In 1977, luxury automaker Lamborghini demonstrated its new 4x4 off-road prototype vehicle for the U.S. military. Codenamed “Cheetah,” the Pentagon wasn’t impressed with the way the Lamborghini handled, and only one was ever built.
Lamborghini continued tooling the Cheetah’s design and eventually produced the LM002, a redesigned luxury version of the Cheetah. Only 328 were built, making it one of the rarest cars of our time.
In July of 2004, U.S. troops packed one with explosives and blew it up to demonstrate what an vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) can do to the concrete barriers protecting their base.
In the late 1970s, the United States was looking to replace the M151 4×4 utility truck, a beefed-up version of the classic World War II-era Willys MB Jeep. The M151 was the Jeep’s successor, first entering service in the early 1960s. Lamborghini was contracted to produce that potential replacement.
Lamborghini produced a prototype called the Cheetah, which had a rear-mounted V8 engine, three-speed automatic transmission and a roomy interior for soldiers wearing combat gear and carrying M16 rifles. What it didn’t have was enough power to meet the requirements for the U.S. military. It also handled like a shopping cart. The Pentagon took a hard pass on the Cheetah.
The automaker didn’t give up on the design, however. The next prototype, the LM001, had a different engine but mounting it in the rear of the vehicle still caused handling problems. For the next iteration, Lamborghini finally moved the engine to the front and replaced it with a V12. When the LM002 debuted in 1986, it quickly was nicknamed the “Rambo Lambo.”
But the United States already had decided on a replacement for the M151, adopting the AM General HMMWV, the “Humvee” we all know and love. That was fine by Lamborghini, which began making the cars for the civilian market.
It was the Italian automaker’s first sport utility vehicle, an off-road car that could reach speeds of more than 100 mph. A new LM002 featured a V12 Lamborghini Countach engine, custom, run-flat tread tires, all-leather interior, power windows and air conditioning. The luxury SUV had a sticker price of $158,000 in 1986 (which is roughly $379,000 in 2021 dollars), so the 328 models Lamborghini produced ended up in the hands of ultra-wealthy buyers, like the Sultan of Brunei and Uday Hussein, son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
That’s how an LM002 ended up in the hands of U.S. troops in 2004. Uday Hussein was killed alongside his brother, Qusay, after a prolonged shootout with the U.S. 101st Airborne Division in July 2003. The soldiers were just doing their job, wiring what looked like a beat-up old vehicle to explode to ensure their walls in Baqubah, Iraq, could withstand the blast.
By then, his LM002 didn’t look like much, so it’s hard to blame anyone for not thinking much of it -- but car history lovers still might shed a tear.
The soldiers filled the car up with so much dynamite, all that remained of it was the LM002’s engine block and front suspension, making the LM002 even rarer than ever.
Models that survive today are worth as much as $300,000 in private sales but can fetch up to $500,000 at auction.
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