The Lamborghini Diablo is the 90s supercar legend your dreams deserve
Talk about big shoes for filling. When the Lamborghini Countach entered the twilight years in the late 1980s, the company had the arduous task of designing a car that surpassed the visual, acoustic, and dynamic sucker punch of its legendary V-12 super wedge. The new Lambo had to buckle up eyebrows and knees at a height of 1,000 feet if it was to be called anything but a letdown.
Yeah, well – you can see where this is going. Despite a top speed of over 200 mph – just the second production car – and far easier to drive than its ppy, the Diablo is a mid-range kid. As for the big Lambos – of which there have only been five so far – the Diablo is relatively unloved.
We must emphasize that all of this slight negativity is best read through the Lamborghini lens, rather than by the general public. When you bring a Diablo of any color or vintage out in the public eye, you risk a ticket to public disruption with the amount of phones dragged out of pockets and pedestrians leaving you in their footsteps. Us? Oh, we’re big fans of the ’90s bull. Let’s take a look at why you should bet more respect in the name of Diablo.
Development for the Countach replacement began in 1985, initially known internally as Project 132. Lamborghini heads Patrick and Jean Claude Mimran determined that the new supercar should be a 200 km / h cable and commissioned legendary designer Marcello Gandini to write the slippery profile of Project 132. Before development could really begin, the Mimrans sold Lamborghini and all of its assets for $ 25.2 million in 1987 to Chrysler, who in turn invested much-needed funds in the emerging project that eventually brought it to completion.
Under Chrysler’s direction, Gandini’s original design was changed to be less angular. The final completion was done by the Viper designer Tom Gale. The finished Diablo lived up to its name; Power came from a 5.7-liter configuration of the longtime Bizzarrini V-12, which fed the rear wheels with 492 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque via a five-speed manual transmission. Did the Diablo production meet Mimran’s mandate of a top speed of 196 mph? You’re welcome. On a long enough straight with a brave driver, the Diablo drove to a speed of 202 mph and took just 4.5 seconds to reach 60 mph on the way. All of this at a time when the contemporary Mustang GT was struggling to crack 6.0 seconds to 60 mph.
It was a much simpler car to live and drive in than its direct predecessor – which doesn’t say much – especially given the Diablo’s dramatic improvements in ergonomics and space requirements. The leather-lined and fitted Diablo sold like free beer in its first year of production, only sales declined dramatically soon thereafter.
A new all-wheel drive Diablo was introduced in 1993 to improve the overall quality of life. The Diablo VT – or “Viscous Traction” – has taken over the all-wheel drive system from the brutal LM002, allowing the front wheels to handle up to 40 percent of the available power when the system detects slip. As part of the all-wheel drive, the VT had 25 percent new components, including a new clutch, wider seats, ventilation slots for the brakes, electronically adjustable dampers and power steering.
Also in 1993 was the mighty Diablo SE30, which was so named on the occasion of the automaker’s 30th anniversary. Thanks to the updated fuel system, new exhaust and intake manifold, the power increased to 523 hp. The VT fairing was not an option here to save weight. Even the new adjustable suspension of the VT was left on the workshop shelf in favor of electronically adjustable stabilizers. The diet was continued with fixed Plexiglas windows on cars in the Euro market, along with the omission of air conditioning, power steering and sound system.
Visually, the Diablo SE30 has optimized almost every aspect of the exterior design, including the front and rear panels, tailgate, spoilers and bumpers. The most noticeable difference was the light purple metallic color, a color officially known as Lambo Thirty. Really. If the above asceticism wasn’t enough, a rare iota package was available for the SE30 that increased power to 595 horsepower and 471 lb-ft and added a neat roof scoop that rightly made the rearview mirror unusable.
The inevitable roadster variant hit the market in 1995, only offered in VT configuration and incorporating some of the aesthetic changes of the SE30. The carbon fiber targa roof was (surprisingly) electronically operated and stowed over the trunk lid when the driver opted for his daily dose of vitamin D. On the opposite side of the Diablo range, the new Diablo SV debuted at the base level year. The SV package increased the power to 510 hp and added an adjustable rear spoiler and slightly larger rear brakes.
In the 1999 model year, Lamborghini’s new owner Audi gave the Diablo a major refresh. The headlights have now been fixed – yes, pulled from the contemporary Nissan 300ZX – and the base non-SV Diablo has been eliminated, making the SV the entry point. The interior received the biggest makeover with new gauges, steering wheel, and finishes, while the 5.7-liter V-12’s power jumped to 529 hp and 446 lb-ft.
With the Audi-designed Murcielago right on the horizon, the Diablo went out with a considerable bang. The 5.7-liter V-12 was increased to 6.0 liters for a special range of vehicles, starting with the incredibly track-oriented Diablo GT from 1999-2000. Aside from tons of functional aero and a set of nifty three-piece OZ wheels, the interior has been outfitted with carbon fiber panels, racing seats, and a smaller-diameter steering wheel. That new 6.0-liter engine screamed at the rear wheels with 575 horsepower and 465 lb-ft via the same five-speed manual transmission that’s been on the Diablo since day one. Only 80 were ever built and most were sold overseas.
Less hardcore, but no less exciting, was the Diablo VT 6.0 and VT 6.0 SE produced between 2000 and 2001. Think of this as the middle ground between the regular VT and GT, with a slightly detuned version of the 6.0-liter, now rated at 549 horsepower and 457 lb-ft for a top speed of a nice, clean 205 mph. Lambo picked 40 of these VT 6.0s from the assembly floor for the SE and coated them with either metallic gold or bronze. SEs also got a cool kit like shorter gears, improved upholstery, “Lamborghini” script on the calipers, carbon fiber fairing and magnesium intake manifold.
Eleven years of Diablo production ended in 2001, leaving plenty of room for the incredible and hugely popular Lamborghini from the early 2000s, Murcielago, which arrived for the 2002 model year and set the standard for the future Audi Lamborghini. As important as the Murcielago is to the brand, we love the Diablo – all 2,884. We’ll take ours early, in black, with a red interior. Call us when it’s out.