© Matthew Cook

Viva Lamborghini!” The cry went up as the company museum was reopened to the public last month. Centre of attention among the automotive exotica on show was a low-slung sports car that this year celebrates its 50th anniversary — the Miura.

It may only measure 43in high but the car is much bigger than the sum of its parts. Often described as the most beautiful in the world, fewer than 800 were built between 1966 and 1973. A decent model today is worth at least £1m.

Many experts consider the Miura the first “supercar”, thanks to its startling looks and superior handling. It was also the fastest production car of the era, capable of topping 170mph — not bad for a company that started off in 1948 making tractors.

So successful was his agricultural machinery company that Ferruccio Lamborghini branched out into sports cars in 1963, starting with the 350 GT before bringing out the game-changing Miura. A simple museum opened in 2001 at the Lamborghini factory at Sant’Agata, 15 miles north-west of Bologna but to mark the Miura’s anniversary it has been overhauled to tempt a younger audience. Computer-generated imagery, an audio tour and a rip-roaring soundtrack of sports car engines combine to bring the story of Lamborghini to life.

It makes a diverting alternative to the churches and castles that comprise the usual tourist diet in Italy, but it is far from unique. This part of Emilia-Romagna is so rich in automotive history that tourism chiefs have christened it “Motor Valley”. The Ducati and two Ferrari museums are just up the road, and several privately owned collections are also open to the public.

The 350 GT was the launch pad for Lamborghini, so it’s appropriate that it is the first car I see at the museum. As I walk down a dark tunnel towards the red coupé, a long strip of display screens shows a video of a peaceful country road. The sound of birdsong is suddenly shattered as the company’s current range-topping supercar, the Aventador, rips along the Tarmac at speed, guiding me into the museum.

“I want to show how Lamborghini is forging ahead but remains connected to the past,” says Antonio Ghini, the museum’s designer. “Before we remodelled it, this was not a museum — it didn’t tell the story. When I was young and lived in Bologna, the wealthy people owned Ferraris. Then 350 and the Miura coupé arrived and everybody sold their Ferraris to buy a Lamborghini. These are special cars.”

Although Lamborghini is famed for beautiful machines such as the Countach, Murciélago and Diablo, all on display here, sometimes the designers got it horribly wrong. The LM002 was launched in 1986, and the museum claims it as the original SUV. Powered by a 5.2-litre V12, this hideous monster was nicknamed the “Rambo Lambo”. Thankfully, most ended up dune-bashing in the deserts of the Middle East.

Another oddball is the Espada, a grand tourer launched in 1968. Penned by Marcello Gandini of design house Bertone, it was the backbone of the company for 10 years, even though its elongated profile gives it the appearance of a low-slung hearse.

While most enthusiasts come to Sant’Agata to marvel at the glistening metalwork, a display in one corner of the museum offers a different perspective. It contains about a dozen 1:12 scale design models cut from wood. Before the computer age, designers would carve these models in the very early stages of creating a prototype; it’s hard not to run a hand across the smooth and varied forms.

Fittingly, though, the Miura steals the show. Two are on display here — a coupé, like the one that features in the opening scenes of The Italian Job (1969), surging through the Alps with a Matt Monro soundtrack — and a rare convertible version, built as a concept car for the 1968 Brussels Motor Show.

Completists, however, will need to follow their visit with a trip to the Museo Ferruccio Lamborghini, a separate museum launched in 2014, a few minutes’ drive away. There they will find exhibits devoted to the life of the founder, including not just numerous supercars — like the Miura he drove — but also the little orange tractor that started the whole thing off.

Illustration by Matthew Cook

Details

Jeremy Taylor was a guest of the Lamborghini Museum (lamborghini.com). Admission is €15, or €50 to include a tour of the factory. For information on the other carmakers’ museums and tours in the area, see motorvalley.com and emiliaromagnaturismo.com

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