What the devil?
In 1991 we thought the supercar that sent Gandini running was cool
Only Lamborghini could get away with making – and selling – a six-figure car known neither for its looks nor its performance. But 25 years ago, when the Lamborghini Diablo debuted as a 1991 model, no one could argue that it wasn’t fast.
Conceived as a top-secret project to create a faster, more refined Countach, the supercar ushered the Raging Bull into the modern age. Hitting top speeds of 202 mph, the Diablo was the first Lamborghini to break the magical 200 mph threshold. With its 485-horsepower V12 engine and five-speed manual transmission, the mid-engined two-door coupe could make it from zero to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds, somewhat sluggish by today’s standards but a thrill back then.
In hindsight, we now recognize that supercars of the early 1990s weren’t exactly lookers, and the Diablo is no exception. Today, general consensus holds that the Diablo is heavy-handed where other cars are svelte, overwrought where others are refined. It was so ugly, in fact, that its original designer, Marcello Gandini, walked off the job when the bosses at Chrysler, which bought Lamborghini in 1987, insisted on smoothing the Diablo’s lines and making it a little less rough around the edges. Gandini, for his part, didn’t give up on his original plan. He joined forces with automotive engineer Claudio Zampolli, and his blueprints underpinned the short-lived Cizeta-Moroder V16T.
Tom Gale, then Chrysler’s head of styling worldwide, picked up where Gandini had left off. At the time, the Diablo turned heads with its low, wide “futuristic” stance. Unfortunately, the Michigan car company, which was focused on launching its own Dodge Viper supercar, “wasn’t the best steward of the brand,” says Cox Automotive Executive Publisher Karl Brauer. “They didn’t have the money to invest in making the Diablo truly great, just a flashy supercar with plenty of power but mediocre reliability.” The cars were laden with quality problems and were better suited to sitting in six-car garages. Brauer, who drove the Diablo 20 years ago, remembers it as “a fairly unrefined experience, even by the standards of the day.”
Named in the Lamborghini tradition after a particularly pugnacious bull, the Diablo ostensibly improved upon the brand’s iconic Miura and Countach sports cars. Inside, the Diablo had all the trimmings of the time: electric windows, adjustable seats and, shortly after its debut, power steering and anti-lock brakes. For a few hundred dollars extra, Lambo threw in a remote CD changer, the pinnacle of late millennium technology.
The Diablo sold fewer than 3,000 models before Lamborghini replaced it with the Murciélago in 2001. Now, on its silver anniversary, the supercar is more special than ever: Collectors young enough to have grown up with a poster of the Diablo on their bedroom wall are now able to afford one. Still, they’re unlikely to take it for a spin. “No one ever talks about ‘what fun it is to drive my Diablo,’ ” says Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market. “Instead, they like to park them in their garages, under beautiful lighting, and admire them as static four-wheeled jewelry.”