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THIS YEAR, Lamborghini is celebrating its iconic V12 engine that has powered its most memorable models for almost 60 years. This power plant was featured in the equally historic Diablo, the first Lamborghini super sports car offered in a four-wheel drive version.
The company reported in a release that when the Diablo debuted in January 1990 during Lamborghini Day at the Sporting in Monte Carlo, it “was so ahead of its time that it was identified as a series production hypercar.”
The 12-cylinder engine initially boasted a displacement of 5.7 liters, then 6.0 liters — with a maximum output of 600hp in the road versions and 655hp in the GT1 Stradale model for the racetrack, of which only two units were made.
The “pure” V12 combustion engine in its final form will go out of production before the end of the year, when the last Aventador Ultimae is made. From 2023, the heir to the Aventador will be fitted with a new plug-in hybrid version of the V12.
Automobili Lamborghini said that the Diablo was the model that propelled it into the modern era. Project 132 — as it was called inside the company — arrived in 1985 to replace the Countach, so “it had to convey the full power of the Sant’Agata-based automaker: appear sporty and muscular yet always appealing; deliver the aesthetics Lamborghini has always been renowned for; and be future-proof, to remain the world’s fastest production car for years to come.”
Development work on the way it handled the road was successfully achieved with the involvement of former Rally World Champion Sandro Munari. During the course of its commercial life, which lasted until 2001, the Diablo also demonstrated its ability to transform itself and adapt to market demands and the expectation of its customers. With 2,903 units made during the 11 years it was in production, the Diablo was considered a huge success.
The technical cornerstone of the Diablo remains the 60° V12 engine, which was directly derived from the 1963 3.5-liter engine, increased to 5.7 liters over the years. The latter configuration, the rear longitudinal position with catalytic converter, generated a maximum power of 492hp at 6800rpm and torque value of 580Nm at 5200rpm. It also featured a Lamborghini-Weber Marelli LIE electronic fuel injection. In 1999, first with the Diablo GT and later with the Diablo 6.0 SE, the engine size was increased to 6.0 liters. This, along with improved fuel injection calibration, allowed it to muster an output of 525hp and 605Nm.
The turning point for Lamborghini came in 1998, when Audi bought the company. The automaker finally had enough resources to develop a more refined industrial plan, while gaining access to new components and technology. The new owners also saw the Diablo as a product worth keeping and further developed. This led to the birth of the second series of the Diablo, designed in the brand’s new Centro Stile. Even faster and more powerful than ever thanks to the bigger V12 6.0-liter engine, it also showcased more luxurious finishes and increased reliability during daily driving, resulting from rigorous quality control during design, testing, and production.
The mechanics of the Diablo, though refined, were originally still considered traditional. The setup consisted of a rear longitudinal engine with four chain-driven camshafts, electronic fuel injection, rear-wheel drive and mechanical transmission. Power steering arrived only in 1993 and the electronics were there only to manage the engine. The Diablo VT, Lamborghini’s first four-wheel drive super sports car, was presented in 1993 to become the benchmark in terms of roadholding and driving safety in any condition.
VT stands for Viscous Traction, where the torque transfer from the rear axle to the forecarriage is done via viscous coupling. With this system, the VT is normally a rear-wheel drive vehicle with up to 20% transfer to the front wheels only if the rear wheels slip via a viscous coupling and a propeller shaft connected to the front differential. The VT also introduced another innovation for Lamborghini: electronically controlled suspension, with five preset operation programs to choose from.
In December 1995, the Diablo Roadster arrived as the first 12-cylinder open-top Lamborghini. This emboldened the brand to start a tradition in this format. The Diablo Roadster made its debut sporting a carbon fiber Targa top housed over the engine cover when down.
Lamborghini returned to racing with the Diablo through the Super Sport Trophy — later the Super Trofeo — racing championship, where it made its debut in a side race during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1996. Thirty-four 550hp Diablo SV-Rs were made for gentlemen drivers competing in one-hour races.
The Diablo also made it to the big screen. One of the most memorable scenes is from the American film Dumb & Dumber starring Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, and a red Diablo.
The Lamborghini also appeared in the 2001’s Exit Wounds directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, with “DMX” Earl Simmons and Anthony Anderson. A 1999 Diablo VT Roadster steals the show in the car showroom scene, bought in cash after an exhilarating engine “rev up.”
The Lamborghini Diablo SV also made it to a popular video game, “Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.”