It was the late 1970s, and Lamborghini was in a bit of a financial rut, which is to say they were constantly near bankruptcy. In an attempt to move into solvency, Lamborghini figured they’d try their hand at a government contract, as the U.S. military was looking for a new all-terrain vehicle.
Enter the Lamborghini Cheetah, which you see pictured above. Built in California and then carted off to Italy for “finishing touches,” the Cheetah used a waterproofed 5.9-liter Chrysler V8 with 190 horsepower and a 3-speed automatic transmission — a simple combination that would’ve been a lot easier to fix on the battlefield than any engine Lamborghini was using at the time. Still, even without the optional doors or armor plating, the Cheetah weighed in at over 4,500 lb — so terms like “quick” and “responsive” were always paired with the word “not,” which was unusual for a Lamborghini. Also, while Porsche and VW made rear-engine cars work, the result in this case was apparently severely compromised handling characteristics. In other words, it may have said Lamborghini on it, but, it was actually a pig.
This, presumably coupled with the uncertainty about large-scale production, meant no contract was given to Lamborghini — but the story doesn’t end there. Later on, Lamborghini revealed the Cheetah to the public at the Geneva Auto Show, presumably to turn heads since the brand was known for sports cars. This caught the attention of FMC, another business who had created a similar concept vehicle for U.S. troops — and FMC sued Lamborghini due to the similarities. Before long, the Cheetah project was cancelled.
Interestingly, the story doesn’t quite end there. At the same time, BMW was creating an exotic sports car to homologate a racing vehicle, and BMW contracted Lamborghini to help produce it. But, after watching the failure of the Cheetah project and seeing Lamborghini’s lack of solvency, BMW pulled the plug on the partnership and developed the car on its own — the car that became the M1. Apparently, the M1 could’ve had Lamborghini DNA if not for this failure of a military vehicle.
And that’s the story of the Lamborghini Cheetah, a short-lived project that was too expensive to create, too slow, too similar to another car (perhaps its name should’ve been called the Cheater?), and far worse off-road than its African namesake — not exactly ideal for its intended use as a military combat vehicle. Find a Lamborghini for sale