Hand-Built Lamborghini In Basement Sees the Light Of Day...
This Article is written by Ken Imhoff and is on: www.jalopnik.com
The time was 1985 and I was watching the movie Cannonball run. Yeah, you know the one with Farrah Fawcett and Adrienne Barbeau? 'That red car was a what?' I asked. A Lamborghini Countach. I was mesmerized. I spent the next five years figuring out how I was going to build one. The idea of buying something was out of the question — I was raised by a German perfectionist of a father who would quote, "I can't understand why anyone would buy something when they could make it" whenever the topic of buying something came up. He would say, "You have the skills, just build one". As things were starting to heat up with the Lamborghini, I got involved with a young lady and things started moving pretty quickly. When the topic of car finally came up, I told her 'I need to build this car and I hope it isn't going to be a problem.' She said 'I can't see how it would. I love you.' I figure I would test the waters and asked her if she had two grand for a ZF transaxle. I had a guy in CA with a Pantera ZF he wants to sell, but I was short on cash at the time.
Long story short, she lent me the money and we got married a year later just before we closed on a house with a 2 1/2 garage.
The idea to build the car in the basement is pretty simple really. I recalled back to my childhood again and remember my Dad's car projects always being put on hold during the winter because we couldn't afford to heat the one car garage. Sure I could heat my garage and do the work in there, but then my cars would have to sit in the driveway. I live in Wisconsin where winters seem to last six months out of the year, so that would be a long time with no place to put the daily drivers. This was going to be a long project and I figured the house had an unfinished basement with plenty of room and was heated anyway, what a perfect scenario. There would be no excuses not to work on the car right? Before I started off on the project, I had a neighborhood contractor take a look at it and he was confident I wasn't losing my mind. I will admit, the one thing I didn't think beforehand was how everything was going to either go down the stairs or go through a small basement window. There were times I wondered how well those 50 year old stairs were built, but thankfully I never did have an incident.
When I started the project, my wife would read in a recliner next to me but soon that faded. Even the dog left as soon as she did. I shouldn't pick on her though, she was very supportive coming down to see the latest part I had completed or asking "Sweetheart does this look right?" She seemed to always say the right thing and I always was always thankful for her outside point of view. Sometimes I would be way out there in la-la land and she would have to reel me back to reality. She had a level way of thinking I don't think I ever acquired.
At the beginning of the welding process I tried my hand at gas welding aluminum. Despite putting hours of practice in In ever quite got it. I tried everything. Cobalt glasses, flux and welding rod, I think I tried for six weeks but could never master it. I talked to an old timer about gas welding aluminum and all he would say was "Practice, practice, practice." His younger son, who was also in the family business pulled me aside and said "Buy a Tig machine and get it over with." The old man meanwhile mumbled something under his breath about "Always looking for the shortcut. Whatever happened to doing it right?" So with that advice in mind, I bought a Miller Syncrowave 250 a week later and never looked back. I did hear much later from the neighbors that they could tell when I was welding as it interfered with their TV antenna and picture.
I built a paint booth in the corner of the basement to prime a panel when needed. It worked really nice with a positive pressure blower forcing the fumes out a basement window. The neighborhood smelled like paint but my neighbors never complained, they would just move their cars to avoid the long distance overspray. I'm not quite sure how my wife put up with the paint smell that lingered in the house despite my best efforts. For those wondering, I choose not to color paint down there, after the mess I made priming and the fact that it wasn't all that clean to start. It was OK for priming but painting is another thing.
The project did end up costing a lot more than I ever thought it would — projects always seem to do that. You buy a 160MPH speedometer because that was the highest made at the time. You don't even get it out of the box and you see that they now make on that tops out at 180. Two units later I got a 200MPH... buying parts goes on like that until you end up with shelves of stuff you don't need and keep in mind, for a lot of this project, E-bay had not been invented yet. Speaking of the internet, if my project had started when the internet was available, I actually think it would have cost me a lot more. There are so many more options now right at your fingertips and I seem to have champagne tastes with beer money. I think I have 40K in my project without the equipment/tools I bought. I used to save every receipt until I started getting depressed at how much I was spending. Besides it could be held against me as spousal blackmail, so I eventually got rid of the evidence!
I remember the first time I started it. I filled the tank with racing gas, set the timing, and hit the start button — the engine exploded with life. Open headers in a basement, no matter how ready you are for it, will catch you off guard. I decided to not run it too long and made sure no one was home at the time. By the way, those carbon monoxide sensors really do work and you have to keep the windows open unless you want the sweet smell of racing gas lingering in your basement.
Actually getting the car out of the basement was pretty straight forward to be honest. I built a skid to put the car on — a trailer without wheels you might say. The rig is basically an angle iron frame designed to make it down into the basement to which I added 4 swivel casters to move the car to the opposite wall. We used an excavator to dig a ramp and then cut the block of the foundation out. We pushed the car to the opening, hooked it up to the excavator and pulled it out. Simple. I was like an expectant father watching it come through the wall. I was literally shaking and running the supposed plan over and over in my head. 'Have I overlooked anything? Is some of the wall going to fall on my work of seventeen years?...' The blankets I covered it with surely wouldn't stop that from happening, but I worried nonetheless, an it was in the end, worry for nothing. It went as smooth as something like this could. The neighbors started gathering around as it emerged, waiting for me to remove the blankets. It was like a artist unwrapping his masterpiece. I had never seen it in the light of day either. As the last blanket and car cover were removed I knew at that moment I had accomplished what I had dreamed about so many years ago and to see it sitting there in front of me was surreal. The whole process took two and a half hours and there it was, my Lamborghini safely in the garage. The next day we filled the hole in the basement with new block in no time it was good as new.
All that said, I couldn't have done this alone. A lot of people have helped me along the way. My wife and family that helped when things got rough. A close friend that would never let me give up even though at times I wanted to. I owe a great deal of gratitude to those people in my life.
The end of this story really wasn't about owning the car of my dreams, but the lessons I have learned, the people I have met, and the inner satisfaction knowing I built something piece by piece, each piece a new and different challenge and having it all come together. Paraphrasing an old cliche here, 'It wasn't the destination that was important, it was the journey along the way.'
All hand formed aluminum body representing a euro spec 1982 Countach LP5000S
Real Lambo tailights, parking lights, windshield, badges
All tube space frame
Ford Cleveland Boss 351 (514hp@ 6800rpm) with a Probe 377C.I. stroker kit with
Forged 11.75 comp. pistons H-beam rods
.630 lift roller cam and Milodon gear drive
Crower pushrods and S.S. roller rockers with S.S. HiFlow manley valves
Ported and polished heads and Hall Pantera Weber manifold
48 IDA downdraft Webers built by Inglesse
Canton 10 qt. trap-door road racing pan and oil cooler
Twin Howe sprintcar aluminum radiators with 2400cfm puller fans
ZF 5 speed transaxle with 4:10 gear
15lb. aluminum flywheel
MSD box and billet dist.
Tires rear Hooiser 25.0x13.0x16 front 23.5x12.0x16 slicks
Wheels custom BBS rim shells with hand made center sections. 12x16 rear 10x16 front
Brakes Wilwood Suprelite 4 piston calipers and 12"x1.25" rotors.
Exhaust handmade 180deg. 2" S.S. headers, 3.5" collectors, 12" long x 3.5" racing muffers.
Wilwood racing pedals/master cylinders/hyd. clutch.
Pantera shifter and linkage
Performance untested weight 2700lbs.
CrankShaft Motor Car Club