and a thick chrome bumper wrapped entirely around the tail. Taillights were large, circular and vertical. The 3500GTZ was so far from its base that outsiders could hardly tell.

Not many people have ever seen one as only two 3500GTZs were produced, numbers 0310 and 0320 (or maybe 0322, it’s unclear). Zagato introduced its Lamborghini version at the 1965 London Motor Show and then sold this car (number 0310) to the Lamborghini dealer in Italy. The left hand drive was confusing Converted to right hand drive later in its life by an Australian owner. In 2006 it returned to Europe and was converted back to its original left-hand drive configuration. The other example, numbered o320 or 0322, was either never built or eventually destroyed.

The success of the 350GT ensured Lamborghini’s viability in the Italian sports car landscape and allowed the company to pour money into the Miura, widely regarded as the very first supercar. We’ll continue next time with the 350GT’s replacement: the slightly exciting but not really new 400GT.

[Images: Lamborghini]

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