New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

The Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach was pro­duced from 1974 through to 1990. It had the long­est pro­duc­tion run of any su­per­car and, to date, is the best known Lam­borgh­ini model, with the Miura com­ing a close sec­ond. The Coun­tach evolved through var­i­ous ren­di­tions through­out its 16-year pro­duc­tion, cu­mu­lat­ing in the grand fi­nale — the 25th An­niver­sary Edi­tion. This fi­nal ex­am­ple was not only the most re­fined but pos­si­bly also the fastest Coun­tach as well. The An­niver­sary Edi­tion was ini­tially in­tended to be a lim­ited run, but, by the time pro­duc­tion stopped, it had be­come the best­selling ren­di­tion of the Coun­tach, with over 650 sold.

Not sur­pris­ingly, there are very few of these cars in New Zealand. As an iconic model, it comes with a price, and it is a sad fact that the av­er­age Kiwi can­not af­ford the hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars that it would cost to own one, let alone the cost of main­tain­ing such a beast! Even if you could af­ford one, there is a strong pos­si­bil­ity that the steer­ing wheel would be on the wrong side, as only a small num­ber of these cars were pro­duced in right-hand-drive (RHD) for­mat. So, how was it that I came to be sit­ting in a RHD 25th An­niver­sary Edi­tion of this iconic ve­hi­cle on a damp Auck­land day?


The thing is, its owner — Robert Nyenkamp — is also its cre­ator. Un­der the skin of this amaz­ing-look­ing car are the bones of a New Zealand kit car called the ‘Count­ess’. In the en­gine bay is a good old-fash­ioned and easy-to-main­tain Amer­i­can V8.

There is noth­ing that Robert does not know about the 25th An­niver­sary Edi­tion car, and it shows in the minute at­ten­tion to de­tail ev­i­dent in ev­ery­thing from the replica dash­board con­trols to the gen­uine Alpine stereo. In­deed, leav­ing the en­gine to one side, the replica’s faith­ful­ness is so pre­cise that pieces which could not be repli­cated, such as the curved side glass, are in fact gen­uine Lam­borgh­ini.

Best of the bunch

To un­der­stand this story, we need to turn the clock back 30 years to 1989, when Robert first saw the Count­ess pro­to­type ro­tat­ing on a turntable at the entrance to the New Zealand Sports Car show in Hen­der­son. The Count­ess was a replica of an early ’80s LP500S, man­u­fac­tured in the lit­tle town of Feild­ing by David Short. The kit price was $22K in those days, a price Robert saw as be­ing al­most af­ford­able. Af­ter talk­ing to David, the CEO of Count­ess Mould­ings, he was al­most sold on the idea.

But the de­ci­sion to buy was stalled by the fact that he was about to go to Amer­ica for a few years with his Amer­i­can wife, Karen. The job he was go­ing to in­volved the pro­cure­ment of parts for Euro­pean cars sold in the US. Be­sides trav­el­ling through­out the US mak­ing con­tacts, he was also re­quired to travel to Europe to iden­tify parts sup­pli­ers. Nat­u­rally, this gave him the op­por­tu­nity to look at other com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­tured Coun­tach repli­cas. Af­ter hav­ing a look at 15 dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies in the US and Eng­land, he de­cided that the New Zealand ex­am­ple was the best of the bunch due to the solid­ness of its steel chas­sis, and the solid hing­ing of the trade­mark scis­sor doors.


In 1992, Robert de­cided to com­mit, so he con­tacted Count­ess Mould­ings and or­dered his kit, which con­sisted of chas­sis, sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, all the fi­bre­glass pan­els, and a wind­screen, hav­ing it de­liv­ered to his New Zealand home. Mean­while, back in the US, Robert was start­ing to source parts to make the per­fect replica. Al­though most Coun­tachs were sold in the US, their V12 en­gines had proven un­re­li­able and ex­pen­sive to main­tain, and, on oc­ca­sion, they even caught fire, so sev­eral of them had their V12 mo­tors swapped for Amer­i­can V8s. Af­ter pro­duc­tion of the Coun­tach stopped, the new Di­ablo was not as wild-look­ing, so the value of the V12 Coun­tach sud­denly started to climb. When Robert vis­ited a com­pany called Armstrong Mo­tor Works in Los An­ge­les, it was in the process of re­mov­ing a Corvette mo­tor with a De Tomaso transaxle from a Coun­tach to re­in­stall the orig­i­nal V12 mo­tor, as the owner wanted to sell it for top dol­lar. Robert man­aged to get the 5.7-litre V8 mo­tor with transaxle and gear­box for a good price and shipped it back to New Zealand. Al­though his V8 was not a gen­uine Lam­borgh­ini mo­tor, it had come out of a gen­uine Lam­borgh­ini.

Be­sides do­ing en­gine swaps, Armstrong Mo­tor Works was also in the busi­ness of pro­duc­ing Coun­tach kit cars. It was sell­ing LP500S kits sim­i­lar to the New Zealand Count­ess, and a 25th An­niver­sary Coun­tach as well. As most of the 25th An­niver­sary pan­els were de­signed to be at­tached to the LP500S body, Robert found him­self reach­ing for his wal­let and ship­ping a set of 25th An­niver­sary pan­els to New Zealand. Also shipped out was a lot of gen­uine trim pieces only found on the 25th edi­tion. Robert went the whole hog and bought gen­uine Lam­borgh­ini door and quar­ter glass, which has a slight curve in it. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery Coun­tach kit uses flat glass for the doors, be­cause it is easier to man­u­fac­ture and as­sem­ble. It’s also a lot cheaper.

