The Lamborghini Diablo Buying Guide – one of the greatest V12 supercars

Lamborghini Diablo

The Lamborghini Diablo mixes the company’s typically wild styling and V12 power with a little added user-friendliness and reliability, especially with the later Audi-built cars.

Lamborghinis has traditionally been more about outrageous speed and macho styling than practicality and ease of use, especially when it comes to its range topping V12 models. The Countach arguably embodied this philosophy better than any other product the company had ever built to that point and its Diablo replacement had rather large tyre treads to fill when it was launched in 1990.

The scissor doors, wide rear haunches and cab-forward design were pure Lamborghini. The smoother yet still imposing lines were initially the design work of Marcello Gandini but, when Lamborghini was sold to Chrysler midway through development, Tom Gale took over for the finishing touches.

How the 200mph Lamborghini Diablo beat its Ferrari rivals

The new car used an updated version of the Countachs V12, and with an increase in engine capacity from 5.2 to 5.7 litres the Diablo offered a Ferrari-beating 485bhp. This made it the first production Lamborghini to break the 200mph barrier.

Rear-wheel-drive and no traction control meant that the first versions were best approached with a racing driver’s reflexes and a lot of self control. Dry weather handling was impressive but in the wet the best thing to do was to leave the car parked safely at home and take the bus. From 1993 onwards, the need to use public transport in inclement weather was done away with thanks to the introduction of the all-wheel-drive VT model (below). This models updated electronically adjustable dampers and improved brakes were also made available on the RWD variants.

2884 Diablos found homes during the model’s 11year production life, outselling the Countach by over 800 units. This despite a change in ownership and a four-year shorter production run. There were a number of updates and improvements over the years and just like with its predecessor, the Diablo become ever quicker and more complex.

Special edition cars such as the SE30, Jota, GT, GT-R as well as various race versions were also produced. The standard variants were available in RWD, AWD and both roadster and coupé body styles. Power outputs steadily increased from 485bhp to over 550bhp in the runout 6.0-litre VT models (below).

While drivability and general useability were leaps ahead of the unruly Countach, underestimate the Diablo at your peril. It may have been sent to finishing school by Audi in its final years but this is still a decidedly old-school supercar with all the joys and pitfalls that entails. Languishing for decades in the shadow of its angular forebear, the demand for these cars has been on the rise.

Diablo V12 Engine and gearbox

Engines are a development from the original V12 in the 350GT, which was introduced in 1963. They are robust units but, as with all performance engines, regular servicing and fluid changes are a must. Annual servicing or every 6,750 miles is essential so be prepared to visit your specialist often. Look for minor oil leaks from the back of the head gasket, which could point to infrequent maintenance

Space around the engine bay is at a premium so many small jobs can come with big labour bills. Replacing the starter motor, for example, generally requires the engine to be removed. Engine mounts also tend to perish regularly.

The engine’s electronics can often play up so a thorough check of the electrical system is highly recommended.

All Diablos came fitted with a five-speed manual transmission save for a few special edition and track-only models, which had six-speed gearboxes. Gearchanges on earlier cars can be heavy.

Clutches are known for having short life spans. The huge torque output puts strain on the internals, and they will require replacement every 18,000 miles, or a lot sooner if driven aggressively. Clutch slave cylinders tend to fail so have that checked too.

Diablo Suspension and brakes

Front suspensions can drip hydraulic fluid and may point to dirt having entered the system, though a modification can be carried out to fix this issue. VT models brought in active suspension and power steering, while the SV Roadster was the first to offer a front lifting system to negotiate speed bumps. Electrics are not a strong point in Diablos so make sure all these systems work as they should.

Brakes in early cars are prone to fade so they were upgraded in the VT and again for the final 6.0-litre models.

Diablo Bodywork and interior

The Diablos body is made up of a variety of materials, from carbon fibre for the bonnet, sills and engine cover to aluminium for the majority of the body panels. Rust is still a bugbear on some cars so check around the footwells, door frames and wheelarches for signs of corrosion

The Roadsters came with a removable hardtop made from two carbon fibre panels, leaks from which can develop if the locking mechanism is worn out.

Climate control came in for criticism on the early 5.7-litre cars, but all 6.0-litre versions had much improved systems. The dashboard also underwent a redesign and the later cars had driver and passenger airbags fitted as standard.

The VT models are better suited to taller drivers as the seats were updated but no variant of the Diablo is overly generous when it comes to interior space. Build and material quality improved over time, especially with the cars built under Audi ownership.

History of the Lamborghini Diablo

1990: Lamborghini Diablo launched

1993: Diablo VT with viscous traction four-wheeldrive introduced

1994: Diablo SE30 (below) and SE30 Jota produced in limited numbers

1995: Diablo SV and Diablo VT Roadster introduced

1998: Facelift to all models. Audi takes over ownership. SV, VT and VT Roadster receive power upgrades. VT 6.0 introduced, 40 built. GT 6.0 introduced, 83 built

2001: Last Diablo rolls off production line with production totalling 2884 units

Various one-offs and special editions were made available throughout

Which Diablo To Buy

The Lamborghini Diablo is the quintessential 90s supercar. It demands your total attention but rewards you with the kind of raw edged thrills that its modern counterparts tend to lack.

A number of worthwhile improvements were carried out over the years and the later cars are easier to drive and tend to be better built. Running costs are not for the faint-hearted regardless of which model you buy.

Famous past owners, low production run special editions and face-lifted cars are generally more sought after but above all make sure that the car has a full and verifiable service history as deferred maintenance will mean deferred expenses.

Even amongst the latest crop of supercars, the Diablo is still a head-turning exotic with the kind of intense driving experience that can leave you sweaty palmed and weak at the knees. If that is what you want out of your classic, then few do it better than the intense Lamborghini Diablo.

Lamborghini Diablo Specifications

5.7-litre V12

Power: 492-595bhp

Top speed: 202mph

0-60mph: 4.5sec

Economy: 18mpg est.

6.0-litre V12

Power: 550-575bhp

Top speed: 210mph

0-60mph: 3.9sec

Economy: 18mpg est

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Words John Tallodi Photos Lamborghini

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