Lamborghini’s are all over the world but finding a good Lamborghini Countach in British Columbia isn’t easy. Even in supercar-crazy Vancouver there’s maybe a half-dozen total, and most for-sale examples are in the southern U.S, says Jeff Dow. With so few available, when Dow found a red ’84 up for grabs in Calgary seven years ago, he had to have it.
“For me, it was the first car that fit the definition of ‘exotic,’” he says. Wherever Dow drives, people comment on it—and smile when its ‘scissor doors’ flip up. “When it came out, I don’t think any other car had anything besides regular doors, other than maybe the ‘gullwing’ and the Kaiser-Darrin,” Dow says.
“Not only was the Countach a big wedge with a huge V12 engine right behind your ear, but on top of that, you flip the latch and the door scissors up. It’s a defining feature.”
The scissor doors: then
In October 1968 stylist Marcello Gandini of design studio Bertone introduced the world to a new way to open car doors: upward and forward.
His Tipo 33 Carabo stole the spotlight at the Paris Motor Show that year with its scissor-style doors, which Gandini incorporated to help clear the wide door sills of the Alfa Romeo racecar the Carabo concept car was based on.
When shortly after he was tapped by Lamborghini to work on Project 112, the Countach LP500 prototype, Gandini again went with scissor doors to work around that car’s space-frame-style chassis.
They helped make the car a hit at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show, but posed some problems during development.
The opening mechanism was simple enough: a single gas strut forced the doors to swing upward just more than 45 degrees to open 80 inches. But by autumn 1973, engineers gave up on trying to build a traditional two-piece side window into the door – they found it kept shattering – and went with a three-piece configuration instead.
The production LP400 bowed in 1974, and looked largely liked the prototype (though the NACA-style ducts in the doors were now painted black). Almost immediately the unique design of the doors made for some interesting owner experiences.
“It took a while to figure out the easiest way to get in and out,” explains Dow. “Personally I just slide in backwards, put my ass in the seat, then swing my legs in, and vice-versa getting out.”
The car’s poor rearward visibility, combined with those wide door sills, also led many drivers to try a new way of reversing into a parking spot: by opening the door, sitting on the sill, and looking backward over the top of the car’s rear.
By the time its successor, the Diablo, came out in 1990, the Countach and its scissor doors were already an icon. Including the scissor doors on the new offering cemented their status as a trademark Lamborghini design feature, and helped ensure that from then on they would widely be known as “Lambo doors.”
The Diablo’s one-piece, electrically powered side windows were a major improvement, and the door opening was slightly larger, too. In 2001, when the Murcielago debuted, it, too, featured scissor doors that opened even wider, as well as a 25-mm lower door sill.
The scissor doors: now
Though they’re universally referred to as “Lambo doors,” today you can find aftermarket-fitted scissor doors on everything from Plymouth Prowlers to Volvo station wagons to Geo Metro hatchbacks.
Several supercar rivals have adopted similar “vertical lift system” or “jack-knife” doors, too, but still nobody does it like Lamborghini.
“For us, the [scissor] door is something very important, very unique; in other cars, it works in a different way. We have a tradition with it,” says Filippo Perini, Lamborghini’s chief of design since 2004.
On the brand’s new Aventador, the doors open not just upward, but also outward slightly, to allow them to better seal shut, reducing road noise. Outside of engineering that change, the doors posed almost no design problems—almost.
“The only problem you face designing a car with doors like this is it is immediately compared to the Countach, and that does not make us comfortable as designers, because we have to do something better,” Perini chuckles.
“We are not allowed to do just a beautiful design—we have to do iconic design.”
The Aventador’s sharp creases and planar surfaces were very much inspired by modern stealth fighter aircraft, Perini says, and the doors fit that theme as well since they flip forward like a jet canopy. What will the next generation Lamborghini’s look like?
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