Type to search

Who Was Ferruccio Lamborghini?

Tractor magnate Ferruccio Lamborghini took his name (and attitude) and a grudge against Ferrari and turned it into the supercar as we know it today.

Legend of the Raging Bull

Lamborghini automobile logo - media.lamborghini.com
Lamborghini automobile logo - media.lamborghini.com

Today, Lamborghini is known as one of the world’s premier supercar brands, driven by the rich and famous, rolling out in rap videos and movies, the ultimate poster car that has been up on your wall since middle school. But there was a time when the Lamborghini name evoked tractors instead of screaming V12s. It took a crappy clutch and some choice words from a guy named Enzo for Ferruccio Lamborghini to make the jump into the car business.

Ferruccio Lamborghini: The Early Days

Young Ferruccio Lamborghini - museolamborghini.com
Young Ferruccio Lamborghini - museolamborghini.com

Ferruccio Lamborghini was born in 1916 in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. His father was a grape farmer and a young Ferruccio showed an early interest in his father’s tractors and all things mechanical. He cultivated this early aptitude by dropping out of primary school to attend a technical institute, the Fratelli Taddia, near Bologna.  

When WWII broke out, Lamborghini was drafted into the Italian Royal Airforce and stationed at the garrison on the island of Rhodes. There, Lamborghini’s mechanical abilities were put to work as he was assigned to head the workshop repairing military vehicles.

Ferruccio Lamborghini During WWII - museolamborghini.com
Ferruccio Lamborghini During WWII - museolamborghini.com

When Allied Forces took the island in 1944, Lamborghini became a prisoner of war and, as such, was made to work in the British motor pool as a mechanic. It was during his time on Rhodes that Lamborghini met his first wife, Clelia Monti. Ferruccio did not return home to Italy until 1946.

Building a Tractor Empire

Lamborghini Trattori - museolamborghini.com
Lamborghini Trattori - museolamborghini.com

Once home, Lamborghini opened a tractor repair shop in Pieve di Cento (just north of Bologna). Working on other people’s tractors convinced Lamborghini that he could build the better mousetrap, or in this case, a better tractor. The time was right, too, as post-war Italy had a lot of rebuilding to do, including in the agriculture sector, driving demand for tractors.

Starting in 1947, Lamborghini began designing and building his own “Carioca” tractors, often using military parts to do so. In 1948, he officially incorporated Lamborghini Trattori, borrowing 10 million lire against the family grape farm to finance the purchase of factory facilities and the procurement of Dodge, Morris, and Perkins engines from ARAR (an Italian governmental body that resold used/confiscated military materials).

Ferruccio Lamborghini - museolamborghini.com
Ferruccio Lamborghini - museolamborghini.com

Ferruccio was not only interested in tractors. His interest in all things mechanical extended to road cars and it was in this same period that he modified a Fiat Topolino for entry in the prestigious Mille Miglia. Driving the car himself, Ferruccio managed to drive 680 miles of the race before crashing into a restaurant in Turin. Though that episode would be the end of his formal racing ambitions, it did little to break the spell that fast cars held for him.

“Inspiration” from Enzo Ferrari

Lamborghini Trattori - winebylamborghini.com
Lamborghini Trattori - winebylamborghini.com

The following decade was a prosperous one for Ferruccio and Lamborghini Trattori. He expanded to a new factory in the mid-1950s, and by 1960 the company employed some 400 people and was capable of building 30 tractors a day.

Flush with success, Ferruccio returned to his love of fast cars with a growing collection of Europe’s best sports cars. These included Mercedes-Benz, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, and Ferraris. He bought his first Ferrari, a 250GT, in 1958. While Ferruccio liked his Ferraris, often taking his most important clients to dinner in them, he also felt the cars lacked refinement both in ride and interior quality (indeed fair criticisms of the Ferraris of the period). Additionally, Lamborghini found the clutches on his Ferraris tended to burn out prematurely, necessitating frequent trips back to Maranello for repairs.

After a number of these trips, Ferruccio had his own mechanic set about replacing the next burnt out clutch himself. Replacing the Ferrari clutch with the same kind of clutch he used in some of his tractors solved the problem and cost just 10 lire to the near 1,000 lire Ferrari was charging for the replacement.

