After a lengthy gestation period sportscar maker Lamborghini is now just days away from unveiling its new high-performance SUV, the Urus. This striking new car will however be the brand’s second ever stab at an ‘off roader’ as, rewinding back to more than a quarter of a century ago, it built the legendary LM002.
The brand's 'off roader' story actually kicked off in 1977 when Lamborghini developed a prototype rear-engined four-wheel-drive vehicle, dubbed the Cheetah, which was equipped with a Chrysler-soured 5898cc V8 unit turning out 183bhp. This project had been commissioned by MTI, a US company, bidding for a contract to supply a fast, all-terrain vehicle for use by the U.S. armed forces.
The Cheetah drew architecture from the FMC XR311, a 1970s-army destined project that didn’t get beyond the pre-production phase. The prototype was built in California with final assembly being carried out at Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy.
After its launch at the Geneva Motor Show of that year the project would go no further. The engine’s performance was weak in a vehicle that weighed over two thousand kilogrammes and the handling dynamics due to the rear engine positioning were also poor. The Cheetah didn’t take part in the final stages of the U.S. army’s trials and the contract in fact went to the company that built the earliest Humvee. Just a single Cheetah was made.
It was not until 1981 that another attempt was made by Lamborghini to develop a 4x4 vehicle, this time the prototype was called the LM001. Again it was fitted with a rear-mounted engine, albeit this time a 180 hp 5.9-litre AMC engine, although this was intended merely as a stopgap as it was planned to use a Lamborghini V12 drawn from the Countach for production.
This second shot at an 'off roader' also threw up many unacceptable characteristics, again primarily due to the location of the engine. Shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 1981, in a double debut with the Jalpa supercar, the LM 001 would go no further. However a year later the project was used to develop further prototype and it would prove to be a case of third time lucky for Lamborghini.
Thus was born the LMA, or LM002, in 1982, now with a front mounted V12 engine drawn from the Countach. Just like with the forthcoming Urus, there was a lengthy gestation period before production of the LM002 began in 1986. Extensive testing and development had taken place and the showroom ready model featured a number of changes, including the adoption of the Quattrovalvole engine.
Utilising a steel tube spaceframe chassis, the design was boxy, with a small exposed platform at the rear. It had a 3000 mm wheelbase and the track (front & rear) was 1615mm while the enormous tyres were bespoke Pirelli Scorpion 325/65-VR17. The roof, bonnet and wings were made out of fibreglass while the doors were of aluminium construction.
The meaty 5167cc (85.5x75mm) V12 with 4 valves per cylinder producing 455bhp at 7,000rpm, lifted from the Countach supercar, was coupled up to 5-speed ZF manual gearbox (with a 2-speed transfer box) and there was also a part-time four-wheel-drive system, utilising free-wheeling front hubs. Suspension comprised ofdouble wishbones and coil springs plus anti-roll bars all round while the 2,700 kg car featured ventilated disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear.
The production ready LM 002 made its debut at the Brussels Auto Show in 1986. Inside, the four seat cockpit was trimmed luxuriously with leather, while there were tinted and power lift windows, a stereo and air conditioning. Lamborghini’s first SUV was soon successfully rolling out of the factory.
Later, a prototype powered by a 3-litre 6-cylinder turbodiesel VM Motori engine, was built with the aim of exploring military application but the 150 bhp output from this engine proved to inadequate for the hefty 2,600 kg vehicle and the project was soon shelved. That car known as the LM003 and just a single one was built.
Another attempt to diversify the range was made with the LM004, which was given even more luxurious detailing inside such as being equipped with a phone and mini fridge. The big change though came under the bonnet as it was fitted with Lamborghini’s 7257cc quad-cam V12 that had been developed for powerboats and which generated 420bhp. The dynamics proved to be poor though and the additional cost deemed unviable and it was quietly shelved.
A special rally version of the LM002 was also developed by the factory for use on the Paris-Dakar. The cockpit was stripped down of all non-essentials to significantly reduce the car’s weight, the suspension upgraded to cope with the treacherous African terrain, Perspex windows fitted as were longer range fuel tanks, while there was a roll cage and racing exhaust featured. The engine was tuned to deliver close to 600 hp.
However, while a factory sanctioned Dakar debut would never materialise, in the hands of rally legend Sandro Munari this unique LM002 did contest Egypt’s Rally of the Pharaohs in 1987 as well as an off road event in Greece the next year. Subsequently there were a couple of privateer attempts at the Paris-Dakar with self-prepared versions of the LM002 but they brought little success.
Production of the LM002 ceased in 1992 with around 300 units having been produced. Now exactly a quarter of a century after the LM002 assembly line fell silent, Lamborghini is making the final preparations to usher in the showrooms its second ever production SUV, the Urus.
With annual volumes targeted to reach 3,500 units within a year of going on sale it’s a wholly different proposition to its predecessor. The Urus is built on a sophisticated Volkswagen Group platform that's already proven as it's shared with Bentley’s luxury Bentayga SUV, although the Urus is instead powered by a new twin turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine.