Just how fast is fast? If you had to walk into a showroom and come out with the quickest vehicle available, what would it be?
The fastest production car ever tested by Autocar is the 1987 Lamborghini Countach quattrovalvole - over five litres of V12 muscle, 48 valves and 455bhp shoe-horned into a Bertone body that screams 'performance'. Its top speed is close enough to 180mph not to matter, it will reach 60mph in under five seconds and spring to 100 in just over 10. It will also set you back over £80,000, which is why there are only around 40 Countachs on the roads in this country.
But what about bikes? Motorcycling has come a long way since the demise of our own motorcycle industry, and in the engine department at least the technology is way in advance of anything seen in a car. The engine accounts for around a third of the kerb weight of a bike, so light weight and high specific power outputs are the prime requirements today's 1000cc superbikes put out over 120bhp yet weigh around 500lb ready to roll.
The two contestants were the immortal Lamborghini Countach, in its latest quattrovalvole form, and the new 1-litre 20-valve Yamaha FZR 1000.
With a power to weight ratio well in excess of even the Countach you would expect a 1000cc bike to accelerate faster, but with the benefit of far superior aerodynamics surely the car will peg the advantage back? Finding a really comprehensive set of performance figures for a bike is hard work though — all the UK magazines seem to get by with little more than a stopwatch, and if you get a standing start quarter-mile time and a top speed from a road test you are doing extremely well.
To settle the arguments, we teamed up with Performance Bikes magazine for a back-to-back test It was to provide the very latest state of the art Japanese superbike, a 125bhp 1987 Yamaha FZR 1000, while we prevailed upon Lamborghini importer Portman Garages to come up with a Countach. The venue was Bruntingthorpe, a disused military airfield that boasts a runway a full two miles long. Our own Leitz Correvit test gear would produce the figures for the car, while Leitz UK’s John Grist came along with a version specially adapted to fit the bike.
Leitz test gear stowed the Yamaha which could otherwise have exceeded 160mph. Rather more skill is needed to extract the best from the FZR 1000 than the Countach. Yamaha and rider is not an aerodynamically efficient package but is still good for maximum of 160mph.
While the Lamborghini corners nearly flat at high speed the Yamaha is far slower if it can't 'straight-line' the curves.
The Yamaha is a remarkable piece of engineering. At its heart sits a 989cc all-alloy water-cooled engine. Its four cylinders boast five valves each, actuated through bucket and shim tappets by a pair of chain-driven overhead camshafts. The cylinders sit inclined forwards at 45 degrees, allowing the four 37mm Mtkuni carbs to feed the cylinders directly downwards and giving virtually straight line flow from carb intake to the three intake valves per cylinder.
Bore and stroke are well oversquare at 75 x 56mm, and a compact combustion chamber and wide squish area allow the FZR to run a compression ratio of 11.2:1 on ordinary four star. The vital statistics add up to an engine that makes 125bhp at 10.000rpm, with its peak torque of 71.6 lb ft delivered at a heady 8500rpm — red-line is at a full 11,500. Drive passes though a pair of primary gears to a hydraulically- operated multi-plate wet clutch and a five-speed gearbox. The engine bristles with magnesium covers and uses an alloy radiator and oil cooler to keep the weight down, while alternator and starter motor are tucked well away behind the cylinder to reduce the width.
The chassis too is something special. A pair of tapered aluminium alloy box section spars form the main frame loop, with a box section alloy swinging fork at the rear operating a single shock absorber through a linkage to give progressive spring and damping rates. At the front a pair of 41mm diameter telescopic forks are equipped with adjustable spring preload, and the same adjustment is incorporated in the rear shock.
Wheels are three-spoke aluminium alloy castings, a 3.5 by 17inch rim at the front and a 4.5 inch by 18 item at the rear, both shod with radial tyres — over six inches wide at the rear and almost five inches wide at the front. Massive 12.5-inch twin floating discs at the front are gripped by twin four-piston calipers, while a single 11-inch disc is more than enough at the rear.
A bike is never going to slip through the air as easily as a car, but Yamaha has done its best with the FZR 1000. A full fairing moulded in ABS plastic allows the rider to tuck himself away as far as humanly possible, head behind the perspex screen while flat on the 4.4 gallon petrol tank to squeeze out the last mile an hour.
