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Lamborghini Marzal concept returns to Monaco for another lap of the Grand Prix circuit

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Photos courtesy Lamborghini.

Though it technically debuted a couple months prior, the Lamborghini Marzal – the concept car that would eventually spur European coachbuilders to one-up each other with ever-wilder designs – made headlines in May of 1967 when Prince Rainier and Princess Grace drove it at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix. This past weekend, the freshly restored Marzal returned to the streets of Monaco to reprise that driving debut.

“Space was a big thing then and the Marzal was a move towards science fiction,” Marcello Gandini told Gautam Sen for Sen’s biography of the designer. “These concept prototypes were a way of showcasing the cars of the future.”

Fresh off his design of the Miura, Gandini told his boss, Nuccio Bertone, that he wanted to not only design Lamborghini’s first concept car for the 1967 Geneva Motor Show, he also wanted to make it a mid-engine four-seater, in part due to Ferrucio Lamborghini’s desire to build a four-seater GT rather than a 2+2. Nobody (excepting, perhaps, Rod Hoffman with the X-8) had previously tried such a configuration, largely because it seemed impossible at first glance: How to accommodate both the rear passengers and the drivetrain without making the car the length of a limousine?

Gandini’s solution didn’t quite fit the parameters of his ultimate goal and would ultimately doom any chance at production the Marzal would have. Though he started with a Miura chassis stretched by five inches, Gandini still didn’t have enough room for both a second row of occupants and the Mirua’s transverse V-12, so he asked Giampolo Dallara to halve the V-12, resulting in a 2.0L straight-six engine slanted at 30 degrees. He also asked Dallara to set up the engine and the Miura’s transaxle to operate 180 degrees opposite of its normal configuration, effectively making the vehicle rear-engined. Mounting the radiator behind the engine gave Gandini enough luggage space under the long hood for all four passengers.

With the added wheelbase and length, the body of the concept car couldn’t be as lithe as the Miura, so Gandini instead decided to make it stand out with gullwing doors made up almost entirely of glass. “Combined with the smoked glass roof, (the doors) gave the car a feeling of futuristic lightness and airiness,” Sen wrote. These, too, would also doom the car’s shot at production down the road, but they also made it much easier to highlight the sci-fi silver-upholstered leather interior littered with hexagons.

Six-sided shapes, in fact, permeated the entire design of the car, from the opening for the Marchal headlamp sextet and bumper to the Campagnolo magnesium wheels to the louvers over the engine. “Maybe there were too many hexagons,” Gandini told Sen, in response to critiques of hexagonitis in the car’s design. “But it was a concept car, and concept cars need to be a little over the top.”

Christened the Marzal, the car debuted at Geneva that March to positive reviews from the automotive press but became a minor sensation following its appearance at the Monaco Grand Prix. Throughout the remainder of 1967, road tests lauded the car’s performance (the 180 horsepower from the six-cylinder was good for 140 MPH), driveability, and design; reviewers all but begged for Lamborghini to put the Marzal into production.

Ferrucio Lamborghini, however, balked. Most stories about the Marzal point out his objection to the windowed gullwing doors that “offered no privacy: A lady’s legs would be there for all to see.” But as Sen pointed out, Lamborghini’s chief contention with the Marzal boiled down to its six-cylinder engine. It wasn’t powerful enough, for one, and “when the calculation was done, it was found that the cost of making the Marzal would come close to that of Lamborghini’s 400 GT, and with it, the realization that people paying V-12 level money would not settle for a mere six.”

But Lamborghini’s decision did not doom the Marzal to inconsequentiality. It paved the way for the similarly styled but more conventionally powered Espada four-seater, unveiled in March 1968; it enraged Alfa Romeo’s Giuseppe Luraghi, who felt Bertone should have saved something futuristic for Alfa Romeo and its upcoming Montreal concept car; and it (perhaps aided by a certain Syd Mead design) ignited an intense period of concept car design with Bertone, Pininfarina, Italdesign, and others unveiling progressively lower and more extreme visions of supercars into the early 1970s.

As for the Marzal itself, after displaying it at auto shows through January 1968, Bertone added it to the company’s collections. There it remained until the design house and coachbuilder, amid a period of financial turmoil, sold off many of its more precious concept cars, including the Marzal, at RM’s Villa d’Este auction in 2011. Swiss collector Albert Spiess bought the Marzal for $2.1 million and turned it over to Lamborghini Polo Storico for a full restoration, which concluded last year.

This past weekend’s driving re-debut of the Marzal at the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique included a ceremonial lap with Monaco’s Prince Albert II at the wheel. Accompanying it was another Polo Storico-restored Lamborghini, a 1968 Espada, there to celebrate the Espada’s 50th anniversary.