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The reality of Driving a Countach

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Anne & Path Pathmanathan

Mon, 24 May, 18:02 (16 hours ago)
to Anne, Anne, me
Almost exactly 20 years ago , my first act after buying Chassis JLA 12399 ( an 88 1/2 5000 QV )  from HR Owen , the UK's then sole official Lamborghini concessionaire , was to ring Mike Pullen and ask him to service the car .  For those who might not know , Mike Pullen has serviced Countachs for over 40 years now , and at some point in time has probably looked after just about every Countach in southern England .   
Mike has looked after 12399 ever since , and a couple of weeks ago the car was transported up to Haywards Heath for an inspection and treatment session by its longstanding physician . Fortunately little more was needed other than a routine major service : the exhaust back box needed some welding , a clutch hose needed replacement , and we decided that all four brake calipers needed refurbishment . 
The car was also running its original , Sant' #### fitted rear brake pads ( 12399 is also on its original factory clutch ) - so we decided that after 33 years and 34,000 kilometres the time had come to replace them . More about the Countach's aerodynamics later , which partly explains the longevity of the brake pads . 
For a multitude of reasons I hadn't driven the car for ages , and I was also missing it ( the service work was done very quickly , but the brake calipers had to be sent off , and there was a long delay before the calipers were sent back to Mike ) after its 2 1/2 week spring holiday chez Pullen , so immediately upon getting the call that 12399 was ready to be collected ,  I ignored the weather forecast and decided to pick it up myself .
Despite having had the car for over 20 years , and despite having driven it for  almost 20,000 kilometres , it was absolutely not the case of jumping back onto the bicycle and gaily wheeling off into the distance . I drove up in my wife's elderly Mercedes CLS , and the contrast between the CLS and the Countach was total .  And hence this thread - some owners might recognise a few things , and some enthusiasts might find what follows of interest .
As it was a Saturday , I picked the car up from Mike's home rather than from his garage . As usual Mike had performed his magic , and the car started immediately after the usual ritual -  it was cold and raining , so 3 dabs of the accelerator pedal , clutch pedal in , turn the ignition key , and pray  . 
A slightly different procedure is needed if the car hasn't been started for more than a day , and yet another procedure if the engine is still warm .
12399 is of Mediterranean extraction and abhors the cold . Mike's driveway climbs fairly steeply upwards before intersecting with a very busy but narrow road . Which I had to cross !  Not an auspicious start to a four hour , 160 mile journey , when it is pelting down with rain - especially on a busy Saturday morning . To execute the move onto the opposite side of the narrow road without kerbing the nearside front OZ wheel demanded a 3 point turn . 
2nd gear is out of bounds until the transmission oil is warm , so it was a case of using 1st gear and then short-shifting to 3rd . To give you an idea , max speeds in each of the 5 forwards gears are respectively:  60 mph  ;  80 mph  :  120  :  150  : 178 - or so Sant' #### says  . 
To keep up with the Saturday supermarket crowd meant a hooligan like high rev scream in 1st gear , OR a bucking bronco ride in 3rd . Unwanted attention OR shaken and stirred - the driver's choice . What was definitely not yet on the menu was 2nd gear .
The Countach really , really dislikes low revs and low speeds . The drive up in the CLS was so effortless . In contrast the drive back home in the Countach was so full of effort . 
One example - the car has no intermittent wiper setting ( cf the CLS with its rain detector facility !! ) , so each time the windscreen got sufficiently speckled to impede vision , you had to take your left hand off the steering wheel and depress the wiper stalk . 
And with the huge windscreen set at 21 degrees to the horizontal , the pantograph wipers did an excellent job of clearing the vast majority of the screen but not the peripheral edges - which is unhelpful when there are pedestrians whom you don't want to run down in case they dent the Countach's delicate 1 mm aluminium bodywork .
The Countach's Bizzarrini V12 engine and its 5-speed gearbox carry vast volumes of their respective lubricant , so it takes forever , and many miles , before these fluids warm up , and before 2nd gear can be safely employed .  
And right-hand drive Countach's accelerator cables have to negotiate a more convoluted path back to the engine bay  than their left-hand drive counterparts , so there is an initial dead spot ( however well lubricated the cable is ) to the accelerator pedal which makes smooth and precise modulation difficult .
But once the car is fully warmed up , and once you have open roads , the Countach transforms from a recalcitrant brat to a thing of joy . This is such an imperfect car - it was imperfect in 1973 , and it is even more imperfect in traffic  dense and speed cameras saturated 2021 . It needs wide , clear , unrestricted roads . Anything less and it is a minor nightmare .
It thrives on high revs and even more on high speeds - no , the two are not exactly synonymous . 
It is not a car that anyone half sensible would choose to take to the supermarket -- why would you use a jewel encrusted microscalpel for a job that requires a bone-saw .  
It was a good hour before I again felt really comfortable driving my old playmate -- so how could anyone reasonably ask a journalist to make a fair assessment of this very atypical car after just a brief half day acquaintance ? 
I could go on and on , and have in my forthcoming Countach book  ISBN  9781910505632  , but what struck me most were the following  points :
1) I would never choose to drive a Countach ( or for that matter any car ) for pleasure  without first selecting the most quiet time of day and route . On this occasion i broke this cardinal rule , and the drive was hugely less pleasurable than it could have been . On a couple of very , very brief occasions the Countach had the opportunity of showing its mettle - and Wow , simply Wow .
2) This grande dame  can still really pick up her skirts and move -- when given the opportunity to do so . 
3 ) She is a demanding lover - The Countach wants constant attention at low speed ( to drive it smoothly , and without it screaming like a banshee at 10 mph ) , and it needs total commitment when at the other end of its performance spectrum .
4) The Countach receives so much  unjustified criticism for the weight of its steering , clutch pedal , and gear-change . Once moving beyond 5 mph, and especially once the Countach's engine and road speeds are at respectable levels consistent with its 1971 design brief ( the '' ultimate macchina sportive stradale '' ) these barbs carry absolutely no substance . All 3 controls have a delicious mechanical heft , and there is a consistency of effort shared by all 3 controls .
The most pressing limitations to the Countach as a driving tool are its poor outwards visibility and its width .
5) The car's aerodynamics are dire . My wife who was following in the CLS said that for sometime she thought that the Countach's brake lights had failed because she didn't see them light up . In fact all I had to do was employ a modicum of anticipation , and lift off the accelerator pedal , and the car would slow down or come to a stop . The brake pedal is almost redundant - even in heavy traffic . A Cd of 0.42 coupled with a large frontal surface area explains a lot .
6) Driving this old car , with due respect to its age , but also without ignoring its performance potential , is literally  life-affirming . I failed it on this occasion by driving it in less than ideal conditions , but in doing so I re-learnt the need to pre-select the timing and route of each drive carefully . The Countach deserves this minimum respect .  It remains a very special car to drive , and a very precious ( from a historical perspective ) piece of automotive art 

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