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And Now the Ultimate Road Runner

July 13, 1988|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

It was designed in Italy as a missile carrier for desert hit-and-runs, was stripped of its camouflage to indulge American excesses and the Mad Max in all of us--and now Sylvester Stallone wants one.

So the Lamborghini LM002, poised for introduction into the California car market in about six months, has a new name: The Rambo Lambo.

This four-wheel-drive Tonka on steroids comes close to the Indian elephant in tonnage, gray finish and clumsiness.

'Ugly Enough to Sell'

"But it is so bloody ugly that it will sell," Murray Marks said. As boss of Wilshire Maserati-Lamborghini-Lotus in Beverly Hills, he will have to do just that when the first models arrive in time for Christmas.

This fiberglass tank comes with six carburetors feeding a race car V-12 engine producing 450 horsepower for a fearsome top speed of 125 m.p.h. There's also a gruesome sticker price of $125,000--without tax, license and grenade launchers.

"It certainly is the most outrageous, egotistical statement you can make," Marks continued.

Then, presumably, only outrageous, egotistical people would be interested in buying such a Gargantua?

"Well, forget about using it off-road because they (potential buyers) won't know how to use the levers," Marks explained. "They will be from what I call the gold and diamond brigade that wants the ultimate statement . . . people looking for the ultimate addition to a cluttered household already filled with very expensive, worthless possessions."

Tony Richards is director of Lamborghini programs for Chrysler Corp., which last year purchased the Italian car builder. "We're really starting to get the feeling that this is a car for California," he confirmed. "These are the kind of people who lead the kind of life styles that call for outrageous things . . . and overt expressions of wealth.

"I don't mean that unkindly . . . it's a fact of life and we're trying to satisfy that particular demand."

Whether fact or figment, there is no doubting that the recent arrival of an LM002 in Los Angeles produced an automotive excitement that clearly topped the time a nicely lubricated MG-TD was driven into the Masquers Club by a well-oiled Erroll Flynn.

When parked on urbane, unimpressionable Rodeo Drive, the Lamborghini drew droolers by the dozen. It was videotaped by a Japanese tour group and photographed by a carload from Wisconsin. Last week, while being demonstrated by Marks, the Lamborghini could not be driven away from a cafe on Melrose.

"There were 50 people around it," he said, "and two people underneath."

Finding some definite civilian value to this Italian funny car, some serious purpose, has been a fine game among experts since the vehicle was first introduced in 1981.

Groped Phil Llewellin of Automobile magazine: "The open space at the back is ideal for servants, guys manning machine guns or friends with personal freshness problems." But serious purpose? "Believe me, I need one of these things to patrol the stately home's rolling acres in Wales."

The concept of the vehicle, Richards explained, called for "a desert hit-and-run vehicle where you could mount a missile launcher, run into a battlefield, hit a tank and run away as fast as possible."

So Lamborghini stuffed its celebrated and expensive V-12 engine (the same power plant that drives the exotic Countach sports car) into an tubular frame and named it for the fastest animal over the ground: the Cheetah.

"But it did not see military service," Richards said. "People found that Toyota pickups were just as effective and a much cheaper way of doing this."

'Middle East Markets'

The Cheetah was restored to mufti, fitted with a leather and bubinga wood interior, and driven, Richards said, in search of "wealthy Middle East markets with an interest in the vehicle for pseudo-military purposes, for escorting potentates . . . hunting with falcons, that kind of stuff."

Enough were sold to prove the point. Then Chrysler purchased Lamborghini. Lee Iacocca's men looked at the merchandise that came with the buy and, Richards said, "the feeling was that there would be a market for that car in the (United) States and in Europe for the same kind of people who buy Lamborghini Countach . . . as the ultimate in exclusivity.

"In other words, it marks you out as one of these people who has more money than . . . um, . . . than. . . ."

Sense?

"Exactly."

How to Sell It?

So how does one sell this Yeti in Gucci boots to a clientele that considers slow valet parking to be the ultimate in roughing it?

"Do you think that Linda Evans, who owns a (Jeep) Wagoneer goes four-wheeling in it?" Marks asks. "No. She drives a Wagoneer because it has four doors and carries people and is practical. I don't say it (LM002) is practical for Beverly Hills but there is a market for it . . . for the horse rancher or the gentleman farmer."

Phil Hill of Santa Monica, former world Formula One driving champion, now the front half of Hill & Vaughan, restorers of elderly and rare automobiles, has wrestled the Lamborghini.

"It has a wonderful, dual character," he says. The power range is "extremely flexible and not unlike the 12-cylinder Ferraris . . . and at the same time, if you need (pulling) power, you simply double the revs (engine revolutions) and you have an entirely different kind of machine."

With such a surplus of oomph and weight, Hill continued, the Lamborghini could evolve as a "ultra-powerful tow vehicle" for safer long distance lugging of boats--or his antique cars.

Publisher Malcolm Forbes has several billion dollars, 14 Faberge eggs, the last letter written by Abraham Lincoln, his own 50-rider motorcycle club, a romance with Elizabeth Taylor--and a Lamborghini LM002.

"Mr. Forbes," said an aide at the publisher's New York office, "is on his motorcycle heading for the Blue Ridge Mountains."

Then maybe you could explain his uses for an LM002.

"Well, he last used it to take Miss Taylor to see 'The Phantom of the Opera.' "

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