The Yamaha only saw the light of day a few months ago, but the Countach has been around in one form or another for some 10 years now. Nothing wrong with that though, because the Lambo is still the supercar to beat. Separated from the driver only by the firewall, its all-alloy V12 engine has been enlarged over the years to the 5.2 litres of the 48-valve version. The twin overhead camshafts per bank are chain driven, with valve actuation through bucket tappets, and the 85.5 x 75mm bore and stroke unit runs a compression ratio of 9.5:1.
The soundness of the basic design can be seen in the engine’s continued success in off-shore powerboat racing, and in road trim it puts out 455bhp at 7000rpm. Peak torque of 369lb ft is delivered at 5200rpm. and the engine is red-lined at 7500. The five speed gearbox is located under the engine in the Countach, and the drive to the rear wheels is via a limited-slip diff.
A substantial steel space frame forms the chassis, with double wishbone independent suspension all round.
Coil springs and telescopic dampers are used at each corner, the rear dampers being duplicated on each side, and anti-roll bars are fitted to front and rear. Married to a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive and manual rack and pinion steering, the layout is pure race car.
The Yamaha’s tyres might be wide for a bike, but they are nothing compared with the enormous Pirelli P7s on the Countach. The 15-inch Campagnolo alloy wheels measure 8.5 inches across at the from and 12 inches at the rear, while the tyres themselves are 225/50s at the front and 345/35s at the rear. That's 14 inches of rubber on each rear wheel — the Countach is apparently immune to inner-city clamping patrols because the clamps won't extend that wide.
Having arranged for the massive circus of vehicles, drivers, photographers, technicians and support crew to rendezvous at Bruntingthorpe, we were then at the mercy of the weather. Our prayers were answered though, because the day dawned bright and calm. Rain was forecast for later, so we set about getting the acceleration figures without delay — photographers can work in the rain but tyres won't.
The techniques for getting a car and a bike off the line in a hurry are very different The Countach responds best if the clutch is fed in very quickly, not quite dropped, with the revs at around 5000 — just on the torque peak. The fat P7s spin but grip again within 10 yards a couple of sharp corrections of the wheel to counter the tail going sideways and you're forced back into the thinly-upholstered seat as the red line comes up all too quickly at 58mph.
The Countach has a dog-leg first gear, and since the gears themselves have to be massive to cope with all that torque, the change to second is a little ponderous. As soon as the clutch is home, the pressure on the shoulder blades begins again. Sixty miles an hour isn't quite available in first, so the 4.9 seconds it takes from a standstill includes that slow first gearchange. Second takes the car to 80mph, which arrives before most quick cars have reached 60, and with the much quicker second to third shift behind us the Countach is doing 100mph only 10.6 seconds after leaving the line.
We notch fourth just before the Correvit shows 120, and this gear takes us to over 150mph. One hundred and fifty miles an hour and you change into top — that in itself is quite an experience. Once in fifth, the Lambo is still accelerating rapidly, and top speed comes up with the rev counter just nudging 7300rpm - 178mph. Even flat out on Bruntingthorpe's far from billiard table surface, the Countach feels at home. The roar of the wind and the bellow from that marvellous V12 rules out polite conversation, but the car feels supremely stable and composed.
Getting a bike like the FZR 1000 off the line takes a good deal of practice. Ideally you need to slip the clutch to keep the revs around the 8500rpm mark on full throttle until the clutch is fully home. The problem is that the from wheel wants to reach for the sky as the clutch bites, and on the Yamaha the clutch is particularly fierce. Some more talented souls are able to spin the rear tyre by dropping the clutch from a standstill, but not only is it damned difficult, it's debatable whether it's any quicker.
Once the clutch is home, the Yamaha will reach 67mph in first, 60mph coming up in only 3.2 seconds. You don't need to use the clutch to change gear on a bike once moving, but even if you do the changes are much quicker than on any car. Ninety-five mph and you’re still in second gear, the Yamaha pulling towards the red line as if pursued by an Exocet. The ton comes up in 7.4 seconds, over three seconds quicker than the Countach, and flat on the tank the thing is still trying to pull your arms out of their sockets.
