In April of 2012, Lamborghini unveiled a crossover SUV named the Urus at the Beijing Auto Show, hinting at a possible off-road vehicle in Lamborghini’s future. But whether the Urus is a mere styling exercise or a future production vehicle, it will not be Sant’Agata Bolognese’s first off road performance vehicle, nor its coolest. The mantle of “Baddest off-road Lambo” belongs to the LM-002. Like a steroid addled Stallone, the LM-002 exudes a thuggish dominance without a trace of prettiness. Like any good Lamborghini the LM-002 is extreme, outlandish, and fast.
Today’s Lamborghini is flush with cash from its doting owners at VW Group and the Urus concept is a play at expanding into the burgeoning Chinese market. However back in 1977, things were not as rosy at Lamborghini, and the financially struggling company began work on a brutish rear-engined military vehicle code named “Cheetah” with sights set on a potentially lucrative contract with the US Military. After the project failed to take off as a military venture, Lamborghini decided to develop their chassis further and stuff the V12 engine from their top of the line Countach supercar into the front of the vehicle rather than the rear. The resulting machine was the aggressively proportioned LM-002, which was unveiled at the Brussels Auto Show in 1986.
Though the vehicle’s military origins are unavoidably obvious at first glance, the Italianate opulence one would expect from Lamborghini is evident within. The entire cabin is trimmed in buttery soft leather and features all the creature comforts of the era, from air-conditioning to tinted power windows. If the Countach V12 just wasn’t enough power, a 7.2L V12 marine engine normally reserved for speedboats was an optional upgrade.
The vehicle was naturally a hit with oil-rich Middle Eastern customers, who prized its powerful engine, luxurious amenities and bona fide off-road capability. Pirelli even designed special “Scorpion” tires specifically for use on sand. Only 328 of these vehicles were sold in the course of its seven year production life. This may not seem like much, but it’s roughly comparable to the volume of other contemporary Lamborghinis such as the Jalpa. Even the best-selling Countach, only sold 2,042 units over a 16 year span! However it’s no wonder that the LM-002 was not the financial savior Lamborghini had banked on as a hedge to its supercars and due to its relative scarcity in Europe and the US, it became mainly a footnote in the troubled history of the company.
Comparison to the Hummer H1 is inevitable and indeed the outer dimensions of the two vehicles are comparable, with the Hummer being a few inches wider and taller. But consider that the Lamborghini is a full 1,500 pounds lighter than an H1, and has double the horsepower. In short, it upholds the Lamborghini reputation for speed, with a staggeringly fast 0-60 time of about 7 seconds (amazing for a vehicle of its prodigious size and weighing 6,000 pounds). While it may lack the characteristic beauty of an Italian exotic, there is something undeniably fitting about the LM-002’s take-no-prisoners approach to off-road performance. In that regard, even though it may look nothing like a Lamborghini supercar, it is philosophically cut from that very same cloth.
Words by: Bradley Price, a New York-based designer, car nut, racing history buff. He founded the Autodromo brand in 2011, and divides his spare time between his stable of vintage Italian cars and running the car blog Automobiliac.