x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

When the Raging Bull decided to veer off-road

Believe it or not, there was a time when SUV was an unfamiliar acronym, more likely to denote a Soviet republic than a car.

The LM002 was launched by Lamborghini in the 1980s. Only 301 examples were produced during its seven-year life cycle.
The LM002 was launched by Lamborghini in the 1980s. Only 301 examples were produced during its seven-year life cycle.

Believe it or not, there was a time when SUV was an unfamiliar acronym, more likely to denote a Soviet republic than a car. So it was to an unsuspecting and disbelieving public that Lamborghini unveiled its beast, the aptly nicknamed "Rambo Lambo" in 1983. For a marque renowned for elegant sports cars, it was both a radical departure. For those were more innocent times when you could drive fast or venture off-road, but wouldn't even contemplate doing both. In a Land Rover or Jeep, you could winch yourself up a glacier or cross the Andes, but when it came to tarmac your progress would be positively pedestrian. In a Ferrari, you could break lap records on the bypass but even the smallest pebble blocking your path could mean a tow truck having to be called.

The LM002, therefore, rewrote the rule book and what was possible, let alone plausible, in an off-road car. It is perhaps not surprising that this tanklike contraption had its origins as a military machine. What is more perplexing is that Lamborghini had the courage to hand civilians the keys. Those drivers not in uniform were offered the comfort of leather seats but at the price of losing that most useful of optional extras, the machine gun mounting.

Unsurprisingly, given its unparalleled performance on sand, the Gulf region was one of the key markets, with oil-rich Saudi Sheikhs queuing up to give it a spin. In its styling, brute power and sheer road presence, it was the forerunner of the Hummer, surely the most iconic vehicle on the roads of the UAE. And although they must have scoffed at the time, rival marques such as Porsche and BMW have since introduced SUVs of their own to the road, two decades late to jump on the bandwagon (or should that be "sandwagon"?).

The Rambo was given the same power plant as the Countach supercar, and the 5.2L V12 ensured the car could hold its own on tarmac or terrain. And for those who sought even more power, a 7.2L powerboat-sourced engine was available on request. Although it has spawned a whole new vehicle genre, this Lamborghini remains an automotive oddity, a unique and absurd footnote in the history of the humble motor car. Although modern-day drivers can purchase something not too dissimilar in style and performance, they can't buy the shock and awe, no matter their budget, of the true original of its class. Only 301 were built in its seven-year production cycle, about the same number of Cayennes that currently sit parked on the smooth driveways in the Arabian Ranches.