In 2022, Lamborghini celebrates the V12, the legendary 12-cylinder engine that has powered its most iconic models for nearly 60 years. The Diablo is a model that marked its decade by being Lamborghini’s very first 4WD sports car. When it debuted, the Diablo was so far ahead of its time that it was identified as a production hypercar. Officially presented on January 21, 1990 during Lamborghini Day at the Sporting in Monte-Carlo, the 12-cylinder engine initially had a displacement of 5.7 liters and then 6.0 liters, developing a maximum power of nearly 600 hp in the road and of 655 hp in via the Diablo GT1 Stradale model for circuit, of which only two units were made.
The « pure » V12 combustion engine in its final form will go out of production before the end of 2022, when the last Aventador Ultimae will be manufactured. From next year, the heiress of the Aventador will be equipped with a new plug-in hybrid version of the V12 engine, closing a great chapter in the history of the brand from Sant’Agata bolognese.
A commercial success that lasted 11 years
The Diablo holds a special place in Automobili Lamborghini’s history and in the hearts of enthusiasts, and not just because of its stunning performance and driving experience. It was the model that propelled the automaker into the modern era. The 132 project – as it was called within the company – was born in 1985 to replace the Lamborghini Countach, so it had to convey all the power of the Sant’Agata-based car manufacturer: to look sporty and muscular but still attractive ; deliver the aesthetics Lamborghini has always been known for; and be upgradable, to remain the fastest production car in the world for years to come. The way it handled the road during the first tests was astonishing, a success achieved thanks to the intense development work that involved former world rally champion Sandro Munari. During its commercial life, which lasted until 2001, the Diablo also demonstrated its ability to transform and adapt to market demands and customer expectations. With 2,903 units manufactured over the 11 years of production, the Lamborghini Diablo was a huge success.
Development of the V12 engine
The technical cornerstone of the Diablo remains the 60° V12 engine, directly derived from the 3.5 liter engine of 1963, increased to 5.7 liters over the years. The latter, in fact, was the engine size when the Diablo debuted. In this configuration, the rear longitudinal position with catalytic converter generated a maximum power of 492 hp at 6,800 rpm and a torque value of 580 Nm at 5,200 rpm. It also featured Lamborghini-Weber Marelli LIE electronic fuel injection. In 1999, first with the Diablo GT and later with the Diablo 6.0 SE, the engine displacement was increased to 6.0 liters and thanks to better fuel injection calibration it reached 525 hp and 605 Nm of torque.
Restyled Diablo: faster and more powerful
The turning point for Lamborghini came in 1998, when Audi bought the company. The automaker finally had enough resources to develop a more refined industrial plan and gained access to components and technology it had never dreamed of. The new owners also saw the Diablo as something to keep and develop. This led to the birth of Diablo’s second series, designed in the brand new in-house Centro Stile. Even faster and more powerful than ever thanks to the larger 6-litre V12 engine, it also boasted more luxurious finishes and increased reliability in daily driving, the result of rigorous quality control during the design, testing and production.
1993: Launch of the Diablo VT, Lamborghini’s first sports car with four-wheel drive
Originally, the Diablo’s mechanics, though refined, were still traditional, consisting of a chain-driven four-cam rear longitudinal engine, electronic fuel injection, rear-wheel drive and a mechanical transmission. Power steering didn’t arrive until 1993, and the electronics were only there to manage the engine. The Lamborghini Diablo VT, Lamborghini’s first four-wheel-drive super sports car was introduced in 1993, setting the benchmark for handling and driving safety in all conditions.
‘VT’ stands for ‘Viscous Traction’, as the torque transfer from the rear axle to the front axle takes place via a viscous coupling. With this system, the VT version is normally a rear-drive vehicle with up to 20% transfer to the front wheels only if the rear wheels slip via a viscous coupling and a driveshaft connected to the front differential. The Diablo VT also introduced another innovation for Lamborghini: the electronically controlled suspension, with five preset operating programs to choose from.
1995: Debut of the Diablo Roadster, the first Lamborghini V12 convertible
With the Diablo V12 also being produced in an open-top version, the Diablo started another new tradition. In fact, a few timid attempts had been made in previous years, but these were point releases. In December 1995, the Diablo Roadster debuted, sporting a carbon fiber Targa roof housed over the engine cover when lowered.
Lamborghini returned to racing with the Diablo, thanks to the Super Sport Trophy – later the Super Trofeo – racing championship, where it made its debut in a parallel race during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1996. Thirty-four Lamborghini Diablo 550 hp SV-Rs were aimed at gentlemen drivers who entered hour-long races.
The Diablo in movies
The Lamborghini Diablo has made appearances in many films. One of the most memorable scenes is from the American movie “Dumb & Dumber” starring Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and the Red Diablo in which they arrive at the hotel.
She also appeared in the 2001 film “Exit Wounds,” directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, starring “DMX” Earl Simmons and Anthony Anderson. Here, a 1999 Diablo VT Roadster steals the show in the car showroom scene, bought in cash after an exhilarating engine.
Finally, in the « Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit » video game, the car featured is a Diablo SV.