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Automotive Traveler Magazine: 2011 04 Bertone Lamborghinis Page 1

Not Found on eBay: The Lamborghinis in Bertone's Closet

Lamborghini's 1967 Marzal, 1974 Bravo, and 1980 Athon concept cars influenced the Italian automaker as it established its reputation as Ferrari's main rival. Sam Fiorani takes a look at these futuristic vehicles in anticipation of their sale next month at RM Auctions' Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este.

As kids, we had Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars to drive around the furniture. The two brands had their differences. Hot Wheels was American, while Matchbox was English. Hot Wheels offered racetracks, while Matchbox offered gas stations and street scenes. The biggest difference in their products, however, was that Hot Wheels models were primarily hot-rodded cars, while Matchbox models were typically cars our parents drove.

I was a boring kid and preferred Matchbox's reality to Hot Wheels' fantasy world. On occasion, though, Matchbox would surprise its fans with a concept vehicle. My favorite was the Lamborghini Marzal.

This gull-winged (hinged at the edge of the roof) four-seater featured six rectangular headlights and transparent doors. It must have been quite radical when it first appeared at the Geneva show in 1967--definitely a polarizing creation that Lamborghini's owner did not appreciate. Bertone's Marcello Gandini designed the car for the young Italian automaker, whose products were just starting to show signs of the greatness to come.

The six-unit theme continues all around the Marzal. Much of the interior is decorated with honeycomb-inspired hexagons. Six-sided figures run across the instrument panel and down the center console. In the middle of the steering wheel, the Lamborghini bull logo is centered in another hexagon. Even seat pads have six-sided panels.

Following Lamborghini's mid-engined Miura, the Marzal was the harbinger of models to come. The long and low silhouette provided hints of the production Espada that would debut the following year. Among the unique qualities of the Marzal was the engine's lack of cylinders. With only six combustion chambers, the powerplant was basically half of the Miura's 3,929 c.c. V12. It remains the only Lamborghini car engine with fewer than eight cylinders.

After its debut, the Marzal was reportedly driven by Princess Grace and Prince Rainier to pace the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix. The car's next public appearance would not be for nearly three decades, when it emerged at the tribute to Bertone held during the 1996 Concorso Italiano in Monterey, California. Since then, the Marzal has remained in the Bertone Museum.

In the years that followed the Marzal's introduction, Ferruccio Lamborghini sold his company (half in 1972, the rest in 1974). Almost as a way to usher in the company's second stage, Lamborghini introduced the production Countach V12 and the concept Bravo V8.

The 1974 Turin show was the background for this new unveiling. Design study 114 took on the name Bravo and was based on the production Urraco P300. The clean sides of the wedge design sports 20 vents below the windshield and 24 more across the backlight. Countach inspiration in the Bravo styling includes the narrow tail and the unique rear-wheel cutouts. Under the deck lid sits a 3.0-liter V8 engine rather than the 3,929 c.c. V12 behind the rear seats of the Countach.

Although the exterior of the Bravo was a complete package, the interior--difficult to see through the dark-tinted windows--is basic at best. All of the necessary gauges work, and the rest of the instrument panel is just for looks. The proportions are not designed for a tall driver. It is most definitely a styling buck, and a fully operational one.

Planned to inspire the next generation "entry-level" Lamborghini, the timing of the Bravo couldn't have been worse. With the company's bankruptcy in 1978, the resources were not available to replace the Urraco with a new product. The completely functioning concept accrued 40,000 miles of testing prior to moving into the Bertone collection.

Even though the Urraco evolved into the Silhouette (which would eventually become the Jalpa in 1981), Bertone continued to propose new alternatives for the starter model from the Sant'Agata carmaker. Their next iteration of the V8-powered model showed up at the 1980 Turin show.

Again based on the Silhouette chassis, the new Athon sported a two-seat roadster body. Bertone never meant for the Athon to go into production. Instead, the concept was to showcase their forward-thinking design philosophy. With its modular body panels and high beltline, the Athon wouldn't look out of place in futuristic movies of the day such as Blade Runner. Yet the Athon is probably the least Lamborghini-like of all concepts to that date.

All three cars--the 1967 Marzal, the 1974 Bravo, and the 1980 Athon--have been part of the Bertone collection from the time of its creation. RM Auction's sale at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy will be the first time anyone other than Bertone will have the chance to own them.

As one-of-a-kinds, there's no precedence for their pricing. On 21 May 2011, we'll learn whether or not the Bravo will become the world's most expensive 40,000-mile used car--and who will be able to drive the car once piloted by Philadelphia's hometown princess.

Three Lamborghini concepts marking three different points in the first three decades of the company's history... Another 30 years after the last was built and the cars will be offered to the public for the first time. None is an all-wheel-drive Aventador or even a V10-powered Gallardo Roadster--no, they are something more.

They are cars so rare that owners of the ultra-rare Reventón (of which only 20 built) will become jealous. With prices just out of my reach, I will probably be forced to settle for my 35-year-old Matchbox version.

Sam Fiorani's V12 is spread across the two V6 cars in his garage. Even with the two engines combined, they don't produce the power of one Lamborghini Murcielago

Complete details on the exceptional cars to be offered at RM's Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este auction on the shores of Lake Como on 21 May 2011, including the online catalog, may be found at the RM Auctions website. High-resolution images of the Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and Lamborghini concepts by Bertone may be seen in the Automotive Traveler Image Gallery.