A monster 4×4 with the heart of a supercar. This Lamborghini LM002 has roared back to life with a full restoration, after having arrived with us in boxes.
Lamborghini’s sleek Urus may be the first Lamborghini SUV of the 21st century – but the marque’s first off-road capable 4×4 dates all the way back to the late 1970s. As was typical of Lamborghini’s dealings at the time, the story is a little complicated.
A complex history
It started in the late 1970s with the Cheetah, a rear-engined, Chrysler V8 powered off-roader designed by Mobility Technology International to bid for a US military contract. Looking for a company with broad-based manufacturing capability they partnered with Lamborghini. When that plan fell apart due to legal reasons (it turned out that MTI had copied rather too much of another company’s design) Lamborghini persisted, initially with another rear mounted V8, the ill-handling LM (Lamborghini Militaria) 001.
At which point someone at Lamborghini had two brilliant ideas – to mount the engine in the front and to give it a 450 horsepower Countach V12 rather than the Chrysler V8. This allowed the designers to accommodate a five-seater cab with space for a further six in the rear deck. Though any prospect of a US contract having long since disappeared, there was talk of a Saudi military contract for 500 examples. That never happened, but between 1986 and 1993 Lamborghini found 301 buyers willing to fill the LM002’s 290-litre tank as quickly as the 5.2-litre V12 could drain it. For the truly brave or foolhardy, a few were produced that swapped the Countach 5.2-litre V12 for a 7.2-litre L804 marine V12.
As a postscript to the origins of the LM002, one example did eventually come to be appraised by the US military. It had belonged to Uday, son of Saddam Hussain, and was apparently blown to pieces by the US Army to simulate the effects of a car bomb.
The LM002 is a design that few would consider beautiful, but it is certainly impressive. With its shoulder-height bonnet, it’s 2 metres wide, 4.9 metres long and 1.85 metres to the top of the cab. It also tops the scales at 2.7 tonnes.
Up front, the original specification features the 5,167cc Lamborghini Countach 60-degree V12 fed by six side-draught Weber 44 DCNF carburettors, though later US export models had fuel injection. Maximum power of 450bhp was reached at 6,800 rpm (hardly the norm for off-roading) while maximum torque was 500Nm (369lb.ft).
The LM002 was fitted with a five-speed ZF S5-24/3 transmission with a central two-speed transfer case allowing the driver to select between rear drive, four-wheel drive with front, centre and rear differentials operational or 4WD with all diffs locked for demanding off-road terrain.
The body structure is based around a multi-tubular steel spaceframe clad in riveted aluminium and fibreglass panels. All round independent suspension features oscillating arms, coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers.
Wheels are 17” steel, clad in massive 325/65 VR17 Pirelli Scorpion tyres and ground clearance is 300mm.
Inside, the driver and passengers enjoy a view over the massive bonnet and airbox bulge from a cabin of leather and wood-trimmed luxury. Electric windows and a Clarion radio showed that Lamborghini had arrived at the ‘premium luxury SUV segment’ unfashionably early – by around 30 years. But at least today’s Urus has a worthy ancestor.
A highly original LM002
The Lamborghini LM002 chassis number ZA00000HLA12040 was purchased by its current owner, a passionate Lamborghini enthusiast, back in 2003 and enjoyed by him on road and off for many years before being put into storage in 2009. A left-hand drive example, it was the 40th to be built at Sant’Agata from a total production run of 301. The current owner bought it from a dealer in Scotland who informed him that the Lamborghini’s original owner was based in Switzerland. It was finished in Blu Acupulco Metallizato LMB501 and trimmed inside in Light Grey leather.
It is probably the only LM002 to have been driven by the legendary Stig of Top Gear for a special Lamborghini edition of the popular BBC series on 2003. According to its current owner it was driven hard on track by The Stig, who thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
This example was also personally vetted by legendary Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni at a Lamborghini Owners’ Club meeting and given a Certificate of Authenticity by him. Many LM002s have been customised during their lifetime but ZA00000HLA12040 is rare in being both highly original and showing just 13,690 genuine miles on the clock.
When the LM002 arrived at the Bell Sport and Classic workshops on April 5th, 2019, it wasn’t a runner. The owner had originally commissioned another firm to do the restoration, but the project had stalled and he had pulled the project having become dissatisfied with their capabilities (he describes it as a ‘lucky escape’, as they subsequently went out of business). Bell Sport and Classic were recommended to him by the then service manager at Lamborghini London as a company that delivered both high standards and good value.
