The Lamborghini LM002 Was The World’s First Super SUV

Nicknamed the ‘Rambo Lambo’, the LM002 featured the same V12 as in a Countach. 

Super SUVs are so in vogue right now that it has come to a point whereby it is probably easier to name premium marques that don’t have at least one in their lineup. But while there is much to debate on which is the best, there should however be less debate on which is the first. 

Now sure, some might argue that it is the Porsche Cayenne that first kicked off this genre. And to their credit, the German sports car maker’s 911 on stilts was arguably the progenitor of this current super SUV craze.  

BMW also deserves some of the recognition with their X5, by being the first truly road-biased SUV on the market. And lets not forget the GMC Typhoon of the early 90s too, which with its turbocharged V6, was an SUV that could keep up with supercars of the time. 

That said, seeing an SUV keeping up with supercars wasn’t exactly a new thing even when the Typhoon came onto the market. Such is because of there already existed the Lamborghini LM002 back in 1986, which by nearly accounts is actually to be the world’s first-ever super SUV. It is quite hard to argue otherwise after all, especially when considering a Countach V12 lived under that boxy body. 

Yes, you didn’t read that wrong. Long before even Ferrari decided to stick a supercar V12 into its own SUV, Lamborghini was already doing exactly that back in the 80s with the LM002. Featuring under its hood a 450 hp 5.2-litre V12 extracted straight from the Countach, this behemoth of an off-roader was supposedly able to charge from 0 to 100 km/h in just 7.8 seconds.  

What more is that if the driver had the guts, this breeze block-shaped raging bull could somehow attain a top speed of 210 km/h. Though if even those rather impressive performance figures were not good enough, customers could apparently convince those barmy Italians at Sant’Agata to stuff one of Lamborghini’s marine-spec L804 7.2-litre V12 (typically found in off-shore powerboats) within the boxy body. 

The mad engine and performance however was just the tip of the insanity iceberg with this super SUV, because also fitted to this massive off-roader was also some rather special custom Pirelli Scorpion run-flat tyres. Custom commissioned by Lamborghini, a choice of two different tread designs was offered with the LM002: one for mixed use and the other for sand use only. And while the idea of a Lamborghini having tyres designed solely for use in sand is perhaps mad enough already, what is even more mad is that these tires were apparently designed to be capable of running flat-out and/or being run virtually flat (read: deflated) under the scorching desert heat. 

Even the tyres though aren’t to be the maddest aspect of the LM002. Nor would it be its extremely angular Spanish-built aluminium body that sits atop a race-car-style tubular steel frame, nor even the surprising fact that this Lambo features a roof-mounted stereo system in its leather-lined and air-conditioned cabin. Such is because the most insane part of the LM002 story will be how it came about in the first place, and that story will involve of all people, the US military.

See, back in the late 70s, Lamborghini somehow had the bright idea to enter the world of military vehicles, and this bright idea resulted in the 1977 Lamborghini Cheetah prototype. An open-cockpit fibreglass desert runner powered bizarrely by a rear-mounted 5.9-litre Chrysler V8, this permanent all-wheel drive dune buggy on steroids certainly looked the part of a military vehicle. But thanks to wayward handling and sluggish performance, the US military (which Lamborghini was hoping to be its main buyer) basically showed the Italian supercar maker the door. 

And the US military’s dismissal of the project was only to be the start of Lamborghini’s problems with this endeavour, as the company was soon after sued by a competing military contractor for allegedly copying its original design for the Cheetah. Add to that the exorbitant amount of money that the Italian supercar maker already spent on this project, and the military-spec big cat eventually contributed to bringing the raging bull to its financial knees in 1978.  

Though even a bout of bankruptcy didn’t manage to kill off the idea of an off-road Lambo, as the fresh injection of cash from Patrick and Jean-Claude Mimran that revived the company also came with the directive to revive the Cheetah. This time however instead of a military machine, it was to be a plush dune buggy intended for the Arab sheiks to prospect their desert oil fields in style. 

And hence was born then the LM001 in 1981, which was essentially the Cheetah but now with an enclosed cabin. Due to it still being the Cheetah however, its non-ideal handling and performance characteristics remained, and Lamborghini eventually shelved the project once more. 

But much like the company itself that had stubbornly refused to go under despite a multitude of financial problems since the early 70s, the idea of an off-road-ready raging bull also refused to die. Thus eventually after a long hard rethink (and ditching the problematic rear-mounted Chrysler V8), the ‘Rambo Lambo’ LM002 was finally unveiled nearly a decade after the ill-fated Cheetah began this whole wild saga. 

Funnily enough however, the US Military did somehow find itself back into the LM002 story. Though likely not in the way you’d imagine, as the American army used Uday Hussein’s captured LM002 for an ostensible car bomb test. 

Other less-controversial notable owners of the LM002 meanwhile were Keke Rosberg, Mike Tyson, Eddie Van Halen, and of course Rambo himself Sylvester Stallone. Tina Turner even famously had the Countach V12 ripped out of hers to fit a Mercedes V8 and automatic transmission, while the Sultan of Brunei had a one-off estate version commissioned for himself. 

And if you wanted to join the club, LM002s are now commanding around $300,000 (RM 1.4 million). About the same price then as Lamborghini’s current super SUV, but is the Urus really as cool as this Rambo Lambo?

Joshua Chin

Automotive journalist. Professional work on and Personal writing found at Instagram: @driveeveryday

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