Yes! Today’s Art History 101 lesson is not about Boticelli, not Da Vinci, nor Bernini. The featured artist is none-other than Ferruccio Lamborghini, founder of the famous car that bears his name.
This Art History lesson is a special edition not because the author is obsessed with Lamborghinis. Well, not their speed or driveability, but definitely their aesthetics. Whose pulse doesn’t quicken in the presence of great artwork?!
Since I regularly recommend/admonish my art students to get out and experience great artwork in person, I felt it my duty to be authentic to my word and did just that. On Saturday, August 31, 2019, late afternoon, I paid a visit to the Lamborghini North Los Angeles showroom.
Earlier that day I called to confirm showroom hours and location. The receptionist was very courteous and welcoming over the phone. (The last thing I wanted to experience was to be snubbed by snobbish staff.) Her tone made it easy for me to decide it would be worth the drive from Sherman Oaks to Woodland Hills in the 104-degree heat.
The showroom couldn’t have been easier to find. Right off the 101 freeway, at the Parkway Calabasas exit.
I parked my little green 2001 Prius with its scratch marks and a dent in the right rear side, in a shady spot across from the showroom entrance. With no sales personnel lurking, I was free to wander the outside lot, where a number of Lambos and a solitary Ferreri were sunning themselves. I fumbled for my iPhone, in awe of these stunning sports cars.
As I finished photographing them, I found myself feeling a little shy about entering their showroom. I figured I had taken enough photos, best to head home and start writing the blog.
Luckily, at that precise moment, a nice young man walked outside, asking if he could answer any questions. The gracious gentleman was Joshua (Josh) Clark, a Lamborghini Brand Specialist. I introduced myself, told him about my school, Pastimes for a Lifetime and the art history blog I was intending to write about Lamborghini for my students and readers. We exchanged business cards and without any attitude, thankfully, Josh graciously welcomed me into the showroom, offering me a bottled water. The air conditioning was refreshing.
As there were no other clients on the premises, Josh took me on a fun mini docent tour of the dealership. Fascinating details about the various colors, their unique names, finishes and the intel on the three models were pointed out. The aerodynamic Huracán is a V10. The Aventador is a V12 engine with up to 770 HP. Its roadster version caught my breath. The Urus isn’t just another SUV. It is the world’s first Super Sport Utility Vehicle as well as the first 5-seater super sports car. (My visit was not for the SUV, though so I skipped taking its photograph.)
I felt as if I were in an art gallery, but without the annoying armed guards that come at me whenever I want to get a close-up glimpse of a painting or sculpture.
The highlight of the tour was being invited to sit in a Lamborghini. I chose the bright green Huracan Evo. Josh pointed out that the driver’s seat is designed to resemble the cockpit of an airplane. Exhilarating is an understatement. As I reluctantly exited the divine vehicle, something caught my eye. I did a double-take, but Josh assured me that my eyes were not playing tricks on me. A projector is built into the car door, beaming the Lamborghini logo onto the ground whenever the door opens. Gah!
Beyond its stunning car designs, what intrigued me most about Lamborghini is the humble beginning of its founder. A number of great artists throughout history started from modest beginnings. One of my favorite American painters, Charles Webster Hawthorne worked as an office-boy by day in a factory while attending art school at night. I have a soft spot in my heart for genuine hard-working people who are dedicated to the arts.
When I learned that Ferruccio Lamborghini was born into a grape farming family between the two World Wars, I had to pay homage and dedicate an art history blog in his honor. When I learned of the impetus for creating his line of super sports cars, I had to tell the story. (Sorry, not sorry Ferrari. Hah!)
Here are the Art History 101 takeaways gleaned from car journalist Kurt Ernst‘s Apr 28th, 2016 Hemmings Daily article Remembering Ferruccio Lamborghini, on what would have been his 100th Birthday and David Cavaliere, editor-in-chief of The Italian Tribune‘s March 23, 2017 piece, Part 52 – Lamborghini: The Early Years. There may be a quiz at the end of this blog so please pay attention to the details.
•Ferruccio Elio Arturo Lamborghini was born on April 28, 1916, in the town of Cento in the region of Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
• His parents were grape farmers. As a young man, Ferruccio was interested in the farm machinery rather than farming itself.
• He developed a keen mechanical aptitude. This gained him entrance into the Fratelli Taddia technical institute near Bologna, but the Second World War intervened before Lamborghini could complete his coursework.
• In 1940, he was drafted into the Italian Royal Air Force and served as a mechanic on the Greek Island of Rhodes. In 1944, the island fell to the British Armed Forces and Ferruccio became a prisoner of war. He was put to work in their motor depot, providing him first-hand experience at keeping vehicles on the road with limited parts and supplies.
• He was not permitted to return home until 1946, but shortly thereafter, he married Clelia Monti, who tragically died during childbirth in 1947. Their son Tonino survived and many years later would found the Lamborghini Museum.
