From the September 1988 issue of Car and Driver.
No car in history has turned more heads or been the object of more unadulterated lust than the Lamborghini Countach. No car of past or present, not the Bugatti Royale, not the Ferrari 288 GTO, not even the Porsche 959, has been the subject of more conjecture, fascination, and awe than the outrageously exotic wedge from Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy. And here it is, in all its glory.
Well, not really. By now you know that the cars in this section are not what they seem. But the outlandish white beast pictured below sure does look like the real thing, so your quickened pulse and Pavlovian drooling are forgiven.
The truth is that the Countach you see here is a kit car—and a very good-looking one at that. From a distance, an expert would have trouble telling this replica from a genuine Countach. And, as you might imagine, most amateurs are easy to fool. Drive this great white shark down any street and the world around you goes berserk. Other drivers screech to a halt to steal a look. Children squeal with delight. Car guys disguised as pedestrians abandon their dates and give chase. Nothing matches the pandemonium that results when a Countach—even an ersatz Countach—comes to town.
Jim Lewis, a 36-year-old manager of a television-production company in Cape Canaveral, Florida, causes similar urban chaos every day. He owns the kit Countach you see here, and he says that the riotous responses it sparks wherever he drives it are becoming a bit of a headache. If you find it tough to feel sorry for him, we understand.
Lewis’s attention machine is a Prova Design Countach—the first one imported to this country. Built by Prova Designs, Ltd., in Darwen, England, the Prova Countach is a remarkably faithful recreation of the celebrated Italian supercar. The kit is available in many forms; the basic package include a fully assembled steel tube-frame chassis and steel-reinforced fiberglass body panels, primed for painting. The most complete kit include suspension pieces, a Renault five-speed transaxle (the same unit used in the Delorean sports car), a steering rack, a braking system, and interior fitments. Most of the sub-skin hardware comes from Fiat and English Ford parts bins.
The Prova Countach kit isn’t for beginners. Lewis, busy with his TV company, had neither the time nor the experience to put his Countach together, so he enlisted the services of Jim LaCoy. The owner of Toys by LaCoy, an auto-assembly and customizing shop in Titusville, Florida, LaCoy has been building and fixing cars for 35 years and is the distributor for Prova Countach kits in the Southeast. He sells the bare-bones Prova package for $7999. If you’re handier with money than with tools, LaCoy will build a Prova Countach for you any way you want it.
Lewis wanted his Prova Countach to be fast. The kit is designed for a Renault V-6 engine, but Lewis wanted the power and performance of a real Countach. In an attempt to meet that demand. LaCoy modified and installed a 5.8-liter Chevy V-8; he claims it produces about 400 hp. He then completely revised the deluxe kit’s suspension with Ford Mustang II pieces up front and Cadillac Eldorado parts at the rear. (Prova has since modified its deluxe kits for the U.S. to include the same American-made unequal-length-control-arm suspensions used by LaCoy.) LaCoy also installed a Ford Pinto steering rack and Ford Granada vented disc brakes . He kept the Renault transaxle, confident that it could handle the big V-8’s power. Finally, LaCoy added a full complement of VDO gauges, a six-speaker Alpine stereo system, and massive Pirelli P7R tires mounted on fifteen-inch Center Line wheels. He also painted the car in the blinding white that Lewis specified. The entire operation took about thirteen weeks and brought the price of Lewis’s Countach to $49,500.
If you don’t appreciate the refinement of production automobiles, you’ve probably never driven an exotic kit car. On the surface, Lewis’s 2605-pound, 400-hp Countach sounds perfect. It has a great body; huge, road-hugging tires; and a power-to-weight ratio greater than the Lamborghini original’s. In reality, though, the kit Countach need work—lots of work—if it’s ever going to approach the refinement or performance of any number of moderately priced production sports cars.
The Prova’s snarky skin looks sensational from a few feet away, but up close its kit-car heritage is immediately apparent. The windows, for instance, look as if they were sealed with a hair-triggered caulking gun. The interior looks much the same: the pieces and the execution leave a lot to be desired.
The beefy V-8 in our test car obviously didn’t like being stuck in the Prova’s tail: during our drives it stalled at stoplights and overheated frequently. And it was seriously lacking in power. The 136-mph top speed we recorded was far short of our expectations; with all 400 horses present and accounted for, the Prova should have easily exceeded 175. We calculate that, on our test day at least, the engine was producing about 200 horsepower.
Our disappointment continued throughout our testing. Shifting the five-speed transaxle from first to second was so difficult that we were unable to achieve any 0-to-60-mph run that reflected the car’s true capability. (Given a better-developed shift linkage, we estimate that our test car would have run from 0 to 60 in slightly less than six seconds.) And as we circled the skidpad (where we recorded a decent 0.84 g), the Prova sprayed gasoline out of one of its side-mounted filler caps. Not even a genuine, highly-strung Italian exotic has so many bad manners.
With time and luck, LaCoy may iron out many of our test-car’s problems. For now, the best we can say is that the Prova Designs Countach has almost all of the visual impact of the original. As a sports car, though, it only proves how hard it is to beat the experts at their own game.
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