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How Lamborghini Completely Half-Assed The Lights On Its Most Legendary Supercar


When it comes to cars that can be truly considered iconic, it’s hard to find one more so than the Lamborghini Countach, posters of which I’m pretty sure came included on the wall of at least one bedroom in every home sold in America from 1975 to 1995. The Countach is a crowning achievement of supercar design, a testimony to what human hands and minds can do when all restrictions are lifted. Well, except for most of the lighting equipment, which is more of a testimony to what human hands and minds can do when they don’t want to spend hardly any money or time on a problem.

The lights on the Countach that I’m referring to specifically — the front sidelight/indicator units and the taillights —are really the only lights that are actually seen on the car, since the headlights themselves are hidden under covers.

Let’s start with the taillights first, because they’re more dramatic and maybe a bit more tragic. Let’s look at the rear of the Countach LP500 of 1971, the design concept that served as the basis of what would later become the Lamborghini Countach:

1971 Lamborghini LP500 Countach Prototype – Vintage Road & Racecar

Here you can see the conceptual ideal of the taillights, units that completely fill those two six-sided, pointed pods at each side. They’re dramatic and exciting, fitting the look and character of the car perfectly! Now, let’s look at the production Countach:

What’s noticeable here is that Lamborghini came close to the sort of taillight they wanted: a six-sided unit that seems to fill those areas completely. But there’s something that doesn’t look quite right about them, and this becomes clearer when you look closer:

See? It’s a set of three square lights that are the actual taillight, plus a shaped reflector panel that must not actually reflect properly, because there’s another reflector inset under the middle lamp, despite the reverse lamp having its own reflector. It’s clear what the designers were going for, but it’s kind of kludged together.

Also, look at that eBay link there: Holy crap are those replacement taillight filler panels expensive! And that set is black rubber, not even fake-taillight red! Here’s a red one for sale:

Why is that so much cheaper than the black rubber ones? I don’t understand Lambo owners.

Of course, even this is better than some later Countach versions that ditch the shaped reflector panel altogether:

In this case, Lamborghini just quit even trying to match the shape of the area in which the taillights were designed to fit. The car now just relies on the square lights themselves, which Lamborghini lifted right off the ass of a 1972 Alfa Romeo Alfetta:

Now, on these crisp, boxy little Alfetta sedans, those three-block lights work quite well, I think; but slapped on the dramatic angles and sweeping lines of the Countach, they feel like someone just ordered the first thing they saw in the parts catalog.

It was such a strong initial design, and Lambo’s solution feels just so half-assed for a car as exclusive and expensive as this. Make some custom lights, you lazy bastards! They would have looked so good!

I still don’t understand why the car needed that extra little reflector, either.

Okay. Let’s go around front and see what we have going on:

Lamborghini Countach LP500 Turns 50: the story of a legend

Looking back at the prototype LP500 Countach, we see that up front there are the covered pop-up lights, and ahead of those is some sort of flat, square, flush-mounted light panel that must house indicators and side/parking lights. Very cool. So, how was this design executed on the production car? Like this:

It looks like Lamborghini just made a little cubby, lined it with aluminum or something silvery, then found the cheapest possible parts-catalog trailer lights they could get, and stuck a ribbed plexiglass panel over it and hoped no one would notice. Have you ever seen the actual light unit outside of its little hood-greenhouse there? Look at this crap:

I mean, they’re fine, for, you know, a Civic or something, maybe mounted unobtrusively under a bumper, happily doing its job indicating turns and illuminating a side or two. But as one of the major pieces of visual detailing on the front of a supercar? Come on.

I know Lamborghini thought they could get away with it by hiding it under that ribbed plexi and giving it its own shaped little cloister there, but you know what? That kind of just makes it worse!

I mean, look at this:

All those wonderful swooping lines and creases! All that drama and motion and excitement! And then there’s that clunky-ass light, perched in there, looking even shittier by comparison, like if you opened a Fabergé egg and found a rubber dentist-office-toy-box finger puppet inside.

It’s just a glaring, obvious letdown. This is a Lamborghini! They could have made that huge expanse of dedicated light area into something wonderful, with custom parabolic reflectors and multiple bulbs and whatever–some lighting designer would have loved to do it, but sadly, nobody gave a shit, and here we are.

I know supercars are some of the most notorious light-stealers of any class of vehicle, aside from perhaps RVs. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, or let it go. Lambo, you really phoned it in, and got away with it, too. For years.

