The Story Behind The Lamborghini and Ferrari Rivalry

The world of luxury sports cars is one of competition both off and on the road. Cars designed for high speeds and good looks are a niche market, and that means companies that sell such high-end vehicles need every advantage they can to stay competitive since every sale counts. 

Sometimes, that drive for competition creates rivals, as longstanding leaders in any industry tend to get complacent. That complacency can be their undoing, but it can also spur further advances and change.

One of the more famous sports car rivalries is the one between Ferrari and Lamborghini. Both companies produce excellent vehicles in their own right, but, as with any brand, some people are loyal to one over the other. Of the two, Ferrari has a longer history, the Coke to Lamborghini’s Pepsi, as it were.

Ferrari Left and Lamborghini right

The Start of Ferrari

Ferrari, the automotive company, started in 1947, but the founder himself spent much more time involved in the automotive industry beforehand. 

Born in 1898 in Modena, Italy, Ferrari started his career as a racecar driver. In the 1920s, he was a driver for Alfa Romeo and won many awards like the 2nd Circuito di Modena. 

By 1929, Ferrari started Scuderia Ferrari, which later became Ferrari’s official race car division, a division of Alfa Romeo that provided race cars for gentleman drivers. This was a period where car racing was taking off, particularly for the rich and famous, who were some of the few who could afford it.  

Ferrari entered another race in 1931, which proved to be his last one. After that, he decided to focus on automotive construction. Until 1939 he worked for Alfa, but he struck out to create his own car company. 

He wasn’t the first one with a vision in the automotive industry who did so, either. Much like automotive giants of earlier generations, Ferrari set out to build a new kind of car, or at least a better one. He formed the Auto Avio Costruzioni Company in Modena, Italy, his hometown. 

Due to an agreement with Alfa when he left, the name changed to Auto Costruzioni Ferrari in 1957. The first Ferrari, the Ferrari 125 S, was the first car to bear his name.

The car quickly proved its worth as a sports car, winning first in the Piacenza Circuit and Rome Grand Prix. From such early success, the Ferrari name quickly spread as a fast, reliable, luxury sports car well worth the price for those willing to pay for the quality brought by such a renowned automotive racing name.

Ferruccio Lamborghini Creates His Own Car

Not everyone was thrilled with the quality of Ferrari, though. Ferruccio Lamborghini was born in 1916 and amassed a fortune after World War II in tractor manufacturing. 

He wasn’t the only automotive designer and builder immersed in agriculture, either. Henry Ford built tractors at a loss because he believed in rural America. 

As for Lamborghini, by the early sixties, he was a rich and powerful man. He knew what he wanted to do, and that was to build the “best super sports car ever.” 

Many thought he had gone mad, and rightfully so. Coming into such a competitive space with only tractor experience seemed crazy. Many thought he’d squander his fortune in a failed venture.  

The Ferrari and Lamborghini Rivalry

Ferruccio Lamborghini was sure that he hated Ferrari and his cars, and he thought he could use his fortune to create something better. What started this deep animosity?

One day, Lamborghini drove to the neighboring village of Maranello to speak with Ferrari. His complaint was simple – he believed the car’s crutch broke too quickly and wanted to suggest a way to make it last longer.  

The suggestion offended Enzo Ferrari, who told Lamborghini to stick with tractors. Furious, Lamborghini, with talent and money, sought to, as the expression goes, make his own luxury sports car with blackjack and hookers. Obviously, anyone who could build such a sports car needed neither of those and so it proved true, much to Ferrari’s chagrin.

Thus the great rivalry was born. Like Coke and Pepsi or General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford, Lamborghini sought to build a better luxury sports car, creating a rivalry as well known as those previously mentioned. While he had the foundation due to his racing experience and tractor manufacturing, the gap between the two remained. 

Still, he had a good place to start. Four months later, he had a small factory in Sant’Agata where he built his first model, Lamborghini 350 GT. Soon after, he presented it to the world at the Turin 1964 car show.

Lamborghini had some excellent fortune in this regard. However, several prominent Ferrari workers grew discontent with his wife’s meddling with the company. Rather than resolve the issue, Ferrari fired the complaining workers, who went to Lamborghini. From there, the new rival managed to produce the 350 GT. 

Despite the first foray into sports cars, Lamborghini had a good start in the luxury sports car market. It sold over one hundred models, which may not sound like much, but it promised a great future for a luxury car company just entering the market. Ferrari wasn’t worried, but he should have been.

The car that put Lamborghini on the map was the Miura, which was released in 1967. By 1973, over 764 were sold.  

Oil Crisis and the End of the Rivalry

The beginning of the 1970s would not end well for either company. The Oil Crisis shrank the luxury car market by eighty percent in one year. As a result, Ferruccio Lamborghini was forced to sell his company. 

Lamborghini wasn’t the first automaker to lose a company and rebuild, though. The name lived on even as the company kept having to declare bankruptcy, partially due to the oil crisis. Finally, in 1987 the company was purchased by Chrysler. 

Despite that, Lamborghini cars lived on and in 1990 launched the Diablo, which sold 3,000 units over three years

Regardless of how seriously Ferrari took the competition, Lamborghini remained a factor in the luxury sports car market. They may not have provided the impact that a major player could, but their name, legacy, and quality kept them in the game. If only Ferrari had mediated better and taken the young man seriously, he could have avoided a longstanding headache.

If you enjoyed this article, read about the rise and fall of Studebaker, one of America’s most iconic brands.

Alan Behrens

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