And despite all the sideways hooning and 200MPH bragging rights, it is indeed a business.
As the Diablo launch in 1990 seems farther and farther in the past, let’s look at how this car saw off challenges from all sides of the hypercar world. And how the Diablo and Lamborghini’s clever reinventions helped the car evolve from an 80s throwback of a drive into an ultra-modern GTR and 6.0VT near the end of production in 2001.
Think about that: 11 years. Staying in production is an achievement in its own right for many supercar ventures. Bugatti EB110? Jaguar XJ220? McLaren F1? Ferrari F50?
None was actually produced for more than three or four years. A dry well of buyers meant they just could not compete with the Diablo’s established sales networks, bedroom-poster pinups, video game marquee placements, and overall exotic presence.
When it was launched, the rear-drive Diablo was a much-needed re-do of the Countach, which had been in full production for 25 years by its exit around 1989. The Diablo hoped to take the Countach appeal and inject actual high-performance chops.
This entailed a far larger footprint for its mid-mounted engine and chassis. The 5.7-liter V12 was a serious legacy item, but helpfully coaxed into another decade of life via electronic fuel injection to its 48 valves, quad cams and longitudinale posteriore transaxle.
The metal-gated ball shifter in titanium alloy set the mood: deeply analog in a world that was going digital. At launch, the Diablo was dated by the drive experience of even the retired-by-then F40. With giant turbos and a much more wieldy cornering mood, the F40 trounced the Diablo around tight tracks. Versus the 959, the Diablo was a relic at birth too: nary an electronic adjustment for the Diablo’s dynamics, in contrast to the new and advanced AWD, Turbos, electronically-adjustable dampers, steering and springs.
Versus the XJ220 and EB110, the Diablo also lacked on-paper exceptionalism.
Here is where Lambo might have folded up its sales brochures and called it a day around 1993, as hypercar sales hit rock bottom and four new entries joined the car-mag universe at the exact same time.
Being ‘stuck’ with the Countach for two full decades taught this team some helpful tricks of the trade. What are they? Concurrent re-engineering, restyling and re-invention of the machine. The car would improve under the skin, addressing buyer complaints on comfort and reliability… and then rebranded. First was the Diablo VT in 1993 — adding AWD to the stormy, mercurial mood of the devil’s own chariot.
Then a Diablo SE for 1994 gave some new life and more-modern looks via flush-spoked alloys versus the sunken styles employed previously. Some new body kit pieces helped the nose and tail sink lower into the pavement, but the Diablo hung on to its flip-up headlights far after they went out of style.
On to the 1996 stunners: the Diablo JOTA and Diablo Roadster. Gorgeous and must-have hypercars — both for their newness as well as their overall excellence.
A very rapid and track-prepped Diablo SVR also hit the SuperTrofeo circuits starting in 1996, keeping buzz up.
A new Diablo SV for 1997 brought the hardcore handling and power mods to a street car, and also updated the aero package with redesigned underbody, splitters and diffuser. Snorkel intakes up to fed cool, clean air directly into the violently potent engine, but skipped a rear wing like the Jota and SVR race models.
A Diablo GTR was the peak of achievement for the Diablo’s original drivetrain for 1999 and 2000 — with radically updated styling; plus a bump in engine displacement and output.
A final stage of the Diablo evolution came in 2001 with the run-out special: the Diablo 6.0. Wearing new Audi-proven nose aero detailing and benefitting from a huge cash injection from Ingolstadt — Lambo was prepping the next chapter of its hypercar tome: the Murcielago.
Just as the Diablo owes much to the Countach, the Murcielago and Avendator similarly owe big debts of gratitude to this giant-slayer of a Diablo.
Analog thrills, the Diablo proved, can play sold-out shows in a digital world.
Lamborghini DIABLO Evolution
1990 Lamborghini Diablo
1993 Lamborghini Diablo VT
1994 Lamborghini Diablo SE
1996 Lamborghini Diablo JOTA
1996 Lamborghini Diablo SV
1996 Lamborghini Diablo ROADSTER
1997 Lamborghini Diablo SVR
1999 Lamborghini Diablo GTR
2001 Lamborghini Diablo 6.0