Two days in a 400GT 2+2? Yes please! Only 224 were ever made? This was the first car built? It belongs to Lamborghini? Gulp! OK, we’ll take extra good care…
After something of a false start with the unveiling of its still-born Franco Scaglione-styled 350 GTV in 1963, Lamborghini commissioned Touring to come up with an all-new design for its first production car. The result was the two-seater 3.5-litre 350GT, which arrived in 1964, but after only 120 had been built the 4.0-litre 400GT took over. A mere 23 of these were constructed before production gave way to the 400GT 2+2.
With its occasional back seats and revised roof line to accommodate a pair of small rear passengers, the 400GT 2+2 featured the same Bizzarrini-designed quad-cam 3929cc V12 as before. Also carried over was the servo-assisted all-disc braking system, double-wishbone suspension, and worm-and-roller steering. The result, of which only 224 were ever made, was arguably the greatest grand tourer of its time – and most definitely one of the coolest.
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This last trait is one with which many classic car fans would concur. In evidence, when we recently took part in the Classic Grand Tour in France, it was our 400GT – part of Lamborghini’s own collection – that generally got the most attention of the various Lamborghinis assembled, even though it was joined by an array of the latest Huracans and Aventadors. Perhaps this was because few of the onlookers present had ever seen one before, such is the 400’s rarity – or maybe they just appreciated it for the all-time great that it is.
Our 400GT was the first example off the production line, finished in an understated gunmetal grey with tan leather interior. You’d be hard pressed to argue convincingly that the 400GT is beautiful – at least from the front. With its protruding quartet of circular headlights and panoramic windscreen, the Lambo is striking rather than elegant when viewed from ahead. But the heavily tapered tail and swoopy profile are altogether more appealing, with everything complemented by a set of gorgeous knock-off Borrani wire wheels.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the 400GT, though, is how long the bonnet is. It has to be, thanks to that 12-cylinder engine stuffed into the nose, all of which sits behind the axle line, aided by minimal front overhang. The 320bhp quad-cam V12 is fed by no fewer than six twin-choke Webers, which you might think would be a recipe for temperamental running. However, in reality it fires up the first turn of the key hot or cold, to deliver smooth, linear power from 1500rpm right the way through to the 6500rpm red line.
The 400GT is very much a grand tourer rather than a sports car. Its engine offers plenty of muscle, but the soundtrack only becomes truly exciting once you’re exploring the upper reaches of the rev range; potter about at 2500-3000rpm and it’s surprisingly civilised.
Even at 100mph in fifth it’s easy to hold a conversation, thanks to the muted wind and mechanical noise. As the revs rise, the sound of air being sucked in by the sextet of 40DCOEs gets ever louder, but the exhaust note barely changes; this old-timer could teach many moderns a thing or two about discretion.
But if the 400GT offers easy performance, you still have to work at it with a heavy clutch that’ll soon get your left leg aching if you’re caught in traffic. Meanwhile, as you swap cogs you need to do it slowly and with a determined grip on the stick; there’s no delicacy in the movement although the gate is beautifully precise. With 268lb ft of torque there’s ample muscle for relaxed cruising, but let the revs drop below 1500 and the driveline judder will make it clear that you need to change down.
Trickle along with 2000rpm on the dial, and the Lambo starts to come alive. Take it up to 3000rpm and things start to get exciting. By the time you’ve reached 4000rpm you’re into the realms of junior supercar territory, with slower-moving cars easily picked off. Get to a corner and there’s ample grip to carry speed through the bends, and while there’s surprisingly little roll the ride is wonderfully supple – there’s no hint of harshness even over badly broken surfaces.
The steering is unassisted, but once you’re moving it’s not unduly heavy, so once you’re up to 40mph you can just leave the gearbox in fifth and twiddle the steering for the bends. When you need to shed some speed the brakes lack feel, but they don’t struggle to rein in the 1200kg Lamborghini, slowing the car without drama.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the 400GT is the offset driving position, which skews your whole body. Add in seats that are comfortable rather than supportive, and it’s like sitting in an armchair rather than a sports car.
With so few 400GTs built, you’ll be doing well to find an example for sale if you’ve now decided that your collection is incomplete without one. They occasionally crop up at around £450,000, but you’ll probably pay a bit more for one of the few right-hand-drive examples.
While all 400GT 2+2s left the factory with the steering wheel on the left, four were converted by Hooper & Co for UK importer Mitchell & Britten. Among these is the ex-Paul McCartney 400GT that Bonhams attempted to sell in March 2018 with an estimate of £400,000-£500,000. The deep-red car didn’t find a new owner, though, so maybe the vendor is still open to offers...