Hope you’re happy.


(Image credits: Lamborghini, eBay, FerrarisOnline)

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41 Responses

    1. I’m so happy that in under a month we are already well on our way to a robust Autopian meme community.

      (Dictated and sent in my absence)

      ((Do you think David gets references to articles on his own site?))

  1. It’s always fun to go to car shows and play spot the kit car, with some cars you can tell which are kits because they’re put together with nicer parts or better paint and panel gaps. I mean have you ever looked at a real Cobra? The things were almost slapped together and aren’t even close to symetrical but the owners take pride in the built-in-a-barn approach.

  2. This isn’t half assed, it’s brilliantly whole ass.

    The coloured strips on the Diablo headlights are half assed.

    I can’t believe I never truly realised how pathetic the lighting of the Countach really is. Those front lamps are going to be burnt into my brain forever.

  3. “I know supercars are some of the most notorious light-stealers of any class of vehicle, aside from perhaps RVs.”

    My favorite thing when I see an RV is to guess where the lights are from.

  4. “like if you opened a Fabergé egg and found a rubber dentist-office-toy-box finger puppet inside.” Damn, anyone else remember getting excited for the dentist just because you knew you’d be getting a shitty little toy at the end?!? Now all my dentist ever gives me is travel floss and a toothbrush 🙁

  5. Late to the party but better late than never…

    One thing you forgot about, Jason, is the cost of homologation. It’s cheaper to pick out the lighting systems that have already been homologated by UN-ECE and US DOT as well as many regulatory bodies around the world. Lamborghini wasn’t exactly rolling in cash during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

    The extra retroreflective rectangle is for the US market that has different regulations on how the light should be retroreflected. It’s cheaper to insert the appropriate type of the retroreflective rectangles. You can see them on many North American-sourced vehicles exported to Europe through grey import channels.

  6. FFS, Torch, you ruined the Countach for me – that is, whatever was left after James May had a go at it on The Grand Tour. I didn’t have a poster, but seeing one flashing by* as a young kid in an ’80s Eastern bloc country made a huge impression on me – one of the few of that kind of vivid memory that you can recall at will and _be right there_. It looked better than a spaceship. And now, thanks to your excellent research, I learn it had taillights from an Alfetta.

    *No, really: it was parked on the side of the road, with a door up and blinkers flashing for help in the night. We passed by in my dad’s Dacia 1300, which continued to work until the end of the trip.

  7. Personally, I think the front indicators behind the clear panel added to the look of the car. Instead of a somewhat plain slab of metal, you get that splash of yellow. I think it just works on this particular car.

    Or maybe the posters have normalized that look for me, and I’m just making excuses.

  8. I don’t think they chose those lights because they were lazy and phoned it in, I think they chose them because Lamborghini was basically broke when the Countach was ready to go on sale, so rather than go to the expense of designing their own lighting units that would have to be tested and approved, they just lifted ones that were already approved. They already had to spend a considerable amount of money modifying the original prototype with all those scoops and vents to keep the engine cool for the production version, so I suspect they just didn’t have much left over for lights.

  9. Completely aside, that little Alfa reminds me how good looking a little 3-box sedan from that era could be. Cars like the BMW 2002, the Datsun 510. Bring back small wheels, big greenhouses, and pint-sized four-doors!

  10. You ever take a look at a modern (as in current, or built in the last 5-10 years) Lamborghini or Bentley interior? You’d be surprised/aghast at the parts sharing from contemporary Audi models. Probably worth an article alone! I was astonished to see a Bentayga sharing many interior parts with my lowly B9 Audi A4! And the Lambo steering wheel and infotainment is lifted straight out of Audi. Porsche does a better job hiding the shared “platform” on their cars – pretty much making unique parts in place of the Audi or VW derived ones. Take a look at a Macan and Cayenne and you can’t tell they share the same architecture with any other VAG MLB or MLBevo architecture.

  11. Italian cars will always disappoint in some fashion or another.

    Jason, say what you will about the tail lights. The turnsignals under clear covers is iconic. I dare you to dream up something superior.

  12. It’s fun to imagine the organizational dysfunction that created that. Some high self esteem designer making a statement that he KNEW would be iconic is presented with a budget of $0 for lighting. He knows that won’t work so he sticks the ugliest, cheapest, most cynical implementation of the technical demands and … NEVER GIVE THEM AN OPTION 3!! They always choose the shark-horse.

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