Market Spotlight

Market Spotlight - Lamborghini Miura

by Andrew Newton
27 February 2021 8 min read
Image
Photo by Lamborghini

Today the words “Lamborghini” and “supercar” go hand in hand. By any measure, it’s one of the most recognizable exotic car brands out there. A subsidiary of Audi for over 20 years with tons of corporate euros behind it, Lamborghini delivered nearly 7500 vehicles worldwide in 2020 and more than 8200 in 2019. Go for a stroll in a nice part of LA or Miami, and chances are you’ll see a brightly painted Lambo streak by or hear one crack a downshift a few blocks away.

Turn back the clock to 1965, however, and Lamborghini was a much different company. With just a few years of car building under its belt, Lamborghini focused on building small batches of refined, mature gran tursimos that were better than equivalent Ferraris for the road, and designed without thought to the frivolities of the track. The Miura changed that, putting Lamborghini down the path of youthful, brash exotic cars with bullfighting names on their tails that continues today. It is also the car that came to embody the concept of a “supercar” as we know it. No wonder it’s the most valuable production Lamborghini of them all.

“It’s the Lamborghini that put the brand on the map,” said Simon Kidston, the Geneva-based dealer, collector, Miura SV owner, and author of the recently published The Lamborghini Miura Book. “And whereas the Countach cemented Lamborghini’s reputation among schoolboys, the Miura has a more universal appeal like many curvaceous cars of the 1960s. The Miura also helped elevate the automobile to a point where the journey rather than the destination became the most important thing. Ownership of a Miura is never dull. Its place as the most collectible Lamborghini is well-earned.”

Miura prices have appreciated drastically over the past 10 years even relative to other classic Italian thoroughbreds. In addition to market changes, there are key differences from one Miura to the next to consider. First, though, a little history.

Road car, race-inspired

Lamborghini’s first car, the 350 GT, entered steady production in 1964. A group of the company’s engineers and designers started thinking about what they could do next. Most notable among them were Paolo Stanzani, Bob Wallace, and Giampaolo Dallara.

At the time, everyone in the group was in their mid-20s. Ferruccio Lamborghini was 48. The young employees were enthusiastic about racing, where mid-engine cars were dominant. Their boss was adamant about staying away from motorsports and building cars tailored to the street. Nevertheless, Mr. Lamborghini budged and gave the team the go-ahead to develop their mid-engine sports car. Maybe it would cause a stir and make a good promotion for Lamborghini’s other models. “Nobody at Sant’Agata thought it would amount to more than a handful,” Bob Wallace later remembered. It would be a street car first, but built in the image of the latest racing sports cars.

The chassis design was a monocoque with an integral roof, leaving the front and rear of the bodywork as unstressed, hinged panels, much like a Ford GT40. Lamborghini constructed the chassis of steel and drilled holes for lightness wherever possible. The first real challenge came in placement of the engine, Lamborghini’s signature V-12, developed by Giotto Bizzarrini and now displacing 4.0 liters. It was long—significantly longer than the GT40’s V-8. Mounting the V-12 longitudinally, as in other mid-engine cars, would have meant lengthening the car’s wheelbase and compromising handling.

The clever solution was mounting the engine (which was 21 inches wide) transversely, in parallel with the rear axle. This wasn’t a new idea. The Austin Mini revolutionized the world of compact economy cars with its transverse front-drive layout. Honda had tried a transverse engine in its RA 272 Formula One car. But Lamborghini was breaking new ground in putting a transverse engine behind the driver in a large performance street car. Because of limited space, Lamborghini also fabricated a transaxle, mounted at the rear of the engine and in unit with the crankcase (like on a motorcycle), meaning the engine and gearbox shared the same oil supply.

Lamborghini presented the Miura’s rolling chassis at the 1965 Turin Auto Show. Even just the naked mechanicals, with the drilled holes in the monocoque and the novel sideways engine bristling with Weber carbs, were enough to cause a stir. Potential customers rushed the stand. Even then Lamborghini, a boutique carmaker just three years old, still just thought of it as a promotional tool. The car still had neither a proper name nor a body.

Carrozzeria Touring, which had styled Lamborghini’s first cars, was soon to go out of business, but Italy’s other coachbuilders were eager to have a go at Lamborghini’s exciting new sports car. Bertone won the deal and gave the project to Marcello Gandini. Like the rest of the Lambo’s design team, Gandini was still only in his mid-20s.

