Feruccio Lamborghini didn’t start out building world-class performance automobiles. In fact, the first vehicles his company turned out weren’t cars at all; they were farm tractors. Lamborghini was a mechanic in what passed for Italy’s air force during WWII. After the war left his country in ruins, he went about collecting spare parts from military vehicles and turning them into farming equipment.
His swords-to-plowshares business model proved remarkably successful, and by the mid-1950s Lamborghini, who also built air conditioners and gas heaters at this point, was a wealthy man. He decided to use his newfound riches to indulge his lifelong interest in automobiles, purchasing a Ferrari, a Mercedes-Benz, an Alfa Romeo, and a variety of other performance cars.
Lamborghini’s auto-making career though began when the clutch on his Ferrari 250GT broke in the late 1950s. Tearing the car down, the former airplane mechanic discovered that the clutch was the same one he installed in his farm tractors. When he suggested to Ferrari that they use something better, he was told to go home and stick to farming.
Lamborghini didn’t take that very well, and he decided to show the hotshots at Ferrari just what a real performance car should look like. In 1963 he unveiled his first effort, the Lamborghini 350GTV, at an auto show in Turin. Due to a conflict with his engine designer, there was nothing under the 350’s bonnet during the show but bricks; Lamborghini made sure no one peeked under the hood. Nonetheless, the press fell in love with the car’s styling and gave it glowing reviews.
Lamborghini bought a 500,000 square foot property in ’63 to commence production of his vehicles, complete with a reworked V12 engine that met his exacting standards. The local politicians were ardent Communists, but they nevertheless welcomed the rich capitalist with open arms, cutting his tax rate to 0% in exchange for his pledge to hire union workers.
Lamborghini sold a total of 120 350 GT’s, keeping the prices low so he could compete with arch-rival Ferrari. His cars caught the imagination of drivers around the world, and the rest, as they say, is history.