Ferruccio Lamborghini Auto Trattore - media.lamborghini.com
Ferruccio Lamborghini Auto Trattore - media.lamborghini.com

The next time Lamborghini saw Enzo Ferrari, he made a point of noting, in so many words, “what beautiful cars you make with my tractor parts.” Naturally, the prideful Enzo had a ready retort (what, you thought he’d appreciate the passive-aggressive sarcasm?), telling Ferrucio he was farmer who oughtn’t complain about driving the best cars in the world.

Ferruccio took the dismissal as a challenge. Just a tractor maker, eh? Just a farmer? Well, he’d show Ferrari how to build a proper GT car. And with that, Lamborghini was determined to beat Ferrari at their own game.

Lamborghini Miura and More

Lamborghini 350 GT - media.lamborghini.com
Lamborghini 350 GT - media.lamborghini.com

In 1963, Ferruccio Lamborghini founded Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. and set about creating GT cars that would rival Ferraris in performance and exceed them in interior and ride quality. Central to his cars was the V12 engine. Ferrucio had already laid the ground work, commissioning a V12 to best that of Ferrari’s and he found just the fellow for the job, former Ferrari engineer and head of Società Autostar, Giotto Bizzarrini. The V12 engine Bizzarrini developed would go on to be used in Lamborghinis well into the next century.

The first cars developed by Lamborghini were indeed GT cars, with the Lamborghini 350 GT debuting at the 1963 Turin Motor Show. The response was warm but not overwhelming and Ferruccio decided the car needed redesigning to better attract buyers’ attention. The following year, the redesigned production version of the 350 GT debuted at the Geneva Motor Show. The 400 GT and Islero would follow.

Lamborghini Miura Assembly Line - media.lamborghini.com
Lamborghini Miura Assembly Line - media.lamborghini.com

In the early sixties, Lamborghini had become enamored with Spanish fighting bulls and adopted the bull as his new company’s emblem. He did not stop there, the car to replace the 400 GT would begin a tradition at Lamborghini of naming the cars after famous fighting bulls.

Lamborghini’s next car, the Miura, took its name from a breed of Andalusian fighting bulls renowned for their ferocity. The look of the car, even as just a rolling chassis, was enough to stun attendees of the 1965 Turin Motor Show. Penned by Marcello Gandini, the mid-engine coupe looked like nothing else before it. Sleek and stylish, the Miura set the mold for wedge-shaped supercars for the next sixty years. A full prototype, the Miura P400 debuted the next year, in 1966, and began production thereafter. Today, many consider the Miura the first true supercar.

The End of Ferruccio Lamborghini at Lamborghini

Lamborghini Lineup - theextremexperience.com
Lamborghini Lineup - theextremexperience.com

New cars, all carrying the names of famous fighting bulls, were developed over the next five years, including the Espada, Jamara, and the Urraco, their first V8 car. Despite the popularity of these cars, economic conditions weighed down the high-end sports car business. By the early 1970s, Automobili Lamborghini was teetering on the brink and Ferruccio was forced to sell a controlling share of the company to a friend of his, Swiss financier Georges-Henri Rossetti.

Ferruccio would continue to work at the company that bares his name for a few more years before selling his remaining 49% stake in the company to Rossetti in 1974. That same year, a successor to the Miura was finally unveiled, the Countach LP 400.

Ferruccio Lamborghini - lamborghiniwine_official_uk on facebook.com
Ferruccio Lamborghini - lamborghiniwine_official_uk on facebook.com

Ferruccio retired from the car and tractor business, spending his days at “La Fiorita,” his estate along Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, hunting and growing grapes, as his father had. He passed away in 1993 at the age of 76. Lamborghini the man was a keen business man with a passion for cars. Today, the Lamborghini name is synonymous with the exuberant excess of howling V12s and unnerving acceleration, of high style, high speed, and bling. In other words, the extroverted twin to the uptight Ferrari.

Related Pop Culture Articles

Cool Car Find: 1947 Hudson Super Six Pickup

It’s a Subie Thing: Subaru Fandom Explained

Cool Car Find: 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante

Tags:
Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

  • 1

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
Share
Tweet
Pin