Gear ratios on the Yamaha are much closer than the Lambo, thanks to the narrower power band of the 126bhp litre engine. So although the Yamaha will reach 123 in third against the Lamborghini’s 119, in fourth the Countach can belter the Yamaha's 145mph comfortably. With 11,200 on the clock in top. the Yamaha will go no faster. A true 160mph mean may be 18mph down on the Countach, but it’s impressive enough for a production motorcycle.
The tapes from the two sets of Leitz gear give us the answers we are looking for. At the quarter-mile mark, the Yamaha is 1.4 seconds in front and travelling 8mph faster — 11.6 seconds and 121mph are impressive enough but the same bike has recorded even faster times without the weight and drag of the test gear on board. By the kilometre mark, the Countach is reeling-in the FZR — it's now doing 146mph against the Yamaha’s 133 but is still over a second behind. Some 1.2 miles and 37 seconds after the start, the Countach overtakes the Yamaha. The Lamborghini by now is doing 162mph, the Yamaha a mere 146.
When you're talking about performance like this, comparisons lose all perspective and reason. Except on unrestricted autobahns, the Yamaha would leave the Countach for dead under acceleration, but both are mind-blowingly quick. On fast corners the prodigious cornering power of the Countach would have the Yamaha choking in its exhaust, but on tighter stuff the Yamaha's slim build will let it straight line a twisty section that is a chicane to the Lamborghini.
Your local Yamaha dealer will relieve you of just over five thousand pounds to put an FZR 1000 on the road, and before anyone says other-wise, you can't buy a decent car for that money — you could however buy 15 FZRs for the price of the Countach. You can get wet on the Yamaha if it rains of course, but the Countach is hardly the nippiest of vehicles in London's traffic. Both might create a stir at the wine bar, but it’s the Countach owner who can offer the young lady a lift home.
The pros and cons of bikes versus cars can go on and on — what we are talking about here though is performance. Both the FZR 1000 and the Countach are fast, blindingly fast, and offer more than any sane person can use on the road. But if it's ultimate performance you crave, two wheels can leave the Lamborghini at the lights for a lot less than Countach money.
1987 Lamborghini Countach QV TECH DATA
|Car||1987 Lamborghini Countach QV|
|Car type||Transverse mid-engined, rear wheels drive 2-doors and 2-seats coupe|
|Number built||1981 - 1988|
|Cylinders||12 / 60-deg|
|Bore, mm (in.)||85.5 (3.37in)|
|Stroke, mm (in.)||75 (2.95in)|
|Capacity, cc (in.)||5167 (315.3)|
|Valve gear||DOHC - 48-valve / 4-valves per cylinder|
|Fuel injection||Six twin-choke Weber 42 DCNF|
|Max power||455 bhp / 335 KW (DIN / ISO) at 7.000 rpm|
|Max torque||369lb ft / 419 Nm (DIN / ISO) at 5.200 rpm|
|Clutch||Hydraulic, diaphragm spring 9.4in dia|
|Final drive gear Ratio||Hypoid bevel 4.0-to-1|
|Front location||Independent, MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti roll bar|
|Rear location||Independent, MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti roll bar|
|Type||Rack and pinion|
|Wheel diameter||14.0 in.|
|Turns lock to lock||4.2|
|Circuits||Twin, split front/ front and rear|
|Front||278mm / 10.9 in. dia. ventilated disc|
|Rear||278mm / 10.9 in. dia. ventilated disc|
|Handbrake||Centre lever, rear drum within disc|
|Type||Light all alloy 16in Campagnolo|
|Rim Width||8 x 16 in dia|
|Tyres make||Pirelli P7|
|size||205/55 VR16 and 225/50 VR16|
|pressure||F33 psi, R36 psi / 2.3/2.4 bar|
|Battery||12V 55 Ah|
|Screen wipers||Two-speed plus intermittent|
|Interior heater||Water valve|
|Interior trim||Leather or cloth seats, pvc head-lining|
|Jacking points||Two each side, under sills|
Country of Origin: Italy
Maker: Nuova Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini SpA, via Modena 12, 40019 Saint Agata Bolognese, Bologna, Italy.
Total Price 1987: £82.277.25 (1987 UK)
Options: Sport axhaust system (£546.25)
Extras fitted to test car. None
|MAXIMUM SPEEDS AT TEST|
|Standing 1/4-mile: 13.0 sec, 113 mph|
Standing km: 23.3sec, 146 mph