How Chrysler Almost Ruined Lamborghini and How Audi Saved it

How Chrysler Almost Ruined Lamborghini and How Audi Saved it

Wandering through the Lamborghini museum can leave you with a lot of thoughts.

It’s hard not imagine blasting to 200 mph with a V12 at your back, or just getting lost in the nostalgia of the truly retro designs that seem to define their respective automotive eras.

But read each of the plaques pasted next to every car and there’s another tale being told, that of the automaker’s history, and it goes like this: Chrysler pretty much ruined Lamborghini. . . and Audi saved it.

Perhaps the pinnacle of the Diablo's development, an ultra-rare Diablo GT-R race car

Perhaps the pinnacle of the Diablo’s development, an ultra-rare Diablo GT-R race car

The Gallardo that Never Was

Amid the awesome new Sesto Elemento and future-forward concept cars like the Estoque sedan there are forgotten vehicles like the small, white P140 concept. Dating back to 1988 it sports a 4.0-liter V10 engine with around 370 hp. Designed to be a smaller and more affordable Lamborghini model, it’s in many ways a precursor to the Gallardo. An idea apparently ahead of its time, the car was axed when Chrysler purchased Lamborghini in 1987.

Considering the success of modern day Lamborghini is built off the Gallardo, just think where the brand would be now if  they had built it.

Ironically, a more affordable model is just what Chrysler later realized Lamborghini needed most. After burning through significant capital, it offloaded the Italian automaker in 1993. Much of the reason for that decision was that the Diablo, which was launched under Chrysler stewardship, was perceived as a flop with first year sales of 673 units falling off a cliff in year two with just 166 models moved. After strong early demand, the overly rich asking price of $239,000 was too much for the market to bear.

Just a few steps away from the P140 sits a selection of Lamborghini-powered Formula 1 cars, with a note next to one of how the F1 engine program was axed by Chrysler.

Then there’s another ahead-of-its time machine that saw production albeit in limited numbers: the LM002. A luxury SUV two decades before the Porsche Cayenne, it also saw its demise under Chrysler.

Dueling Concept Cars

Left in shambles and sold to holding company MegaTech, the next few years were tumultuous ones as is evidenced by a selection of wild concepts lining the outer glass wall of the museum.

lamborghini p147 zagato canto

P147 Zagato Canto Concept previewed a possible Diablo successor

Familiar to only the very dedicated Lambo enthusiast, for most, they’re completely unheard of – making them all the more enticing.

A burnt-copper model in particular stands out, perhaps due to its uniquely un-Lamborghini styling. Called the P147 Zagato Canto it has styling elements that look more Ferrari or McLaren. There’s also the P147 Gandini Acosta concept with the plaque humorously (and perhaps unintentionally) recounting the car’s story: “Despite respecting the cost parameters of the project, whilst maintaining the roof, the door profile and the windshield of the Diablo, this model is not at all appreciated (our emphasis). As a result, no prototype of this concept is built.”

P147 Gandini Acosta Concept presented an alternative to the Zagato

P147 Gandini Acosta Concept presented an alternative to the Zagato

Representing an inner struggle within the brand in 1997 both concepts are eventually axed with the purchase of Lamborghini by Audi (its German savior) in 1998. Instead of the bulbous Zagato or bug-eyed Gandini, Audi instead launches the distinctly modern Murcielago.

Audi’s Influence

Our visit to Lamborghini came as part of an introduction to the new Hurácan model and throughout the trip the German influence from Audi is prominent.

Audi boss Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg was in attendance and made a point of explaining that three iconic brands: Lamborghini, Ducati and design house Italdesign Giugiaro all fall under the Audi corporate umbrella.

More than just a corporate suit, Hackenberg is uniquely invested in Lambo, having advised its purchase after a trip to the plant in 1996 which included a test drive of the Diablo that he admits was “beyond the speed limits.”

In Lamborghini he saw the promise of “Italian creativity and design with German precision engineering,” he says. The cars themselves were something unique and impressive, the quality, however, was suspect and something, “which could be extremely improved,” he said.

Beyond the museum and the presentation, a tour of the manufacturing facility at Sant’Agatha Bolognese drove home the quality improvement theme, from displays of manufacturing processes to high-tech quality control checks.

Lamborghini engineers using their latest toy.

Lamborghini engineers using their latest toy, performing 3D quality control checks on components for the new Hurécan.

How Audi Saved Lamborghini

With Audi’s help, Lamborghini launched the the Gallardo, a car it needed for decades, with a new level of affordability, quality and a vastly superior level of daily driveability to any past mode wearing the Bull badge. And consumers responded making it the brand’s all-time best seller.

But history, they say, is told by the victors and Audi’s take, while not untruthful, certainly paints Chrysler’s admittedly failed stewardship of the brand in a less than ideal light.

Chrysler Ownership Wasn’t All Bad

After all, Chrysler certainly invested in Lamborghini. After purchasing it for approximately $25 million (or roughly five-and-a-half Veneno Roadsters) in 1987, the American automaker poured double that into the company.

An 1,100 hp 8.2L V12 Lamborghini Marine engine

An 1,100 hp 8.2L V12 Lamborghini Marine engine

While that Lamborghini plaque clearly pointed the finger at Chrysler for ending the F1 engine program, it was Chrysler that began it. Additionally, Chrysler launched Lambo’s very successful marine engine division (of which there is a corner of the museum dedicated to its successes), while the U.S. dealership network was also created under Chrysler control.

After what at the time was seen as a significant investment, Chrysler execs didn’t get an immediate payback and jumped ship, likely pulling the plug on projects (like the F1 engine program) in order (smartly) to set the company up for sale.

But the strongest defense of Chrysler’s ownership of Lamborghini is the fact that without the American automaker’s investment the Diablo never would have happened.

Decades later and Lamborghini’s future is no longer in jeopardy, instead it’s secured by the success of the Gallardo. That one car’s significance cannot be understated. With 14,022 units sold it accounts for roughly half of the company’s sales. . . for all time!

The theme painted by the plaques through the Lamborghini museum might not be entirely accurate, or even intentional, but if Chrysler did make any one mistake it was canceling plans early on for a baby Lambo.

GALLERY: Lamborghini Museum


Discuss this story at our Lamborghini Forum.

  • Rickers

    That top car REALLY does look like an MR2.

« Back
SWEEPSTAKES – OFFICIAL RULES, TERMS AND CONDITIONS’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. * is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of, 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked