When one budding film fan and gearhead first laid eyes on The Cannonball Run’s Lamborghini Countach, he couldn’t possibly have realized what had been set in motion. Decades later, though, the movie’s influence on him would be fully realized in the form of a completely handmade Lambo. And if this doesn’t inspire you to break out your tools, nothing will.
Ken Imhoff was born in the English town of Oxford – world-famous for its prestigious university – but he was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His family moved back to the U.S. after his father’s Air Force service abroad was complete.
Still, Imhoff’s love of cars began at an early age, as the photo above proves. The picture was taken in 1958 in Oxford, and Imhoff is already seen at the wheel of a sports car chassis, which was handmade by his father. This apparent enthusiasm would stay with him throughout his life as well.
After years of being raised on cars, then, it was little surprise that Imhoff would be awestruck by the Lamborghini Countach. But it wasn’t just any old off-the-shelf model that caught his eye. No, it was the exact Countach seen in the aforementioned 1981 comedy classic that captured Imhoff’s imagination.
And almost a decade after he’d first spotted it, that same Countach would inspire Imhoff to undertake a project of mammoth proportions. And while a lesser – and perhaps richer – man might have simply bought a similar car, Imhoff instead dedicated the next 17 years of his life to building one from scratch. What’s more, he did it in the basement beneath his Wisconsin home, which he shared with his wife Eileen and their two daughters.
Fortunately, Imhoff had worked with metal for much of his adult life. Naturally, then, his engineering and welding skills have proven critical for this project. But, alongside technical ability, Imhoff clearly has an enormous determination to achieve perfection.
Interestingly, Imhoff’s house did have its own garage, and yet he chose against housing his project there. Yes, having seen his father battle the harsh Wisconsin winters, he decided that the basement would be a better bet. Plus, this would save on heating the garage.
So in September 1990 Imhoff began a journey that would cost him thousands and take nearly two decades to complete. And it all started with a simple wooden frame. Partially based on measurements taken from a 1:16 scale model, this frame would allow him to determine the shape of the body panels.
Speaking of which, the car’s panels were hand-formed out of aluminum using a forming tool. This process in itself took Imhoff a year, working from the rear of the car forward until the whole wooden frame was covered in panels. He left the particularly complex parts, like the doors, until the end.
At this point, the project involved plenty of trial and error on Imhoff’s part, despite his extensive experience. In fact, even welding the panels proved to be a learning curve, as they warped on more than one occasion.
With the panels finally completed, then, a frame would be needed to support the chassis as he assembled the vehicle. Therefore, Imhoff constructed one from five-and-a-half-inch blocks in order to achieve the correct ride height and ground clearance.
The chassis was then fully constructed atop this support, with the upper frame and body securely assembled to provide extra support for the later build. Imhoff noted that this process was particularly difficult, as he had to pay close attention to ensure that the body was aligned correctly.
The car’s finished chassis and aluminum body are truly a thing of beauty, as gearheads everywhere will no doubt appreciate. On his website, Imhoff seems to be particularly proud of each element, from the stainless steel headers with 12-inch racing mufflers to the aluminum radiators and the fully adjustable sway bars.
The bulk of the first-stage work, by this point, was done – at least to the vehicle. Now the more intricate aspects of the Lambo build would have to be tackled, and Imhoff knew exactly what he needed to do.
Indeed, before the car could be painted, it had to undergo an extensive preparation process that involved five layers of bodywork. First, a coat of self-etching primer was applied before being sealed with an epoxy primer. And after Imhoff’s custom bodywork, a second layer of epoxy was required before a layer of high-build primer was applied to finish everything off.
By now, the general frame was beginning to resemble the finished Lamborghini, even though the outer panels and wheels had yet to be added. What was next? Well, Imhoff added the internal components, including the brake lines, pedals and fuel cell.
Then, with the mechanics of the car in place, it was time to paint the shell. This required the use of an off-site, professional booth, however. And this meant individually transporting all 33 pieces of paneling back and forth, one at a time. Unsurprisingly, this took Imhoff 25 hours in total. It was a grueling task, for sure, but it was actually minuscule in the grand scheme of the project.
Imhoff then drew up blueprints for the wheels before giving the designs to his machinist friend, Dale, to manufacture the components. Subsequently, Dale spent ten hours turning a two-inch-thick metal sheet into the finished product you see above.
Over the following winter, too, Imhoff made a number of improvements to the vehicle. For instance, he fixed issues that had arisen – like a coolant leak – and reinforced the rear carriers. He also changed the spark plugs and worked on the engine. All to make sure that his beloved Lamborghini would be up to scratch for its first drive.
Finally, in 2008, Imhoff’s hugely ambitious project to build a Lamborghini Countach from scratch was complete. But there was still a pretty big problem that had to be overcome: the car was trapped in his basement.
Sure, the cellar had a way in and a way out, but it was nowhere near big enough for the Countach. And so Imhoff had to take drastic action.
Unless the Lamborghini was to remain on permanent display inside the basement, there was really no alternative. Yes, Imhoff had to knock down part of the wall. And for that he needed another piece of kit.
The piece of kit in question was a digger. A combination of brains and brawn were required to dig out the earth beside one of the basement’s walls. Still, from there, it took just 90 minutes until a big enough hole had been created.
It must have been a huge relief to free the Lamborghini from the only environment it had ever known. After all, there was never any guarantee that digging it out would work. Now, however, the fun was about to begin.
Yes, Imhoff could finally drive the car that had taken so many years to build. He created a YouTube page so that those who’d been following his progress could watch the custom-made Countach in action, too.
On the YouTube channel, the stunning sports car could be seen riding around the block and entering and exiting Imhoff’s driveway. Its first high-speed pass was also captured, and it’s safe to say that the Lamborghini looked absolutely amazing.
After a few years, though, the clock was only displaying 100 miles. For some reason, Imhoff had barely driven his pride and joy. But why? Especially since he’d devoted 17 years to building it.
Well, toward the end of 2012 Imhoff came to the conclusion that his Countach needed to belong to someone who would truly appreciate it for what it was. Yes, the gearhead realized that he didn’t enjoy owning it as much as he did building it.
And so he took the heartbreaking decision to list the car on eBay, setting the starting bid at $75,000. “There needs to be a lot of discussion between me and its next owner,” he said at the time. “It means a lot to me that it goes to the right home.”
It wasn’t until September 2016 – 26 years since Imhoff’s vehicular venture began – that the replica Countach finally found a new owner in Miami. So while Imhoff might have only enjoyed the epic vehicle for eight years before passing it on, a project like this is of course more about the journey than the destination. And, given that he’s already begun building his next car – a 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe – it’s safe to say that Imhoff would agree.