For many, the recent crisis of 2008 through to 2012 was the worst downturn for the automotive industry in many years. But the mid-1970s were in many ways just as grim, though many of the players in the industry were stronger then and could weather the economic storm better than in recent crises. For makers of fine cars, however, those were desperate times indeed. But many of the designs of those years, some of the best ever, seem to defy the desperation and might fool one into thinking it was an automotive golden age.
At Bertone and Lamborghini, as at many of the Italian carrozzeria and manufacturers, there were no such illusions. Their finances were in dire straits and most of the concept cars of that era were desperate marketing attempts to generate work in a rapidly declining market.
Such was the situation when Bertone decided to propose an alternative to the Urraco; a project that would ultimately be named Bravo, a Spanish term for a particularly bold and brave fighting bull. It would be symbolic of the project, executed in very hard times. “Nuccio Bertone and I thought that [making] a smaller pure two-seater out of the Urraco would make an interesting concept car,” recalled Marcello Gandini, chief designer at Bertone at the time.
The Bravo was meant to be a lighter, nimbler version of the 2+2 Urraco. That car, which was moving into full production in 1974 after a troubled start a year earlier, had its teething problems, while the four-seat format was not popular with many potential Lamborghini buyers. The V12-powered Countach had also (finally) started production almost three years after the introduction of the concept car in 1971, but it was thought that a sportier Urraco still might have a place in a future Lamborghini line.
Lamborghini donated a three-litre V8 to Bertone, and even tuned it to 300 horsepower – proof that the Bravo was meant to be more than just a shiny show car. The engine would be transverse-mounted amidships. As Bertone was also building the Urraco production car, a chassis was pulled off the assembly line for modification.
Gandini set about redesigning the Uracco, a design several years old by the time it reached production, into a new kind of sports car. His design began by removing the rear seat and shortening the chassis by 200mm. Bertone wanted to use the new Pirelli P7 tyres then coming on the market, their width demanding a widening of the track both front and rear – and the overall car by some 110 mm.
The mechanicals that underpinned the Bravo may have been based on the Urraco, but the design that emerged from Gandini’s drawing board was really an evolution of the Countach. If anything, it was more of a wedge, dispensing with the Countach’s Miura-inspired curves.
The great windscreen sloped at virtually the same angle as the bonnet and was flanked by trianglular quarter lights. The A-pillar was extremely thin and hidden by the glass that was bonded to it. Louvred panels covered both the front and rear, ventilating the engine and radiator. A small boot was placed behind the engine.
Although the perspective in photographs gives a sense of the dynamism and futuristic nature of the design, it is in the elevations that one sees the underlying proportions. The balance of overall mass to wheelbase, the overhangs, the multiple trapezoidal shapes, it all comes together here in an elegant balance of form.
The interior was simple, almost stark in its simplicity. The simple IP was a strip of instruments with a fascia of brushed aluminium. The IP and seats were covered in Alcantara – a new fabric back then, which had previously only been used in the Lancia Stratos HF. The seats, with an H-point even lower than in the Urraco, meant that driver and passenger were almost supine as they travelled. Fortunately, with the broad windscreen and thin A-pillars, there was a panoramic view out toward the road and landscape beyond.
The Bravo concept was introduced in October 1974 at the Turin Motor Show to great acclaim. Because it was an actual running prototype, it was fully tested by the press, who raved at its more compact size and nimble handling. Road and Track magazine proclaimed it “the car the Urraco could have been.”
In the end though, there was just no money for the development and manufacture of the Bravo. The Urraco would be produced until 1979 and then make way for the Silhouette and latterly the Jalpa. The Countach would be the raging bull’s flagship for 16 years.
There was some talk of the Bravo succeeding the Fiat X1/9 in 1987, but Fiat ended the programme and moved on. Lamborghini itself would lurch from crisis to crisis throughout the 1970s and ultimately go bankrupt in 1980.
As for the Bravo itself, it was always a running test bed and did at least 40,000 miles after doing the motor show rounds. The car was then retired and placed in Bertone’s museum. Unlike many concept cars, it received a periodic ‘refresh’ – both in paint and mechanicals. As the photos here show, it was originally painted a light metallic gold, then a bold metallic green, then finally a pearlescent white.
The Bravo is often overlooked by those reviewing both Lamborghini’s history and Gandini’s marvellous career. Its design is more subtle and elegant than many of the wedge-era cars, and is in many ways more timeless. It speaks to the potentials – and of the challenges – of that era, of the opportunities won and lost. On the eve of the Turin show, just before the reveal, Nuccio Bertone commented, “The Bravo represents my trust in the future, which will undoubtedly see the present difficulties overcome".
Bravo, Mr. Bertone. Bravo.