When someone says “Lamborghini”, it conjures a very clear image. Sleek, stylish supercars that epitomise the finest in Italian finesse, taste and engineering, masterpieces of automotive craft. So it may come as a surprise to know that Lamborghini once tried to get a piece of the military market by producing a range of rugged off road vehicles.
In fact, Lamborghini’s timing was actually fairly good but, rather remarkably for such a well-regarded car company, their engineering was poor. This is the story of the so-called “Rambo-Lambo’s”.
In the 1970s, several vehicle companies were thinking about the future direction that light military vehicles would take. Of particular interest was that the United States was looking at ideas on what to replace their vast fleet of Jeep vehicles with. Though iconic, by the 1960s the U.S. military was aware of the limitations of these light vehicles and examining options to find something better.
This was potentially a huge opportunity. Lamborghini decided it was too good of one to miss and subcontracted an American company, Mobility Technology International, or MTI, to design and build their concept for a new light weight, high mobility military vehicle.
Thus was created the Lamborghini Cheetah, which was unveiled to the public at the 1977 Geneva motor show. The vehicle caused something of a stir, and certainly generated a lot of interest.
This struck a more conventional design line than the Cheetah, with flat panels rather than curved that had a more practical appearance and the possibility of being armoured. Though an improvement over the Cheetah, the LM001 still featured a rear mounted engine with the issues that caused and proved to be a gateway design to the next model.
This was first shown in 1982 and was a much better design, with the engine finally being placed at the front of the vehicle. Additionally, Lamborghini ditched the idea of using an American engine, probably because the US military was at that point in the process of selecting the HUMVEE as their new all-purpose light vehicle and so hopes of orders from the United States (the original purpose) were over.
Instead, they went with their own offering, a Lamborghini V12 five-litre that produced 370hp – the same as was used in the now-legendary Countach LP500 S super car. The powerful front mounted engine opened up additional carriage space, meaning the vehicle could now carry a total of ten personnel. It also meant weapon-fitting opportunities were much heavier, and at least one photograph exists of an LMA fitted with an Oerlikon KBA 25mm cannon – probably a mock-up of some sort.
Here it looked like Lamborghini’s persistence would finally pay off when the Saudi’s were reported to have ordered up to a thousand, and the Libyans also considering a purchase. However, whether these orders fell through or were just PR stunts to try to generate actual sales is unknown, because only one LMA002 was built. This was followed up in quick succession by the LM003, which had a diesel engine and was reportedly a failure, and the LM004 which had a monstrous 7-litre marine engine!
In fact, Lamborghini’s foray into military vehicles resulted in a great deal of interest, but zero sales to any large-scale user. But it was not a complete failure. Though the LMA002 did not sell, a civilianized variant, the LM002 did. Unveiled in 1986, this version was built to exploit Lamborghini’s luxury image for all it was worth. Retaining the durability of the military vehicle, the interiors were custom built to a customer’s standards. And as a result, they became a favourite of the rich and famous, as well as with national leaders.
This was, after all, the age before the Hummer and its ilk had appeared available for sale in civilian models, and so the LM002 was very much a “who’s who” car. It was this model that sparked the nickname for the series – the “Rambo Lambo’s” – and in total just over three hundred were built.
And it was one of these civilian models that saw, for want of a better phrase, military service. On July 2004 U.S. troops in Iraq ran a trial of how the explosion from a vehicle-based IED would effect concrete walls. The car used was an LM002 that had formerly belonged to Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s son. Packed with explosive, the vehicle was blown to pieces as a test subject – the highlight of the “Rambo-Lambos’” military career.