The Lamborghini Miura Jota screams along an empty autostrada. The road is clear; the driver tense. He’s uncomfortable with the speed but trying not to show it. The passenger watches, incredulous but impressed. The speedo needle sweeps past 200kph, then 210, 220…
The open exhaust pipes scorch the air; the carburettors inhale with a mighty roar. Suddenly there’s a flash of movement in the tiny wing-mounted mirror. Another car perhaps? Trying to keep up? The driver spots it, refocuses on the road ahead and grips the wheel harder. 230kph… 240…
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Little is known about what happened next and much of what happened before is the subject of continuing mythologising. But some facts are clear: Firstly, the only Lamborghini Miura Jota was destroyed that day in Italy in 1972 and never rebuilt. Secondly, the driver and passenger were not killed instantly. Those who saw the twisted and burned carcass of metal could not believe it. The word ‘miracle’ was used in news reports.
And the fiction? Some say the stretch of autostrada was closed and that the driver – a car dealer and wannabe racer – had taken the car out for a ‘pre-delivery test’ without permission from the new owner. There were also rumours of a street race and an element of showing-off to the passenger – reportedly the driver’s girlfriend.
Whatever happened on that awful day, a glorious piece of automotive history was needlessly destroyed. Nothing survived. Even the engine – often ‘recycled’ from wrecks in Italy in those days – is thought to have been discarded, such was the likely heat damage to the block.
Forty years later, almost to the day, evo is handed the keys to one of six factory-modified Miura SVJs – cars built to mimic many (but not all) of the features of the original Jota. It is one of the rarest Lamborghinis ever and hence one of the most valuable – evo insured it for £1.3million – but its monetary value is nothing compared with its significance. The story of the original Jota’s birth, and subsequently the SVJ’s, is the story of Lamborghini’s entrance into the niche of the extreme supercar. The niche it has made its own – as the Aventador we’ve brought along today so vividly asserts.
As the SVJ burbles noisily on idle, door open and beckoning you in, one thought pops into your head: don’t crash it.
‘Don’t crash it,’ confirms the owner…
Remarkably, he’s concerned for my welfare – not his car. ‘The battery is here,’ he says pointing to the front of the car, ‘the fuel tank is here,’ he says pointing to the area under the front bonnet, ‘and you sit here,’ he says, motioning to the cabin.
Point made. A frontal impact will set off an electricity/fuel interface that’s unlikely to end well. ‘I hope it doesn’t understeer,’ I whisper, climbing over the sill and wriggling inside the period-correct Britax seat belts.
The interior is wonderful, sumptuous and naturally stylish in caramel leather. If you’ve visited the incredible air museum at Duxford in the UK and walked through the cabin of the early Concorde, you’ll know what this interior smells like: a not-unpleasant aroma of aged plastic and cowhide.
The original Jota was a race car for the road, but when this car left the factory as a performance-modified SVJ, the original customer retained the style and comfort-focused interior of the car on which it’s based – the Miura SV. The result is a wonderful juxtaposition of race car engine and GT interior.
My God – the throttle pedal is stiff! You use thigh muscles to depress it, not ankle tendons. Modulation is difficult. Revs flare and eardrums shake. The clutch isn’t so heavy, and neither is the steering. Low-speed manoeuvring is tricky not due to the weight of the steering, but the canted-forward angle of the wheel. Your hands simply can’t reach the top, so instead you shuffle it round like a learner.
Into gear. No dog-leg here – just a standard H-pattern. The open gate guides you into position easily. The carbs and cams in this SVJ – respectively fuelled and profiled to match that of the original Jota – make low-rev driving lumpy and slow. So you give it a big kick of throttle, wait for the rev-needle to hit four thousand and hold on tight. With the most magnificent, hair-raising and borderline-deafening blare, the SVJ rips towards 9000rpm like a modern supercar. Slow, deliberate shifts serve only to emphasise the startling acceleration. Power and weight figures for this car hover around 400bhp and 1300kg respectively. That gives a power-to-weight ratio of 313bhp per ton – around the same as a Nissan GT-R.
Few cars make you feel so simultaneously intimate with the road and the machine. Your ears are just a few inches from the uniquely positioned transverse V12 and its four triple-choke Weber carbs with open trumpets. This means that you hear all the fantastic fffts and fizzes and empty, hollow roars that conspire to deliver that wonderful music of carburation.
