Showpiece of the Week: Lamborghini Diablo

The Diablo bridges the gap between what Lamborghini was in the nineties, and what it has become today

If there’s a particular model that illustrates the turbulent past of Lamborghini, it’s the Diablo. This is a car that was conceived under the stewardship of Patrick Mimran, underwritten by a cash injection from Chrysler and continued through various guises into the Volkswagen Group years. Its replacement, the Murcielago, served as the embodiment of a modern and cutting edge Lamborghini; the Diablo spanned present and past both.

Certainly it was unflinchingly old school in approach. Fitting for a car named for the devil. True, it remained one of the fastest cars on sale until it was discontinued in 2001. But its design and technical make up were very much from the 1980s, when it was shifted from the drawing board to development. When the Diable arrived in 1990 it used a 5.7-litre V12 with 492hp, but the engine eventually grew to 6.0-litres, and power peaked at 595hp in the limited-run Jota.

Even before the VW Group’s Audi brand took control of Lamborghini, then a 35-year-old company from Bologna, the Diablo had passed through several revisions bringing incremental improvements. There were VT, SV and GT variants, and R versions of all of those, as well as an SE and SE Jota. Oh, and a GT SE. The world was not short of Diablo variants.

The twelve-cylinder engine at the heart of all of them had a lineage stretching back to the Muira. It bore significant technical similarities to the motor used in the Countach too, which came immediately before the Diablo, meaning it was a 60-degree V12 with an aluminium block and head. The design incorporated chain drive to double overhead cams on each bank of cylinders, which stood shoulder to shoulder longitudinally in a square-tube spaceframe chassis and carbon fibre bodywork. Together, they produced peak power at 7,000rpm, while 428lb ft of torque, came at 5,200rpm. This was an engine that liked to rev.

Work it hard and the V12, even in its lowest power early form, could accelerate the 1,576kg Diablo from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds and on to a 202mph top speed. That was lightning quick at the time – and even by today’s standards, if you consider that modern supercars have launch control and quick-shifting semi-automatic gearboxes that would shave an additional couple of tenths from that sprint time. The Diablo had a five-speed manual gearbox and only your right foot to limit wheel spin at the back axle. It was notoriously difficult to drive smoothly, thanks in part to a heavy clutch pedal.

A later version, the VT (for viscous traction), came with four-wheel drive and, to the relief of mere mortals, a much lighter clutch. Later, the gearbox was also improved to make quicker shifts possible, and in ’93 an electronic traction control system was added. When the 6.0-litre V12 arrived to provide the most potent 595hp setup, the Diablo was good for a 0-60mph time of 3.7 seconds and a 211mph top speed. Not the headline grabbing figures of a McLaren F1 or Jaguar XJ220, but plenty fast enough to secure it a life spot on the exotica podium.

When Audi took control of things, the Diablo went through a significant transformation to make it more usable – essential to ensuring its continued relevance and survival into the 21st century. Luggage space was improved, GPS satnav was integrated and there were new sports seats. Audi also encouraged a few improvements to the car’s aerodynamic performance, including a new diffuser than increased downforce.

Along with the improvements came the GT variant, powered by the 6.0-litre engine producing 583hp and 465lb ft, driving the rear wheels (four-wheel drive wasn’t used because of the added weight) through a five-speed transmission with revised ratios. Just 80 examples of the GT were ever made, so they are extremely rare. Even rarer were GTs finished in gloss black, which brings us to this week’s Showpiece. A 2000 example, it is said to be in fine condition – as you’d expect – with all the original books and tools. It’s had one owner from new who’s covered 26,000 miles in it and always had the car serviced by an official dealer. As far as Diablos go then, this looks to be a good ‘un. As automotive history goes, it’s about as engrossing as Lamborghini’s recent past gets.

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