Gen­uine elec­tric seats were sourced from Eng­land, where a Coun­tach owner was con­vert­ing his car for rac­ing, and the heavy fac­tory seats with their mul­ti­ple elec­tric mo­tors had to go. Be­ing in the right place, at the right time, en­sured that Robert was

able to get them. Hav­ing ac­quired the gen­uine seats, the floor of the kit had to be al­tered three times to fit them. This in­cluded low­er­ing the floor to make sure that the car could ac­com­mo­date peo­ple who were over 1.8m tall. The in­stru­ment clus­ter has gen­uine Ste­wart gauges as per the orig­i­nal. At the time, Robert was earn­ing good money, so he was de­ter­mined to have the right bits.

Help­ing hands

It was a dif­fer­ent story a few years later when he re­turned home to a dou­ble mort­gage and a young fam­ily in New Zealand. For­tu­nately, he had al­ready pur­chased most of the ex­pen­sive bits, so he was able to start work on the car, al­though fam­ily com­mit­ments meant that the project had to be shelved, some­times for months on end, un­til the nec­es­sary cash, ex­per­tise, or time could be found.

Robert is con­vinced that he would never have fin­ished his car with­out the con­stant help and en­cour­age­ment of his friends, es­pe­cially Frank Van-lin­gen, who was al­ways on call for when­ever an ex­tra pair of hands was needed. Andy Culpin, en­gi­neer ex­traor­di­naire, is an­other who was al­ways there when­ever an en­gi­neer­ing prob­lem seemed in­sur­mount­able. Andy is the sort of guy who al­ways had a so­lu­tion or a way of work­ing around a prob­lem, which was es­pe­cially help­ful when the car re­quired cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. A mid-en­gined car is not a sim­ple build, and David Short, who lives in Feild­ing, was al­ways avail­able to give ad­vice on the project, and he popped in to view progress when he was in Auck­land. An­other friend, Vince Let­tice, was to fi­bre­glass what Andy Culpin was to en­gi­neer­ing. He took on the task of con­vert­ing to look, ex­ter­nally at least, ex­actly like the 25th An­niver­sary ren­di­tion. Pan­els made for a car man­u­fac­tured in Amer­ica did not nec­es­sar­ily fit the equiv­a­lent car made in New Zealand, and many pan­els re­quired a bit of fet­tling. Michael Gib­son, of Gib­son Up­hol­stery, took on the mam­moth task of con­vert­ing seven cow hides into be­spoke up­hol­stery, which Robert be­lieves is su­pe­rior to that found in the orig­i­nal.

De­signed to be ex­pe­ri­enced

This in­cred­i­ble piece of ma­chin­ery was built in a Sky­line garage be­hind an av­er­age-look­ing house in subur­ban Auck­land. It ranks among the best home-built cars that I have seen. In city traf­fic, it is quiet and re­fined un­til the right foot heads in the di­rec­tion of the floor — at that point the car be­comes a dif­fer­ent beast. Un­der power, it sounds awe­some, but the noise does not take over the cabin, as nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion can con­tinue, even when the bon­net lifts un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion and the car starts rapidly head­ing to­wards the hori­zon. When on the road, the car at­tracts an un­prece­dented amount of at­ten­tion. Peo­ple will toot, flash their lights, and point their phones at you.

Most cars are de­signed to be driven, and, today, even a Toy­ota Corolla is easier and more pleas­ant to drive than this su­per­car; how­ever, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is that the Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach was a car de­signed to be ex­pe­ri­enced. Only those who own such a car can de­scribe it. I was only the pas­sen­ger, yet I was smil­ing the whole time. Even in nor­mal Auck­land traf­fic, you can­not shake the feel­ing that you are in some­thing that is pretty special.

The qual­ity of the fin­ish in Roberts’s car is the re­sult of many hours of re­search and hand-built com­po­nen­try, much of which was built three times be­fore be­ing deemed as fit for pur­pose.

In New Zealand, there are only a few peo­ple who can write a cheque and drive away in a gen­uine Lam­borgh­ini, al­beit sit­ting in the wrong side of the car! There are even fewer with the en­thu­si­asm and com­mit­ment to build one in their shed. A cheque for sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars is one thing, but it is a to­tally dif­fer­ent thing to spend 20 years cre­at­ing a car that is as good as — and in some in­stances bet­ter than — the orig­i­nal (it can be driven by tall peo­ple).

If you can af­ford to buy and drive your dream car, then good for you; but should you meet some­body who has built their dream car bolt by bolt, give them the credit for the ar­ti­sans that they are. Peo­ple have said in Roberts’s pres­ence, “It’s only a kit car”. In my view, we should turn that phrase around and say, “Wow, you ac­tu­ally built this!”, be­cause it takes a lot more ef­fort, skill, self-sac­ri­fice, and willpower to com­plete a project of this mag­ni­tude when com­pared with sim­ply writ­ing a cheque and driv­ing a car away.

Yes, it’s a V8 — but it did come out of an orig­i­nal Coun­tach

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