You can feel everything in the Miura. The gearbox innards, for instance, somehow transmitted along the shafts and into your palm. Then there’s the exhaust’s extraordinary bellow resonating through the whole car and into your forearms and backside – and all this while inserted into a wonderful glass bubble, with pencil-thin pillars and sills so low that you feel you could reach out and strike a match on the ground. Although this would be a bad idea if the mildly intoxicating fug of hydrocarbons and unburnt fuel filling the interior is anything to go by…
This SVJ is a very, very fast car, and driving it quickly requires a discipline you simply don’t need in a modern car. The owner confirms that you do not, under any circumstances, barrel into a corner hoping to find some front grip – it isn’t there. Instead, you measure your approach to a corner carefully, modulate the brakes smoothly and change gear with a carefully synchronised blip. Once the car is settled, you get back on the gas – hard and fast – and with your steering and throttle inputs try to match the car’s trajectory with that of the corner.
The Jota is not a particularly heavy car to operate physically, but the mental effort is off the scale. Your senses are over-whelmed by a battery of noise, feedback and smells. You can even feel the chassis gently flexing under you, creating a mildly disconcerting corkscrewing sensation. How the owner managed 3000 miles on a recent road trip around Europe in this car I’ll never know.
I finish my first stint in the car shaking. It’s a mean, hard, difficult, taxing but simultaneously thrilling and rewarding experience, but I need a break – something easy to drive. Something with, oh, nigh-on 700bhp and a footprint not only 25cm wider than the Miura’s but totally unsuitable for the narrow Winnats Pass in the Peak District that our photographer is insisting we tackle…
Lamborghini’s newest V12 supercar is not a numb, anaesthetised and unchallenging machine to drive – but that’s how it feels after the Miura. Your heart-rate actually drops a few bpms, as the air-conditioning whistles around your brow and the indomitable feeling of strength and security you get from sitting in a carbonfibre monocoque relaxes your adrenal gland.
It’s an absurd notion, but the Aventador LP700-4, while being the fastest Lamborghini yet made, is an absolute pussycat. Sure the ride is lumpy and there’s a little hunting from the single-clutch, robotised manual and four-wheel-drive transmission, but you can thread this car along almost any road, park it and three-point turn it without too much fear of an embarrassingly public accident (in 14 years I’ve never driven a car that attracts so much attention). You just need to remember that it’s wide. Very wide. Indeed the biggest risk to you is other drivers who, mesmerised by the Aventador’s styling, get target-fixated on the car – eventually driving towards you on collision course. Criminally, the SVJ is borderline ignored when the Aventador is present.
Unlike in the Miura, you do not need to steel yourself for the first moment you plant the throttle pedal in an Aventador, such does the newer car put you at ease. But when you do, the acceleration is shocking in its ferocity. A deep roar segues into a howling mid-range bellow that rises in pitch and decibels until you slam another gear home – which is exactly how it feels if you are in Corsa mode: like you’ve been hit on the back of the head with a giant table-tennis bat.
You attack corners with confidence in the Aventador – not the trepidation associated with its ancestor. Exceeding the limit is a pointless exercise on the road, so you concentrate on working the chassis to the point where it adopts a neutral attitude. To do this, you have to work through some understeer – telegraphed clearly through the steering – and then roll off the lock a moment before you give the throttle the full prod. At this moment, the Aventador hits the sweet spot and you explode to the next corner with just the tiniest – but wonderfully thrilling – steer from the rear. It is a fearsome ground-coverer. Indeed I don’t think I’ve driven another car in the UK that so utterly conquers the roads.
It’s the noise that sticks with you, though. The wonderful thing about the soundtrack is that hidden inside the Aventador’s more polished aural experience is the same menace and bellow that characterises the Miura’s engine note. They are not related engines – the Aventador’s all-new 6.5-litre V12 is the first the company has produced that does not share direct lineage back to the 3.9-litre Miura – but the musical synergy is clear. Sadly, though, that’s where the similarities end.
It will come as no surprise that there’s a huge disconnect in the dynamic relationship between Miura SVJ and Aventador – I knew as much before I embarked on this feature, and I’d never driven either car before. As you drive the Aventador longer and further, you feel the SVJ less and less. Other than the similarities in the engine note, not a single characteristic of the Miura is evident in the Aventador – and objectively the newer car is better in almost every way.
