1969 Lamborghini Miura P400S vs. 1969 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona

The Cars That Redefined the Supercar Formula


  • 1969 Lamborghini Miura Picture

    1969 Lamborghini Miura Picture

    Racing across the moors in a 1969 Lamborghini Miura P400S and a 1969 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. | November 24, 2009

25 Photos

The road ahead beckons, and from our vantage point it looks like a roller coaster. The joy is especially potent because the car in which we're about to attack this deserted piece of blacktop across the English moors is the original supercar — the Lamborghini Miura. This gorgeous car of the 1960s redefined the supercar formula and gave us today's midengine exotics, like the Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Murciélago.

Whether enjoying yourself in a Miura is as easy as it sounds is something few people will ever be lucky enough to find out, since just 764 Miuras were built between 1966 and 1972. But given that the Miura is arguably the most beautiful car ever built, not to mention created by a team of engineers focused on delivering high performance and developed by some of the most accomplished test drivers, we expect to have a pretty good time.

Especially since we've brought along the Miura's rival, the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, which is the last of the 1960s-style front-engine supercars.

A Moment in Time
When Ferruccio Lamborghini set out on his mission to dethrone Ferrari from its position at the top of the performance car tree, he knew it would take something very, very special to realize his ambition. As a successful manufacturer of small tractors and portable air-conditioning units, Lamborghini understood high-style executive transport and he wanted a high-speed GT car. The 1963 Lamborghini 350GT with its 4.0-liter V12 and elegant yet eccentric bodywork by Touring fulfilled his dream.

But Ferruccio's handful of employees wanted something more, a ground-breaking performance car. What they wanted was a midengine car, then a new thing in car design. What they wanted was a car like the 1963 Ford GT40, and with Ferrucio Lamborghini's approval (though apocryphal stories suggest the work began in secret), Gian Paolo Dallara (later famous as a racecar manufacturer), Paolo Stanzani (who engineered the Countach) and Bob Wallace (Lamborghini's longtime development engineer and test driver) began to build a prototype in 1965.

The midengine layout was unusual for road cars, even if the motorsports world had been sold on the idea since Cooper won the Formula 1 world championship in 1959. But could a midengine road car with a large engine be made to handle as well as the refined front-engine GT cars of the time? Would status-conscious buyers go for something so obviously inspired by a racing car?

With Ferruccio's endorsement, the bare chassis was displayed at the 1965 Turin Salon, and the layout with a V12 located transversely behind the driver created a sensation. With orders for the car already pouring in, Carrozzeria Bertone was commissioned to do the bodywork and the task fell to Marcello Gandini, an ambitious young designer who went on to design the Lamborghini Countach and Diablo among other cars. What he produced was magic.

Innovation in Turin
When the new Lamborghini P400 was unveiled at the Geneva auto show in the spring of 1966, the world was agog. It was an enormously important show, filled with an exciting portfolio of cars from Italian coachmakers, then at the height of their accomplishment, influence and success, yet the P400's beauty made it stand apart. Lamborghini was no longer the arriviste; it was part of the establishment.

Ferruccio also was in luck. Though Enzo Ferrari's racing cars had all been converted to midengine configuration, the Old Man was very reluctant to commission a road car with one of his enormous V12 engines behind the driver. He thought the handling would be too dangerous for an amateur driver (and he was probably right). But Sergio Pininfarina later recalled that when he walked past the Miura chassis at Turin, he smiled at the realization that Ferrari would have to press ahead with a midengine car to match this new rival, no matter what his professional objections might be. Yet Ferrari was only willing to take a half step, and the midengine Dino 206S introduced at the 1966 Turin show had a V6 engine, while the 365 GT/4 Berlinetta Boxer with its horizontally opposed 12-cylinder engine wouldn't arrive until 1973.

But the Lamborghini Miura P400 wasn't without its faults. It went on sale prematurely, and a factory mechanic accompanied every delivery to solve any issues. The car's aerodynamic failings became legendary, and tales of its propensity to take flight at 170 mph spread like wildfire. Moreover, labor unrest spread throughout Europe after 1968 and it became a struggle to build cars at all, let alone low-volume luxury cars. But despite its shortcomings, the Lamborghini Miura P400 was the future.

On the Moors
All thoughts of that future are brought into sharp focus on the moorland road that lies ahead.

We're in the 1969 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. The car had been styled by Leonardo Fioravanti for Pininfarina, the first of the Ferrari designs he would draw for the coachbuilder over the next 24 years. He wanted to slim down the famously swollen 365 GTC/4, and the result is still considered one of the finest pieces of design ever to grace the roads, even though it took Fioravanti just a week to finalize the design.

The Daytona is the culmination of the careful process of engineering evolution, following much the same formula that Ferrari had repeated since the mid-1950s, only adapted to all the technical innovations that had come along, like independent rear suspension and a five-speed transaxle. Under the dramatic bodywork lies a tubular chassis similar to that of the 275 GTB and a version of the same car's Lampredi-type V12 bored out to 4,390cc.

In terms of output, the Daytona has 352 horsepower at its command, a useful amount in a car that weighs 2,646 pounds (dry). Performance is genuinely impressive, and it matches the acceleration of the 2,161-pound (dry), 370-hp Miura. A top speed of 175 mph is possible.

The Daytona is a friendlier machine than the midengine Miura, that's for sure. The low-slung driving position is far more conventional and the all-round visibility is even better. Its dashboard has all the appropriate instruments and switches, as you'd expect in a fully developed GT car, while the interior feels like a convincing luxury effort, tastefully finished in color-coordinated leather.

