The unveiling of the Lamborghini Miura shocked the auto industry and then the rest of the world at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show. While just down the aisle Ferrari showed its customary front-engined cars in the form of the somewhat underwhelming 365 GTC Spyder and 330 GTC, the Miura was a mid-engined marvel -- except that the prototype didn't actually have an engine in it.
No matter, Ferruccio Lamborghini kept the empty engine bay locked while his engineers continued to work on its muscular V12 back in Sant'Agata Bolognese.
Even without an engine, the Miura -- named after a breed of Spanish fighting bull and designed by the legendary house of Bertone -- was so beautiful and powerful-looking that even Ferrari's own team couldn't keep away from it. And Lamborghini confidently assured everyone it would indeed be the world's fastest production car.
"Ferrari was stunned by the appearance of the Miura," writes Joe Sackey in The Lamborghini Miura Bible (Veloce Books, 2008). "Lore has it that Gianni Agnelli [chairman of Ferrari parent Fiat] virtually went bananas, dragging his men over to Lamborghini's stand and saying to them, 'Look, this is what we should be thinking about!' To say that the Miura caused sleepless nights in Maranello would be an understatement."
As the Miura's 50th anniversary approaches the car is more revered than ever. "The Miura created in 1966, only three years after the foundation of Automobili Lamborghini, is one of the most iconic sports cars of all time and a defining product for Lamborghini until today," current Automobili Lamborghini President and CEO Stephan Winkelmann tells CNN.
"With its transversely mid-mounted 12 cylinder engine it was our first mid-engine car and became the first super sports car of modern imprint: sensational design, revolutionary approach and the founder of the brand myth. Our mission [today] is it to preserve this myth."
Following the 1966 Geneva show, orders quickly piled up for the world's first supercar, which cost $20,000 (the equivalent of about $145,000 in 2016). Between 1966 and 1969 Lamborghini built and sold 275 first generation Miuras, known internally as the P400.
It proved especially popular with famous musicians including Miles Davis, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, who had his interior custom-upholstered in wild boar leather. The Miura stayed in production until 1973 when a global financial downturn, the oil crisis and new auto emissions regulations conspired to do it in.
As for Ferruccio Lamborghini, he sold his shares in the then-troubled company and retired to a farm in Umbria in 1974. "I'm enjoying the peace and quiet of my vineyard," he said a few years later. "And when I miss the sound and the fury, I take refuge in my garage and turn the key in the ignition of my Miura."