What he came up with was his first big hit (of many). Draped over the low-slung race-inspired frame, it’s a shape that Car and Driver in 1967 called “classical Italian, with just enough sharpness in the fender peak lines, in the American manner, to keep it from looking soft.” Road & Track described it as “an exercise in automotive art for a particularly rapturous kind of driving.” CAR Magazine’s Douglas Blain went a step further, calling the Miura “the 20th Century’s answer to the razor-taloned falcon, favourite suit of Swabian armour, private bodyguard of Prussian mercenaries, fine fuelling pistols or all the other virility symbols of bygone eras.”

Lamborghini presented the car for a second debut at the Geneva Salon in March 1966, and it generated just as much buzz as it had in Turin the year before. It now had bodywork, finished in an eye-catching orange-red. And it had a name—P400–with “P” referring to Posteriore (rear) and “400” referring to the engine’s displacement in deciliters. But Ferruccio Lamborghini, a Taurus, also wanted a proper name. He went with Miura, after a renowned breeder of fighting bulls from Seville, Spain. Bullfighting-related monikers have been a Lambo trademark ever since.

Two months after Geneva, the show car served as the ceremonial circuit opener at the Monaco Grand Prix, and the tiny company was at work getting the Miura, for which there was already unexpected demand, production-ready. It would take several more years to work all the bugs out because, dazzling as the Miura was and despite its U.S. price of about $20,000 (enough for five Corvettes), it wasn’t perfect.

Taming the bull

All Miuras are noisy cars with heavy controls. Fragile aluminum fenders and no real bumpers make parking a nerve-wracking experience. The first Miura P400s also came with manual wind-up windows. Not unusual stuff in the 1960s, but they take seven turns to crank and the winders are awkwardly placed. To get at the engine, meanwhile, you have to open both doors and pull a T-handle behind each seat, then remember to push them back in before closing the doors again.

The early Miura P400’s quirks weren’t limited to the cockpit. At over 100 miles per hour the nose starts to generate significant lift. It doesn’t help that the fuel tank, which naturally gets lighter as you drive along, is located at the front. A limited-slip differential would have been a welcome aid, but since the engine and transaxle shared the same low-friction oil supply, this upgrade was a non-starter.

None of this could really keep people from lusting after the 350-horsepower dream machine. All they had to do was look at it.

The first batch of major improvements came in the form of the Miura P400 S in 1969, which added vented brake rotors, power windows, optional air conditioning, revised rear suspension, and better tires. Higher lift cams as well as bigger carbs and manifolds also resulted in a bump to 370 hp. 1969 also got the Miura worldwide exposure on the big screen, as a bright orange Miura was chosen for the opening sequence (including a crash) of The Italian Job.

The next big changes came with the SV in 1971. Revised rear suspension and a slight lowering of the nose alleviated that pesky front-end lift. Flared rear fenders allowed for wider 15-inch low-profile tires, and the exposed retractable headlights lost their signature black “eyelashes.” New cam timing, larger intake valves, and rejetted carburetors resulted in 385 hp, and later Miura P400 SVs got a split sump, which meant separate oil supplies for the crankcase and the gearbox, and made a limited-slip feasible. Bob Wallace gave his one-off Miura Jota a ZF unit and even added the diff to some Miuras.

After building 150 SVs, Lamborghini replaced its breakout star with the equally sensational Countach for 1974, a car that would carry the Lamborghini torch for the next 16 years and influence the shape of nearly every Lamborghini since. 1974 wasn’t just the end of the line for the Miura. Ferruccio Lamborghini sold his last stake in the company that year, which led to a string of investors and corporate owners until Audi took over in 1998.

Lamborghini’s genre-defining supercar, then, was not only the company’s first breakout hit but also the last supercar built under the company’s founder. And what had been intended as little more than a promotional tool wound up being one of its most beloved, celebrated, and prolific models. With nearly 800 built, the Miura outsold the 350 GT, 400 GT, Islero, and Jarama by a wide margin. Nearly 50 years later, the Miura is worth way more than all of them.

What is a Miura worth?

Built in three distinct series, the car carries three distinct prices, with the first P400 at the bottom, the improved P400 S in the middle, and the fully developed P400 SV at the top. The going rate for an SV is traditionally around twice that of a “regular” P400 in similar condition, but despite the aforementioned quirks, it would be a mistake to assume that an early P400 is half the car. Indeed, the original is arguably the best value.