Arm-Wrestling With a Ferrari
When you fire up the Daytona, you have to pump the throttle pedal to get the accelerator pumps of the carburetors to prime the cylinders (ah, fuel injection has changed so many things, hasn't it?). Once it catches, the V12 settles into a calm and controlled idle. Throttle response is slightly lazy, but the V12 still feels deep-lunged when you give it a stab of throttle. The Ferrari engine is cultured and subtle — and also utterly melodious.

One major problem is the Daytona's oversize steering wheel. But there's a good reason for this, and it's down to the steering effort. At parking speeds, the steering is incredibly heavy, while the turning circle is equally expansive. Even at the racetrack, where the Daytona's toughness earned it GT-class honors at the Daytona 24 Hours and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, drivers complained bitterly about the steering effort, which seems to be a product of nose-heavy weight distribution, stability-enhancing steering alignment and wide tires with tall sidewalls — not to mention the lack of power-assisted steering. But don't despair, because with speed the Daytona's steering comes to life. Kickback is a problem with so much steering caster, though, and it can be violent at times, but steer the Daytona with your fingertips and it's not a problem.

Where would the Daytona be most at home? Its calibration certainly isn't suited for pottering down narrow country lanes. But it grows on you, and once you've mastered the subtle art of cornering this car neatly, it's hard to come away not believing that it would be the perfect companion for a larger-than-life road. In fact, this was the very ride that American F1 driver Dan Gurney and journalist Brock Yates chose to set an unofficial cross-country record across the U.S. in 1971. It's refined, deliciously balanced on sweeping bends, and prodigiously fast.

The Shape of Things To Come
Any worries about the Miura's gorgeous body acting like an airplane wing are countered by the low speed limit across the British moors, which leaves us free to concentrate on the tactile pleasures the Lamborghini has on offer.

Even before the off, things are looking very good indeed. For one, the driving position, so glibly described throughout the years as being tailored for long-armed, short-legged personages of the Latin persuasion is actually perfectly acceptable for an understanding Anglo-Saxon. Our legs might be required to splay around the low-set steering wheel, but this merely adds intimacy with the car, don't you think? As for the offset pedals required to clear the intrusive front wheelwell, they don't even register on you after a few miles. The deep, wraparound windscreen and low-line dashboard afford a fantastic view that's framed by the seductively curvaceous front fenders.

The 3,929cc DOHC V12 is explosive. First, prime the downdraft Weber carburetors with a stab or two of the throttle pedal, then leave your foot off the throttle as you turn the key. The V12 stutters into life and then a quick blip of the throttle clears its throat with a blood-curdling shriek that's more racer than road car (it was designed with many racing-style details, despite Ferruccio's admonition to make the engine simple to manufacture). You only need to stab the throttle once, but you'll want to do it so much more.

The Miura initially feels light and delicate to the touch. The unassisted steering requires minimal effort, even when parking, and the transmission's shift action is positive and wonderfully mechanical in feel. The pedals are also ideally weighted (if you like a meaty clutch action, that is). But as much as the Miura likes to pleasure its owner by feeling right, it's the soundtrack that will haunt you forever. Explore the rev range more thoroughly and accept that the V12 does its best work beyond 3,500 rpm, and you're in for an almighty treat. As speeds rise, the shrill V12 takes on an altogether harder edge that's overlaid by the howl from the straight-cut transfer gears. It's loud, and the exhaust system can't help but get involved by spitting and popping furiously, yet it's oh so musical.

Across the Moors
Accelerating away, the P400S is as bracing as you'd expect with 370 hp and 289 pound-feet of torque on tap. As for its ultimate ground-covering ability, let's just say that it feels more than capable of hitting 170 mph in the right conditions. And surprisingly quickly, too.

Compared to the Daytona, the Miura's ultimate talents lie in the twistier stuff. Throw it into a series of tight bends using the classic slow-in, fast-out approach, and it's devastatingly effective, though you're always aware that the engine is right behind you and located a little higher in the car than you'd like.

The steering is idiosyncratic, though. Such is the intensity of communication (and a steering alignment meant to keep a tricky midengine car going in a straight line at high speed) that you'll forever be making course corrections on account of its propensity to follow every surface and camber change. It also has minimal self-centering, and the result is that you'll find yourself unable to relax, keeping a decisive hold of the wheel in order to ensure the car is going where you want it to.

Nevertheless, the Miura is a proper driver's car, one of the greatest ever. And one that's as good today as it ever was.

Changing the Formula
Unsurprisingly, the Lamborghini Miura and Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona are miles apart, and there's no doubt that they appeal to very different people. Sant'Agata's car plays on its sports car credentials, and Maranello's offering is an altogether more sober creation, a GT capable of eating continents without a trace of indigestion.

The Miura is like a teenage supermodel whose drop-dead looks and poise will melt your heart and render you speechless, while the Daytona is like a leading lady of the stage — capable, talented and deeply beautiful.

Because of its labor troubles, Lamborghini was only able to build 764 examples of the Miura in a number of different iterations between 1966 and 1972. Between 1968 and 1973, some 1,284 examples of the Daytona were built, not counting the 122 Spider convertibles. For all that, the Miura led the way for the midengine supercar, and the configuration still expresses pure performance even now, long after everyone has forgotten why the midengine layout seemed so attractive in the first place. Meanwhile, front-engine cars fell out of fashion after the Daytona and it took until the retro-inspired introduction of the 1996 Ferrari 550 Maranello for Ferrari (and everyone else) to rediscover the attraction of the front-engine GT car, which has led to great front-engine GTs from Aston Martin and now even Porsche.

And that leads us back to our original question. Is Ferruccio's Miura a better supercar than Enzo's Daytona? In a word, yes. After a day on the moors with them both, we end up deeply admiring the Daytona but in love with the Miura. And isn't that what supercars are all about?

Portions of this content have appeared in foreign print media and are reproduced with permission.

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