Mirage Countach | The Brave Pill

Lambo? Shambo!

By Mike Duff / Saturday, 18 March 2023 / Loading comments

Fake it until you make it? This week’s show stopper offers a remix to the aspirational aphorism: make it so you can fake it. This almost-Countach is the first time a replica has featured as a Pill, a line the Selection Committee has previously refused to cross due to the risk of being overrun by unconvincing tat. But that’s definitely not an accusation that can be levelled here – this is a car that even Lamborghini fans will struggle to tell from the real thing. At least, they will until the engine starts. And with a price that is less than a third of even the nastiest genuine Countach, is this a sheikh-grade fake?

Replicas have always been a strange offshoot of the legitimate car business, a parallel universe where distended, strangely proportioned tributes often seem designed to give amusement to cynical onlookers as much as to fulfil the dreams of the delusional punters who buy them. No Fiero or MR2-based Ferrari bodge is ever going to fool even a one-eyed Tifosi, no matter how many prancing horse badges get stuck to it. Many of these kit-based horrors have featured in various forum threads over the years, with the worst being so comically inept they gain something close to a kitsch appeal. Does anyone else remember the MGF-based Veyron that briefly starred in the ‘Horrors from the Classifieds’ thread a few years back? It would have been fun to turn up at a meeting of genuine Bugattis in one. 

Yet our Pill, built from a Mirage kit doesn’t just look good from ten yards or ten feet – a non-expert could examine it from ten inches away without sniffing obvious signs of fakeness. I was lucky enough to drive an original Countach 25th Anniversary last year – the very car from the corporate museum that was the model for the recent Lego Speed Champions model – and I’m looking at the pictures from Italy side-by-side with the advert and struggling to spot any glaring inaccuracies. At first, I thought the kit’s front-hinged doors weren’t opening wide enough, but it turns out that is entirely prototypical. As is the DIY-looking dashboard. 

The Countach’s status as an instant icon meant that people were trying to copy it even while it was still in production. The Mirage kit seems to have been available from the mid eighties, using the combination of a spaceframe chassis and fibre glass bodywork. Some online sources reckon that none other than Lee Noble was involved in the engineering. Dimensionally it is near enough spot-on to the original Countach, although the standard of fit and finish will obviously be heavily dependent on the time and effort put into building it. Usefully, the Mirage actually features a lower floor than the genuine article – giving more headroom.

The biggest and most obvious difference is the Mirage’s powerplant. While it might be possible to source and use a genuine Countach V12 with one, the kits were unsurprisingly usually combined with cheap American V8 muscle – the same approach taken by the well-respected De Tomaso Pantera. In the case of our Pill, that’s a 5.7-litre Chevrolet engine fed by a Holley quad-barrel carburettor. Depending on the state of tune this may well be chucking out a similar output to the 450hp of the genuine Lambo’s period V12. But it will obviously sound wrong, and its mass distribution will give different handling characteristics, although it will probably feel more agile. Something the non-prototypical presence of power-assisted steering will help with, too.

There is no mention in the advert as to where our Pill’s five-speed gearbox comes from, although at least some conversions were done using Renault transmissions. More recently, some cars have apparently been built using BMW-sourced V12s. 

While £69,995 is always going to be a big ask for a non-genuine article, our Pill does seem to be about as good as a kit-built replica is ever going to get. The specialist dealer selling it says that it dates from 1985, supported by both the C- registration plate and the online record, but also that it was “correctly DVLA registered in 2002”. Suggesting that this was when a 17-year project was actually completed. It has an IVA/ SVA certificate and – somewhat cheekily – is listed as being a Lamborghini in the online record. The online MOT history starts in 2015, when the car had just over 2,000 miles on it, and also shows that it has spent time in Northern Ireland. The most recent test was a clean pass last November, by which time the odometer had crept up to 5,579 miles.

So what’s brave here? Beyond the price – and the need to wear pastel-coloured jackets to really pull it off – any hand-built kit is likely to require sympathetic ownership and what’s likely to be ongoing tweaking and fettling. Amazingly, there was a period in the nineties where the values of original Countaches actually fell below the build price of the better kits, these being sold on the basis of lower running costs and superior reliability. 

These days even the leggiest, shabbiest original cars are being offered for north of £250,000, and the nicest examples for more than double that. Against that lofty benchmark, this Shamborghini looks like compelling value, a man maths bargain. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

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