Iconic Lamborghini Countach is in the history books

Lamborghini Countach (Photo by Christophe Gateau / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE GATEAU/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)
Lamborghini Countach (Photo by Christophe Gateau / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE GATEAU/DPA/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Lamborghini Countach that lit up movie screens 40 years ago is now on display at National Mall in Washington D.C. The 1979 LP 400 S, which starred in the 1981 movie Cannon Ball Run, is in a glass case alongside other icons, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

On the 40th anniversary of the classic movie, the legendary Countach officially joins 29 other cars in the United States National Historic Vehicle Register. That means this Italian black beauty will now be cherished in the United States’ oldest and most prestigious cultural institution. All of the car’s information, including files, history, and 3D scans, will be cared for by The Library of Congress.

For the non-movie buff, Cannonball Run featured several big stars, including Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett. It was loosely based on the real-life competition started by Robert Yates, a journalist who made racing across the country a sport. Despite the movie’s star power, the Lamborghini Countach stole the show.

It bursts onto the screen for the opening credits, rolling into a 200-second montage of the car racing away from a Trans-Am police car. The sounds from the DOHC V-12 3929ccd/240cid 375hp engine with six 45mm two-barrel Weber carburetors vibrate off the screen. To add to the spectacle, the Countach’s driver and navigator are two beautiful women wearing colorful spandex one-piece suits. And spoiler alert, the Countach wins the race – of course.

Many consider this movie, particularly the opening scene, Lamborghini’s big reveal to the American audience, and the beginning of the worldwide obsession with supercars.

The Countach, chassis number 1121112, is fully restored and still has its original liquid-cooled engine. It also has its modified front spoiler, used to evade the police, and other additions, including two front spotlights, three antennas, and 12 exhaust pipes, yes, a dozen exhaust pipes! The car still sits on its 15×8.5” Campagnolo wheels with 205/50VR15 Pirelli P7 tires on the front, and in the rear has the fat 15×12” Campagnolo wheels with thick 345/35VR15 Pirelli P7 tires.

Since crossing the ocean from Rome in 1980, the car has had three owners. First, Hal Needham, the director of Cannonball Run, borrowed it from his friend, the original owner. Next, it was later purchased by Ron Rice, the founder of Hawaiian Tropic, who saw it on the film set.

The sunscreen brand was prominently featured in the film as the sponsor of the NASCAR stock car driven by NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. Rice kept the car for more than two decades before an attorney named Jeff Ippoliti bought it in 2004. The Lamborghini enthusiast still owns it, but I’m unsure how he will get it out of that glass case.

A second-generation Countach has been launched, the LPI 800-4. However, it has a lot of work to do to equal the historic first edition that surfaced 50 years ago at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show as a concept. The prototype made the Italian wedge concept a highly sought-after design with its dramatic angles and scissor doors. Lamborghini manufactured the exotic car from 1974 until 1990.

There are just under 2,000 first-generation Countachs. On a personal note, my aunt owned a movie rental store in the 1980s and 90s. The Cannonball Run posters featuring that Countach hung proudly for years. Like other future car enthusiasts, I grew up with a Countach poster on my bedroom wall. I think I speak for us all when I say I’m delighted one of those rare dream cars is now rightfully preserved in American history.