The Miura feels not so much a car from a different age, but a car from a different manufacturer. Its attitude, even in SVJ-guise, is effortlessly cool and classy. The tuned engine and bodywork modifications add a little menace, but underneath it all is a fundamentally stylish and beautiful machine.
The Aventador, on the other hand, is pure punk. Think Keith Flint biomechanically bonded with an F-22 Raptor. However, drill down into the story of the original Jota and you start to discover a spirit forming that defines many of the characteristics of the modern Lamborghini.
For starters, the original Jota was a rebel project – solely initiated by the forthright Lamborghini test driver Bob Wallace. Is there a more rebellious modern car manufacturer than Lamborghini? The wildly modified Jota was the result of Wallace’s insatiable (or insane) desire to push the Miura project as far as it could go. As the legendary test driver has been quoted as saying, he thought the Miura was overweight and went into production before thorough development could be carried out. ‘There were major rigidity problems with the early cars,’ he said. ‘The Jota allowed me to… try out new ideas.’
While Bob Wallace was terrorising the streets of Bologna in his beloved Jota, in the same corner of Italy the Miura’s designer, Marcello Gandini, was swapping his french curves for drafting triangles and similarly ‘trying out new ideas’.
The result was the Countach – arguably the most extreme piece of automotive art ever seen. There must’ve been something in the Bolognese wine – something that made designers, engineers (and wannabe racing drivers) push the envelope…
On the surface, this paints a picture of an exciting and enjoyable period to be working with Lamborghini. But history also records that this was a time of severe global economic strife and, on a domestic level, Italian factories paralysed by union unrest. For Lamborghini, the early ’70s were a desperate time. The Miura was effectively out of production and sales of the Jarama and Espada were faltering. Indeed the factory had all but come to a standstill and even Wallace’s beloved Jota was sold, likely in an attempt to help balance the cash-strapped finances.
Amid this turmoil one thing, perhaps the only thing, that drew inquiring customers to Sant’Agata were the stories of the extreme cars – the Jota and Countach. When the Jota crashed, its legend spread even further and wider and customers wanted their own version of this amazing extreme machine. This is how the six factory-modified SVJs came to be built.
When the first production Countach was shown in 1973, the orders came flooding in. Again, customers were drawn to the car’s unique and extreme attitude. Lamborghini was changing; adopting the mantle of the most exuberant, most flamboyant and most exciting car manufacturer in the world, because customers demanded it. And the same holds true today – as I write this, the 1000th Aventador has been delivered in just over 12 months. Not only that, there’s an 18-month waiting list for the car and unsurprisingly it’s the only new car in the UK that commands a premium over new. For Lamborghini, extreme is good.
Forty years after the Jota, SVJ and Countach, the brilliant Aventador carries with it the same rebel spirit and extreme attitude of not only these cars, but the men who built them. Remarkably, these were young men – Gandini and Wallace were in their mid-20s when they gave their heart and soul to the badge with the bull on it. ‘These cars weren’t built by God,’ explained Bob Wallace, ‘but by mere kids like us.’
What is a Jota?
Or more accurately, what was the Jota? Simply put, it was the test and development Miura built by Lamborghini test driver Bob Wallace; effectively a race car for the road but one which would never race – Ferruccio Lamborghini had written a ‘no racing’ policy into the by-laws of the company.
The Jota (pronounced Yo-ta in Italy) was around 300kg lighter than the standard car, with a front spoiler to reduce lift, fixed headlamps with Plexiglas covers and new air vents. It was dry-sumped and had a wildy tuned engine – some say as much as 440bhp from just 4 litres. Other mods included fuel tanks in the sills and the spare wheel repositioned to the rear. The pictures here are two of just a handful of images of the original car, which was crashed and was destroyed in 1972 (see main story).
The SVJ driven here by evo is one of six factory-modified SVs – confirmed during an inspection by Claudio Zampolli (head of special projects at Lamborghini between 1967 and 1972). It features the updated carbs, open pipes and racier cams of the original Jota, and many of the bodywork modifications, including the lights, riveted panels and vents. It had left the factory as a blue Miura SV (with white interior) in July 1971 and returned at some point before 1974 for its ‘Jota’ modifications. It is one of the rarest and most valuable Lamborghinis in the world