Currently, the condition #2 (“excellent”) value is an even $1M for a Miura P400, $1.2M for a P400 S, and $2,100,000 for a P400 SV, while the condition #1 (“concours” or “best-in-the-world”) values range from $1.3M for a Miura P400 to $2.45M for a P400 SV. Value adjustments in the Hagerty Price Guide are +10 percent for factory air conditioning, +10 percent for vented brakes on the P400 S, and -10 percent for an SV without the split sump. According to Kidston, red cars are a bit harder to sell, while green and orange ones are always popular. SVs will always be the most collectible, but they’re also the cars that started to see changes in European vs. American market versions. European cars are generally more desirable.

Kidston remembers a time when Miuras were not nearly as highly prized as they are today. “Back in 1989, an SV at the company I worked for sold for £155,000. At the same time, Ferrari Daytonas were selling for about £300,000. A regular Miura or an S was about £80,000. Fast forward to the late 1990s, Daytona and Miura SV prices were comparable, and by around 2008 an SV was finally worth significantly more than a Daytona.”

Today, all Miuras are worth comfortably more than a Daytona coupe. Kidston still considers them a good value considering everything they have going for them, and he believes they have a bright future. “There are still a lot of average quality Miuras around and a lot of cars awaiting restoration. They’re starting to be better looked after, and being restored by the right people. The Lamborghini brand also remains strong, relevant, and relatively young.”

Miuras had a big charge during the first half of the 2010s, even relative to the rest of the high-end classic car market. The median condition #2 value today is $1.2M. A decade ago it was $367,000. From 2011 to 2016, the median Miura price was up 167 percent, with early cars up over 200 percent. At Pebble Beach in 2012, an SV with factory A/C and split-sump became the first Miura to break seven figures at auction, coming in at $1.375M. The first Miura to break $2M at auction was at Amelia Island in 2015, with an SV factory promo car bringing $2.31M. Things have been quieter since but have generally trended upward, with a 22 percent gain from 2016 to today. Other Lamborghinis have appreciated more since 2016, with the Jalpa, Diablo, Uracco, and LM002 up from 35 to 55 percent, but it’s hard to imagine any production Lamborghini ever being worth more than the standard-setting Miura.

At the moment, the Miura seems more desirable than ever. In 2020, hardly a banner year for high-end collector cars, we saw a new world record price at auction for a Miura, £3,207,000 ($4,257,007). (It was an SV car with rare dry sump and limited-slip, sold at Gooding & Company’s “Passion of a Lifetime” auction in England.)

In addition to these high-profile auction sales, Miuras are changing hands on the private market, and several are undergoing restoration in California, Texas, and Europe. Lamborghini’s Polo Storico in Sant’Agata has been offering factory restorations since 2015 as well as original spare parts.

With all this attention on Miuras, are we due for a glut of them on the market? Will supply for freshly restored Miuras exceed demand? Kidston, for one, doesn’t think so. “There were only 762 of these cars built, which isn’t a big number, so it’s not as if Miuras are appearing from nowhere. We continue to have strong inquiries for Miuras, including from younger collectors, and people who go through a multi-year restoration process with their Miuras tend to hang onto their cars.” Regardless of what happens to these seminal supercars in the market, the Miura will always be king of the bulls.

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Comments

  • John S Dreibelbis says:

    The auto museum in Torino (Turin), Italy had one on temporary display in 1987 and the velvet-roped-off area was constantly buzzing with guawkers. A security guard spent a lot of time walking over to the car to remind folks to stay back. My FIAT colleagues were more interested in the former racing cars. The car on display looked concourse condition. Sleek!

  • Barry Cohen says:

    In my view the most gorgeous car design of all time. One of the all time great designs. Not commenting on the car itself and if it is a great car, or not …..just the body design. Others in the top tier from a design perspective only in my opinion include the Maserati Ghibli spider, the Maserati A6G Pininfarina Coupe, the Ferrari 275GTB, the deTomaso Mangusta and a few others ….

  • Philip Gardner says:

    I agree completely with Barry Cohen, the most beautiful car ever. I had the luxury of seeing one in the flesh so to speak when in 1969 on the A31 just at the start of the dual carriageway section of the Hogs Back, in Surrey, England. I was able to turn around and watch the car for a few miles until it turned off towards Aldershott I had to resume my journey to college now even more late but worth every minute

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