The Mimran brothers, who made a fortune in sugar production and banking, in were the only people to ever make money owning Lamborghini. And on April 23, 1987, they sold the famed bullfighting company to Chrysler for $25.2 million.
Lest we forget, Chrysler's Italian adventure with Fiat was not the first time a torrid cross-continental affair spontaneously erupted between Italy and Auburn Hills. Chrysler, so enamored with the boulevardier droptop it developed with Maserati, bought Lamborghini from the Mimran brothers and promptly invested twice that amount in its new supercar builder. "Lamborghini has been known in automotive circles to be financially ailing," , adding: "Chrysler paid only a relatively small amount for the 300-employee company."
At the time, Lamborghini built three vehicles. The Countach, which was soon to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The Jalpa, the original "baby bull," with a mid-mounted V-8. And the LM002, which the Mimran brothers unleashed upon the world—and whose original prototype used a 5.9-liter Chrysler V-8.
Through the sordid history of Lamborghini's various owners—combining the unholy unions of founder Ferrucio's personal friends, shady foreign businessmen, a handful of bankruptcies, way more threats of bankruptcy, and the Italian government—Chrysler's aegis of the firm can be distilled into two things. The first was the , which debuted mere months after the ink dried on the contracts.
Remember the Portofino? Out-four-dooring the Maserati Quattroporte, the Portofino evolved from a rejected Chrysler clay design called the Navajo. What better way, then, to show off Chrysler's expensive new division, at the 1987 Frankfurt Auto Show thatSeptember than to resurrect it with a bull's badge. All four doors were skyward-opening scissor doors. It was long and sleek and round in true late-Eighties fashion, atop a stretched Jalpa chassis with its V-8 mounted firmly behind the rear seats. If a mid-engined sedan with four scissor doors and a 5-speed manual isn't a wonderfully weird concept, then nothing else could top it.
See the Dodge Stealth's bizarre half-wing? The Pentastar badge on the steering wheel, complete with bull logo? Remember the concept car of 1990? The Portfofino really did more for Chrysler than it did Lamborghini. Via , reported: "folks within Lamborghini were unimpressed with the design and called it the 'Big Potato,'" which, if you think about it, really is the opposite of "countach!" But no less than car guy and Road & Track contributor Bob Lutz, Chrysler's then-vice president, signed off on the Portofino—and the body and bones of the Portofino eventually became distilled into nothing else than the Dodge Intrepid.
Ignominy? Maybe. But that cab-forward design defined Chrysler for the next two decades—so, never say Lamborghini didn't do anything for them.
And vice versa.
Because without Chrysler, Lamborghini would have never built off the audacity of the Countach, defining an outrageous sentiment of danger and sexiness and political incorrectness; it would have never leapt off our bedroom walls. It would have never created the Diablo.
Project 132, the Diablo debuted in Monte Carlo on January 21, 1990. When it launched, it was the latest car in the world. Proudly, defiantly Lamborghini, it not only captured Marcello Gandini's talented penmanship, but it also brought Dodge Viper designer Tom Gale in to work on the final design. A copy editor, if you will. Chrysler designed the interior to encompass modern-day creature comforts. Seats and steering wheel were adjustable. Power steering and all-wheel drive were added to the Diablo VT of 1993. The Lamborghini V12 was a 492-horsepower monster that could surpass the Bugatti EB110 and Jaguar XJ220; when it was introduced, it was the fastest production car in the world. It hit 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, well on its way to 202 miles per hour. A $10,500 option added a clock by Breguet to the dashboard. It cost 6 billion Italian lira to develop. It sold at $211,050, or the equivalent of $386,000 today. Sales rocketed as fast as the car itself. Lamborghini generated a million-dollar profit in 1991.
Then, a year later, sales went through the tank, Lamborghini began siphoning money from Chrysler, and the company dumped it.
Yes, in 1994 Chrysler sold Lamborghini to the evocatively-named MegaTech, a Bermuda-registered company owned by a pair of Indonesian businessmen who also owned Vector. And if one begins to assume the notion that Lamborghini is really the high-class call girl of the automotive world, bouncing from relationships with sordid businessmen, then Lamborghini's Richard Gere came in the form of Audi—who has elevated the Sant' Agatha factory to far better heights.
Right now, despite a glaring lack of a manual transmission in every one of its products, Lamborghini can be considered as being actually, genuinely, positively, profitably, legitimately successful. And all the power to it! But while we can mock a Lamborghini as being not quite Imported From Detroit, we can really give Chrysler credit where credit was due: propelling Lamborghini into the 21st century while not giving up an ounce of its outrageousness.