In a 50-plus year history of supercars, hypercars, and ultra-exclusive grand tourers, the Lamborghini LM002 isn’t so much the black sheep of the family as it is a genetic mutation. Built for seven years at the height of excess and conspicuous consumerism, the “Rambo Lambo” was absurdity on four wheels: a 7.2 liter V12 cribbed from a Countach in a military-grade truck that rolled on tires so wide that Pirelli had to custom build them. But the LM002 was more than a bizarre one-off. In fact, if history had gone differently, it might have one-upped the Hummer and ended up as the official vehicle of the U.S. military.
Lamborghini was in dire straits in the mid ’70s. Founder Ferruccio Lamborghini had retired in 1973, and the global oil crisis meant that the market for gas-guzzling supercars had all but dried up. Teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate for cash, it attempted to diversify, including entering into a partnership with the American corporation MTI to develop a replacement for the long-serving military Jeep. Finished in 1977, Lamborghini showed its truck, called the Cheetah, at the Geneva Motor Show. But there was a problem: It was largely based on a competing design, FMC corporation’s XR311.
What’s more, the company felt so confident in the project that it allegedly diverted funds from the supercar it was developing with BMW (which later became the M1) without telling the German company. Both BMW and MTI terminated their partnerships with Lamborghini as the company sank into bankruptcy, and as FMC sued MTI over copyright infringement, the U.S. military accepted AM General’s HMMWV, or Hummer design in 1979.
But the struggling company had invested enough time and money into the Cheetah, and felt that the project could be salvaged. The truck (designed in Sant’Agata but assembled in San Jose, California) had a mid-mounted Chrysler 5.9 liter V8 driving all four wheels. But by the early ’80s, the company had found new investors, and felt that a civilian version might find a market. In 1981, it unveiled the LM001 at the Geneva Motor Show. With a 5.9 liter AMC V8 now powering the truck, the company announced that production versions would have a 5.0 liter V12. Unfortunately, testing showed that the LM001’s top-heavy design and mid-mounted engine made it a handful off road, dangerously unstable at speed. After committing to build it, Lamborghini scrambled back to the drawing board to revise its military-grade off-roader.
In 1986, Lamborghini sold the aging but still outrageous Countach, the V8-powered Jalpa, and the new LM002, now with a revised suspension and big 5.2 liter V12 mounted up front, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Despite its massive proportions — 16 feet long, 6 feet tall, 6,780 pounds — the truck was an incredible performer. Zero to 60 came in 7.7 seconds, and 444 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque going to all four wheels ensured it could move off-road almost as well as on pavement.
With a base price of over $120,000 (around $251K today), the LM002 took excess to a new level — and that’s impressive considering that this was the same automaker that built the Countach. In its October 1987 review,Car and Driver’s Brock Yates perfectly summed up the truck’s absurdity, coining a nickname for the ages in the process.
Grab your Guccis, status slaves: the price of fame is rising fast. Just when you thought your new double-throwdown four-wheel-driver had more than enough beans to chug you up the social ladder, we bring you devastating news. Dump your Range Rover, scrap your Isuzu Trooper, and pawn off your cute little Suzuki Samurai on your second cousin from Dubuque, because there is a big, bad new boomer roaming the streets, and it’s destined to make those dinkmobiles as passé as two-tone Willys Jeepsters. Let us introduce you to a vehicle that is to chichi off-road boutique items what the L.A. Raiders are to the Joffrey Ballet. Meet the Mad Max machine. Meet the closest thing to a street-legal Tiger tank known to man. Meet the Lamborghini LM002. Meet the Rambo Lambo.
“Never before in recent memory have we driven a vehicle that has turned as many heads, blown as many minds, freaked as many citizens, or been as much insane, outrageous fun as the Rambo Lambo,” Yates wrote. But as truly awesome as it was as a machine, it was equally impractical. Its clutch made “a Peterbilt feel like a Civic,” the Italian electronics “threw tantrums,” you’d see eight MPG on a good day, and replacing one if its custom-built kevlar-reinforced Pirelli Scorpion tires cost about the price of a used economy car. Still, the world had never seen anything quite like the LM002, and there was no denying the elemental appeal of a Lamborghini truck.
The LM002 made its U.S. debut 1987, just as Chrysler bought the brand. But instead of reining the truck in, it only got wilder. For buyers who wanted even more power, Lamborghini began offering a 7.2 liter V12 modified from a Class 1 powerboat. And in a year when Oliver Stone’s Wall Street immortalized the mantra “Greed is Good,” the LM002 was the ultimate in excess. Incredibly powerful, fantastically expensive, and more opulent than any other truck on the planet, the majority of LM002 buyers found a niche among some of the wealthiest people in the world: oil sheiks in the Middle East.
LM002 production ended in 1993 after 328 trucks had been built. By then, the bubble had burst, and the dizzying heights of excess that made the truck seem so appealing just weren’t there anymore. What’s more, Chrysler had dumped Lamborghini that year as the company bled money. It would focus on the Diablo supercar through the end of the decade, and would ultimately be bought by the Volkswagen Auto Group in 1998.