There have been many pretenders to the throne (Coggiola’s T-rex and the Hummer H1 it was based on come to mind), but the LamborghiniLM002 remains the undisputed king of bonkers, over-the-top SUVs.
The “Rambo Lambo” name is well-deserved. Its unmistakable shape is a visual of brute force; it has all the ingredients of off-road invincibility including tires designed for sand running; its origin is military; its exhaust sings like a Countach thanks to its V12. The exhaust note is quite disconcerting the first time you hear it, because SUV’s are mostly deep bass sounds, and the Giotto Bizzarini-designed Lamborghini V12 is a symphony.
The seeds of the LM002 were planted with 1977 Cheetah off roader, a collaboration between U.S.-based Mobile Technology Int’l (MTI) and Lamborghini, then owned by Georges-Henri Rosetti.
The Cheetah was a proposal for a new U.S. Army all-purpose off roader – at the time, the U.S. Army’s vehicles were becoming dated and in 1979 it announced an rfp for a proper new all-purpose truck. That became the HMMWV (the Humvee), designed and built by AM General. But before that could happen, many prospective companies were competing to impress the Department of Defense, among them MTI.
MTI President Randy Pharis designed the Cheetah, powered by a mid-mounted Chrysler V8, which was to be produced by Lamborghini. Lamborghini had been struggling since the OPEC crisis and Ferruccio Lamborghini’s departure, and they could contribute to development and produce the trucks in their excess of factory space.
A need for cash coupled them to MTI and led to a similar deal with BMW for work on the M1.
The Cheetah had many flaws – unhappy weight distribution and broad similarities to another prototype, FMC Corporation’s XR311 – were high on the list. But the biggest problem of all was its Italian origin. The DoD required U.S. manufacture, so the project died. Lamborghini went bankrupt in 1978 and both the Cheetah and M1 production prospects evaporated.
Lamborghini tried again in 1981 with LM001 – an evolution of the Cheetah now powered an AMC 360 V8. By then the Swiss Mimran brothers had stepped in to back the company financially and lead it (Patrick Mimran). The “M” in “LM” stood as much for “Mimran” as for “Militare.”
The same weight balance problems that the Cheetah had were a red flag to any potential military customers for the LM001, prompting a major rethink.
In 1982, the driveline was entirely reworked, with the V8 replaced by the Lambo V12 and mounted up front. It took four years to properly engineer it for series production and work out all the features Lamborghini wanted to include, but the LM002 bowed as a truck wealthy civilians could buy at Brussels in 1986. Sant’Agata probably still hoped for a military buyer, but none came.
Instead, the company had created a wild legend – 328 LM002s were built from 1986 to 1993. They were luxurious inside, and also capable – Pirelli’s specially-designed Scorpion tires could be deflated and handle desert conditions and Lamborghini’s Marine V12 (often seen in exotic Riva powerboats) was an option if the regular V12 engine wasn’t enough power.
LM002s were popular in the Middle East (the very first was delivered to King Hassan II of Morocco), but exceedingly rare almost everywhere else, which only contributed to their mystique – the heart of a Countach, the capability of a Hummer, and arguably more exotic than both. The people who owned them new were usually exotic too – it’s the only thing Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner, Keke Rosberg, Pablo Escobar, and Muammar Gadaffi had in common.
By the time volume production had begun, the Mimrans had sold Lamborghini to Chrysler, but the LM002 – though it was produced in tiny numbers, was a huge PR machine. Production lasted into 1993.
This blacked-out LM002 was one of the highlights of yesterday’s RadwoodPNW event at LeMay – America’s Car Museum.