We Put a Lamborghini Miura in a Wind Tunnel to See How Far Supercar Aero Has Come

lamborghini miura
We Put a Miura in a Wind Tunnel. How Bad Was It?Mattia Balsamini - Hearst Owned
lamborghini miura
How far have supercar aerodynamics progressed in the past half-century? There’s only one way to find out.Mattia Balsamini

The Winds of Change Blew Through Sant’agata Bolognese in 1965

Lamborghini was in its formative years. Gorgeous 350 GTs—conceived and realized to spite Enzo Ferrari in the Old Man’s favored front-engine V-12 configuration—were birthed in the chaotic factory, the sounds of hammering and the fizz and crackle of welding torches often subsumed by completed GTs being coaxed into life. The rich noise was already echoing far and wide. But soon this tiny operation and its naive and fearless young engineering team would shock the world and inspire a new breed of high-performance mid-engine road cars. They called their radical wonder Miura. The people would come to bestow upon it a different title: supercar.


This story originally appeared in Volume 21 of Road & Track.

wind tunnel panel
Nothing looks more legitimately sciencey than a panel packed with dials, buttons, and colored lights.Mattia Balsamini

The as-yet-unnamed Miura’s rolling chassis, developed by Giampaolo Dallara and cradling a transverse Giotto Bizzarrini–designed V-12, debuted at Salone dell’Automobile di Torino in November 1965. Dallara was on the cusp of his 29th birthday. Bizzarrini, who’d developed the Ferrari 250 GTO, was the veteran of the group but still just 39. That chassis was compact, ingenious, and deeply exotic, as it sat on Borrani wire wheels covered in Pirelli Cinturato HS rubber and had ceramic-coated exhausts jutting out of four exits. In ’66, clothed in stunningly beautiful lines penned by 27-year-old Marcello Gandini for Bertone, the Miura arrived at the Geneva Auto Salon. Hysteria ensued.

lamborghini miura
Does anyone still drive a Miura fast enough for its aero­dynamic shortcomings to reveal themselves?Mattia Balsamini

Nearly 60 years later, Gandini’s masterpiece still has the power to remove the intellect of grown adults and reduce them to hunched figures making odd groans. There’s a language barrier between myself and the staff at Pininfarina S.p.A.’s wind tunnel, but our mutual appreciation for the finest work ever to emerge from their greatest rival design house is crystal clear. It is truly spectacular to behold.

However, today isn’t about appreciation but rather myth and legend—perhaps reinforcing them, maybe exploding them with data. It’s about revealing the secrets of the Miura’s shape in a purely scientific sense. As far as Lamborghini knows, the world’s first supercar has never been in a wind tunnel. Ever. It was born when aerodynamics were determined by trial and error, beauty took priority, and pen strokes were translated into clay and metal without a computer in sight. The contrast between this evocative but sometimes calamitous approach could hardly be more stark with today’s practices. Even front-wheel-drive hot hatches now burst onto the scene with peak-downforce figures. Supercars? They are sculpted on computational fluid dynamics (CFD) programs from day one. Nothing is left to chance.

wind tunnel
The ability to present industrial infrastructure artfully is something of an Italian specialty. Wind tunnels have become critical to meeting ever- increasing demands for automotive efficiency.Mattia Balsamini

Here, in Pininfarina S.p.A.’s wind tunnel—which, remarkably, celebrated its 50th birthday in 2022—we’ll see that play out live, first with the Miura and then the Pininfarina Battista Anniversario, an EV hypercar boasting almost five times the power and designed and developed here for Automobili Pininfarina. (Yes, the legendary engineering and design house is a completely different entity from the new car company. Confusing, but true.) It’s an unlikely pairing, but funnily enough, the Anniversario’s $2.4 million asking price is probably pretty similar to what you’d pay for an immaculate Miura SV just like this one.

Chassis number 5092 is one of the last SVs of the 150 produced, and it was delivered to the Paris distributor in early 1973. Like all SVs, it is much changed from the standard P400, with a stiffer chassis, more power, wider rear wheel arches to accommodate a five-inch-wider rear track, bigger air intakes, and a longer and lower hood. Even without the aid of a wind tunnel, the team hoped to reduce the notorious “light” feeling at high speed. Tales of cars taking off over 160 mph had become folklore. Road & Track published its road test of the original P400 in May 1968 and wasn’t quite so sensationalist. The brave, perhaps foolhardy editors reached 167.2 mph with the air filters removed and found the car to feel very light and susceptible to crosswinds above 130 mph. Even so, they concluded, “the car feels as if it should be driven at least 100 mph out on the road.”

pininafarina battista
Like all modern supercars, the Battista was created in the wind tunnel and by the computers that simulate it. Technicians can rotate a car within the Pininfarina Wind Tunnel to test cars in a variety of wind directions.Mattia Balsamini

Oh, how I’d love to concur. But the Miura’s wheels won’t turn under their own power today. Nor will we spin them for these tests. However, the belt beneath the Miura and Battista will move in conjunction with wind speed and act as the road. The Pininfarina engineers will measure drag, lift, and downforce at wind speeds starting at 62 mph and building in regular intervals to 87 mph. The tests will be repeated at 5-degree yaw angles in either direction to see whether the center of pressure and loads change in corners. For the Miura, they will repeat the tests with the headlights raised to see just how disastrous the pop-up design is for aerodynamic efficiency.

There’s a real buzz in the control room as the fan starts and the floor hisses beneath the Miura. Although this facility has been continuously upgraded over the years, there’s a sort of Cold War nuclear-submarine vibe. You enter the room from below, pushing through heavy metal doors to break the air seal, then past the huge chains and mechanics of the tunnel itself. It could almost be a test day back in the Seventies to validate the SV’s modifications and corroborate the seat-of-the-pants findings of test driver Bob Wallace. Gradually, the pace picks up, and the results populate a spreadsheet.

wind tunnel
Science and artistry combine forces within Pininfarina’s wind tunnel, where the company appears to have captured a nascent star.Mattia Balsamini

First, it’s important to note that all drag ­co­­efficients are independent of frontal area, density, and velocity. This allows Pininfarina S.p.A. to evaluate the aerodynamic properties of a shape rather than an object. For example, a motorbike has a higher drag coefficient than a semi truck. However, the drag force of the semi is higher due to its scale. For reference, the lowest drag coefficient for any road car on sale today is the Lucid Air at 0.20; the streamliner hypercar McLaren Speedtail’s is 0.28, and a BMW X5 ­xDrive45e’s is 0.32.

The Miura shows a pretty consistent 0.38 Cd across its speed range. Although that sounds high compared with a super-slippery EV, it’s broadly in line with a new supercar. Furthermore, as the Miura is tiny by today’s standards and incredibly low, the frontal area is small (1.69 square meters) and creates less drag force than a modern car with a similar drag coefficient. So far, so good.

lamborghini miura
Mattia Balsamini

The wind tunnel also reveals a general pattern that the Miura produces more lift on the front axle than the rear. In some respects, this is a good thing. It means the car will tend toward a stable understeer balance as speeds increase. Nobody except Max Verstappen really wants a super-pointy car above 100 mph, after all. However, the amount of lift produced by the Miura is significant. Downforce? Forget about it. At 90 mph, the front axle has 87.1 pounds of lift and the rear 39.9 pounds. By 150 mph, that’s risen to 241.8 pounds at the front and 110.9 pounds at the rear.