As Master Technician Attilio Romano recalls, “the engine block was still in place, but most of the ancillaries had been stripped off. All the separated components were supplied in boxes…it was a bit of a detective job, so the first thing we did was a thorough inventory.”
On close inspection the team discovered that the water pump, which is driven by the timing chain, had been leaking though the bearing seals. To make matters worse, the housing had fractured – and the part was no longer stocked by Lamborghini.
Bell Sport and Classic have the capability to make many components in house, but to remanufacture a component like a water pump required specialist engineering facilities. They commissioned trusted supplier Chesman Engineering of Coventry to make an entirely new pump to the exact original specifications, including all bearings and the seal housing.
Water pump aside, the engine itself was in good condition, having only recorded 13,000 relatively unstressed miles. All ancillary components were checked and if necessary overhauled (lifting the massive radiator was a two-man job). At some stage in the car’s history a non-standard rear exhaust box had been fitted and the mounting points altered. To bring back the system to manufacturer specification with the correct exhaust, Attilio remade the mounting points in the correct position.
To meet US exhaust emissions standards at the time it was built, the Lamborghini LM002 featured an air pump that delivered air into the exhaust whilst the engine was idling, effectively diluting exhaust gases with clean air. On examination the Bell Sport and Classic team discovered that this was no longer working on ZA00000HLA12040 as the control unit had burnt out. Although the exhaust air pump makes no discernible difference either to performance or fuel efficiency the owner’s instruction was clear; to bring it back to original condition. The team repaired the air pump and it now operates as intended, cutting out at 1200rpm and above.
At Bell Sport and Classic, the team’s philosophy is to treat each restoration project as if it was their own car, both in quality of work and value for money. To take one small example, a heater valve had jammed and had to be replaced. While the official (unavailable) Lamborghini part was listed at £165 an identical specification heater valve was sourced from a London Taxi parts listing at less than one-eighth of the price.
Suspension: a challenge to ingenuity
As you’d expect of a 2.7 tonne 4×4, the suspension of the LM002 is built to take a lot of punishment. At the rear there are two springs and two dampers per wheel, while the front features an unusual spring within a spring suspension unit, with the two springs wound in opposite directions. However, no service tool existed to disassemble the front unit, so Attilio Romano created his own specialist rig to compress and remove the two springs in one operation. Once apart, all suspension components were thoroughly checked and sent to be powder coated.
Restoring the transfer case
The LM002’s V12 engine sends its power via a propshaft to the transfer box, which gives the driver a choice of high or low ratio and rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. At some point in the car’s life the transfer box had become stuck in four-wheel drive. On examination, Attilio and the team discovered that the teeth on the dog gear and centre diff had been damaged. List price for a replacement transfer unit was over £6,000 – and no new units were available. Using his many years of engineering experience, Attilio was able to carefully reshape the teeth using die grinders and files, and now the transfer box once more works precisely as Sant’Agata’s engineers intended.
Wheel balancing – another challenge
The LM002 runs on massive 345/60 VR-17 Pirelli radials and given its potential top speed of 130mph, it’s clearly important to get them correctly balanced. As the team discovered, few companies have the equipment or knowhow to balance such large wheels and tyres, but R-Tec of St Albans did an excellent job.
It’s another example of the need for painstaking care; during the strip down Attilio Romano had noticed that a previous wheel balancing job hadn’t taken into account the close clearances between wheel inner and the suspension assembly and that all the weights had simply been knocked off as soon as the vehicle was driven.
Body and interior
The grey leather interior was in good condition for its age and its patina is part of the story of the vehicle, so it was carefully cleaned, and all minor tears and scuffs repaired. The car was sent for a full respray in the original factory Blu Acupulco Metallizato LMB501 finish and all door seals were replaced.
After eleven months, the full restoration was complete. All that remained were the final snagging runs and road tests. Attilio Romano recalls pulling in to a filling station to fuel the LM002. He put in £100-worth of petrol…and discovered that the gauge still showed near empty. That 290-litre tank capacity takes a lot of filling!
Master technician Attilio Romano – a unique skillset
Bell Sport and Classic is fortunate in having Attilio Romano as its Master Technician and his approach to the Lamborghini LM002 restoration was typically hands-on. Attilio has been repairing, servicing and restoring thoroughbred cars for over 40 years and has worked for many high-profile marques, most notably Ferrari and Bugatti. His experience with Bugatti began when the EB110 was launched, and he was proud to become the first factory-registered technician certified to work on the Veyron. Attilio has won a host of awards and was even Ferrari’s UK Technical Manager for a spell; he joined Bell Sport and Classic in 2016 and enjoys a close rapport with Bell Sport and Classic customers.