Renazzo – a humble hamlet with a population of around 4,000 people in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy – is the birthplace of the great Ferruccio Lamborghini, the founder of Automobili Lamborghini. Born on April 28, 1916, Ferruccio would have been 105 this year.
As the eldest son of farmers Antonio and Evelina Lamborghini, Ferruccio was expected, as per tradition, to inherited the family farm and follow in his parent’s footsteps. Ferruccio, however, had a passion for mechanical tinkering instead. From a very young age, he would spend his afternoons in the farmstead workshop.
Typical of a Taurus, Ferruccio was tenacious and committed to following his passion. His tinkering paid dividends as he was hired, while still a lad, by a mechanical workshop in Bologna, where he discovered the secrets of Automotive mechanics.
When World War II broke out, Ferruccio, who had become an experienced and highly regarded mechanic, was drafted and shipped to the Greek Island Rhodes, then an Italian colony. He was assigned to a division responsible for maintaining military vehicles on the island, including diesel trucks and tractors used to tow aircraft. The alternating fortunes of the war meant Ferruccio worked on vehicles belonging to the Italians, Germans and the British.
When the war ended, Ferruccio remained in Rhodes and opened his first company, a small mechanical repair shop. However, in 1946, he returned to Italy to take advantage of government incentives to stimulate economic recovery. He opened a machine shop in Cento, a town close to his village, where he repaired motor vehicles and built small utility vehicles.
Being a farmer’s son, he was well aware of the problems faced by local agriculturists due to labour shortage. Thanks to his experience with military tractors, Ferruccio decided to build inexpensive agricultural tractors using components from old military vehicles. These tractors would be within reach of small landowners.
The first one to be transformed was a Morris truck. Ferruccio, in addition to the structural modifications, added a fuel vaporiser system to the engine. Invented by Ferruccio, this system enabled his tractors to be started with petrol (prohibitively expensive at the time), then switch to the cheaper diesel fuel.
His first prototype “Carioca” tractor was presented in February 1948, during the feast of Cento’s patron saint. He sold eleven of them, and demand was growing. To finance the company’s growth, he borrowed from banks using everything he owned as collateral, including, with his father’s approval, the family farm. Thus, Lamborghini Trattori was born.
By 1963, Ferruccio Lamborghini was counted among the important industrialists of Italy. He had become immensely wealthy, had established several companies, built engines that powered boats, and collected Italian and foreign sports cars. He loved to drive his exotic collection of high-performance cars on the country roads, rather than on the racetrack. It was just a matter of time before Ferruccio, the serial entrepreneur, decided to build a car of his own.
Automobili Lamborghini was founded to produce cars that were conceived to be grand tourers from the ground up, offering luxury, comfort and performance. Famed graphic designer Paolo Rambaldi was tasked with designing a new logo.
When he asked Ferruccio about his defining qualities, “I am tamugno, like a bull,” came his reply. Given Ferruccio’s strong identity with his zodiac sign and his fascination with fighting bulls – since his visit to Don Eduardo Miura’s ranch in Seville – it was only natural that Rambaldi arrived at the now universally recognised icon of the fighting bull, poised to attack.
The front-engined 350 GT, developed by engineer Gian Paolo Dallara (who later founded Dallara Motorsports), became the marque’s first production model. However, the marque’s second model would not only define the Lamborghini cars we know and love today, but most supercars produced today.
Miura, conceived in secret by Lamborghini’s engineering team, became the world’s first, rear mid-engined two-seat sports car when it debuted at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show to raving reviews. The journalists who tested it, coined a new word to describe it: Supercar.
Similarly, the Countach, created as a prototype in 1971, was so ground-breaking in its design that it seemed contemporary in 1990, when production ended with 1999 units produced. It was replaced by the Diablo, Lamborghini’s first super sports car available in a four-wheel-drive version.
The birth of the Countach – arguably the most iconic Lamborghini whose DNA is clearly identifiable in every model to come after it – also coincided with the departure of the man who gave the brand his name and his qualities. An unexpected slump in the international sales of his tractors, which forced the unit to be sold, combined with the challenges caused by the oil crises in the early 1970s, left Ferruccio disillusioned with the company he had built.
In 1974, he sold all his shares in Automobili Lamborghini and returned to his roots. Retiring to a 740 acres estate on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, in central Italy, he spent the remainder of his days farming, along with hunting, producing his own wines, designed a private golf course and managing his remaining business interests.
Since his departure, Ferruccio had little to do with the company he founded, which changed ownership several times before being acquired by the VW group in 1998. Since then, the Lamborghini name has grown in size and model diversification. In addition to its range of supercars, the brand now has Urus, its first SUV, and Sián, the first hybrid Lamborghini.
Ferruccio would have certainly approved of the Lamborghini of today, had he live to see this 105th birthday. He passed away on February 20, 1993, following a heart attack. Ferruccio Lamborghini was laid to rest in the little village where his life’s tale began, in Renazzo.