The secret story of the Countach that saved Lamborghini

1982 Lamborghini Countach prototype
1982 Lamborghini Countach prototype

No car has ever created a higher ratio of bedroom posters to real-world examples than the Lamborghini Countach, a supercar that ranks among the world's best in both the 1970s and '80s. Last week, the Bring A Trailer site announced it had listed a unique 1982 Lamborghini Countach for sale -- a factory prototype that can arguably be said to have saved Lamborghini, thanks to two men whose story has remained hidden for years.

While the V-12 Countach went into production in 1974, the car didn't meet U.S. emissions standards -- and wouldn't for nearly a decade. The inability of Lamborghini to sell its cars in the United States played a role in its 1978 bankruptcy, and by 1982 the company was still struggling to produce a return for any investor. It also lacked the resources to meet tougher pollution standards that required extensive revisions to its engines.

That's where two American entrepreneurs stepped in. Trefor Thomas had worked around exotic cars for years, and Jas Rarewala was an Iranian-born engineer who had worked with Lamborghini before its collapse. Together, the two men attempted to buy the Lamborghini factory from the bankruptcy court. When that bid failed, Thomas and Rarewala bought the exclusive rights to sell Lamborghinis in North America -- on the condition they could make them meet U.S. emissions standards, a task no other dealer was willing to tackle.

1982 Lamborghini Countach
1982 Lamborghini Countach

Thomas, in a lengthy history laid out with the car, says Rarewala and he took a 5-liter V-12 engine from the Lamborghini factory in July 1981 and managed to reverse-engineer a fuel-injection system to replace the six Weber carburetors that powered the vehicles in Europe. By the time they finished, not only did the Countach meet standards for the first time, it had done so while still producing 335 hp and 319 ft-lbs of torque. The Countach above was the one taken to Ann Arbor, Mich., where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave it a seal of approval. The system was adopted by Lamborghini in 1983, allowing it to sell the Countach in the United States legally -- proving there was more than enough demand to keep the company alive:


"Conventional wisdom didn't get me involved in Lamborghini…32 people whom I had known to be involved with the exotic car business told me that the Countach could never be legalized for the United States…In the first 18 months I had 283 dealership requests and orders for 150 cars. Considering we only needed 12 dealers maximum and were only allocated 60 cars a year at the time I don't think we did too badly."

From there, the story turns dark. Thomas and Rarewala soon became entangled in brutal business disputes, and sued Lamborghini and later Chrysler, which bought Lamborghini in 1987 out of bankruptcy after the upswing in Countach sales. Thomas' detailed history of the fights has harsh words for most of the Chrysler executives involved, and says the stress of the legal battles contributed to Rarewala's death in 2003.

Thomas and Rarewala's Countach has been through three owners since passing from their hands, with only 9,000 miles driven. At an asking price of $340,000, it's now valued at what half of Lamborghini's entire business once brought in the United States -- before two dedicated car enthusiasts brought a dream back from the brink.