• Once back home, Ferruccio started converting war surplus material into farm equipment for local use. After he built a tractor for his father Antonio, he started Lamborghini Trattori. By the mid-1950s, the tractor factory in Pieve di Cento had grown to become one of the most successful agricultural equipment manufacturers in Italy.
• Of special note to my fellow Marketing Majors:
To distinguish his tractors from those of the competition, Ferruccio adopted a black-and-white uniform and used a logo that incorporated a fighting bull, a nod to both the equipment’s rugged construction and to his own zodiac sign, Taurus. His company quickly became an important manufacturer of agricultural equipment in the midst of Italy’s post-WWII economic boom.
• Lamborghini amassed his fortune in the early 1960s, before his 15th birthday. Hey Harvard Business School, how about that! My Delta Sigma Pi Professional Business Fraternity Brothers will enjoy this.
• His wealth allowed Lamborghini to purchase fast expensive cars. He owned Alfa Romeos, Lancias and Maseratis and a number of Ferrari’s.
• Although Lamborghini enjoyed the Ferrari’s performance, he noted several shortcomings including poor ride quality, spartan interiors and that the clutches required constant trips to the factory in Maranello for replacement.
• Here’s my favorite business story: Ferruccio arranged a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, who kept him waiting for hours and following his description of the problem was dismissed by the ‘Old Man,’ who told him that the problem lay not with the clutch, but with the driver. Lamborghini was furious. He had a factory mechanic look at the clutch on the 250 and found that it was similar to those used on the Lamborghini tractors. After getting over being insulted and infuriated, Ferruccio realized that many of the components already being used in his tractors could also be used in cars. If he decided to manufacture cars, this would save development time and show higher profit margins.
Moral to this story: Don’t piss off a good client. He will become your arch rival.
• In 1962, Lamborghini began researching how to build a super sports car that would rival Ferrari. Everyone thought he was nuts. (My kind of nuts!) Ferruccio wisely ignored the naysayers and Automobili Lamborghini was incorporated on October 30, 1963. Work began in a 500,000-square-foot facility that Ferruccio purchased at Via Modena 12, in the town of Sant’Agata Bolognese. The factory layout allowed him to keep an eye on production and as needed, roll up his sleeves and work on the cars himself when something was not to his liking. At the time, one motoring journalist wrote, “This company is bound to cause Ferrari some headaches.” Hah!
• Being a graphic designer myself, I wanted to learn the backstory and history of Lamborghini’s famous logo. According to author Nat Berman‘s story, “The History and Story Behind the Lamborghini Logo” in Money Inc., Ferruccio had an image in his mind of how he wanted the logo to look and what it would symbolize.
In Europe, family crests are usually in the form of a shield. It was only natural that Lamborghini’s logo be in the shape of a shield. According to family crest tradition, a black background symbolizes constancy. Gold represents faith and gentility. The name Lamborghini appears across the top of the shield above an image of a golden bull.
Quiz question: What is a bull doing on a Lamborghini logo?
Quiz answer: There are two reasons for the use of a bull in the Lamborghini logo.
The first is to represent Lamborghini’s zodiac sign, Taurus (represented by a bull).
The second is to remember his passion for bullfighting as he would regularly attend bullfighting events. Ferruccio Lamborghini believed that the bull was the perfect image to use on his company’s logo as it was a reflection of himself.
More from the naysayers…When Ferruccio Lamborghini first introduced his Lamborghini logo, it caused controversy and he faced criticism. This was because there were many similarities between the logos of Lamborghini and their rival company Ferrari. This was not an accident on Lamborghini’s part as he was always open about his rivalry with the other car brand. The similarities are the shield shape of the logo, the use of gold and black, and the fact that both logos feature an animal, although the Ferrari logo is a horse, not a bull. (See “Moral to this story”, above.)
When it comes to art history, I enjoy comparing an artist’s first works to their last. For example, Picasso’s first works are remarkably different than his later pieces. Um, yeah.
It was a treat to locate the first Lamborghini built, the 350 GTV with its V12 engine circa November 1963. The factory completed it just in time to be entered in the Turin Auto Show. Quite different from today’s Aventador, but just as stunning.
Car history buffs interested in the production of subsequent Lamborghini models will enjoy visiting this webpage with its timeline from 1963 to the present.
Pop Quiz (I warned you this was coming.) See how well you do.
1. What is Lamborghini’s first name?
2. Before what age did Lamborghini amass his fortune?
3. What year did he incorporate Automobili Lamborghini?
4. Why did Lamborghini decide to create his own line of super sports cars?
5. What animal is on the Lamborghini logo and why?
[Answers are in the blog. You’ll have to read it to find them.]
Well, I must say, this blog is among my most favorite I’ve written. Sadly, at over $400,000.00, this will likely be the only Lamborghini I will own on a teacher’s salary.
As for driving one, I’m def gonna check out Exotics Racing at some point. Who would like to join me?
Art History 101 reviews selected artists from periods of history that continue to influence today’s culture and taste. If you enjoyed this story, please feel free to share on your favorite social media. Comments appreciated! If there is an artist you would like us to feature, please comment below. Thank you for your support!