Rare off-road Rambo Lambo supercar on display in UAE garage

Lamborghini's 1986 off-roader was 'the grandfather' of the super SUVs roaming Sheikh Zayed Road today

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It was the Hollywood era of Miami Vice and gun-toting renegades roaming the forests of north-west America.

Unsurprisingly, the idea of a military vehicle powered by a Lamborghini engine was expected to take off in the 1980s motoring world.

The reality was rather different.

Nicknamed the Rambo Lambo, the Lamborghini LM002 has gone down in history as one of the more expensive supercar flops in recent times.

There were a few out here in the Middle East and they were so good to drive out in the desert as they were very versatile
Arthur Hughes, former Lamborghini employee

One of the few 1988 models of the LM002 vehicles on the open market was recently sold through Nostalgia Classic Cars in Dubai to an unknown mystery buyer.

But another is on display at the Off-Road History Museum tucked away in Al Shuwaib, deep in the Sharjah desert.

The private collection of off-road vehicles owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan is proudly on show at museums in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Morocco.

And it is the show-stealing 1987 Lamborghini LM002 that takes pride of place on the museum floor, despite it being dwarfed by the nearby Dhabiyan, the largest SUV in the world and other rare, collectable off-road vehicles.

The Rambo Lambo on show in Sharjah

The Rambo Lambo on show in Sharjah

With a rogue’s gallery of previous owners, including Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Mike Tyson and Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, the Lamborghini’s 4x4 V12 super off-roader code-named ‘The Cheetah’ has almost disappeared from trace.

Arthur Hughes worked for Lamborghini in Bahrain and maintained one of the vehicles when he moved to Dubai 23 years ago.

“Sylvester Stallone owned one of these and was the reason why it picked up its name,” he said.

“There were a few out here in the Middle East and they were so good to drive out in the desert as they were very versatile.

“The car’s independent suspension gave it a real focus on the sand. It was built for the US Army but never really took off.

“The original design had the engine in the back, but it was treacherous handling and that is why it wasn’t picked up by the military.

“It had two straight six-cylinder engines arranged as a V configuration, and as a young mechanic, my job was to balance them out. It was very powerful but very heavy.

“The Rambo Lambo name was perfect for the car’s utilitarian physique.”

Code name: The Cheetah

The vehicle has become something of a collector's item and has an unusual history as it almost bankrupted the Italian sports car manufacturer.

Its design was born out of an approach by US defence contractor Mobility Technology International to Lamborghini in 1976 to develop a military off-road vehicle.

An Italian government grant helped fund the development of the Lamborghini Cheetah that was later presented at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland.

Problems began when a legal battle ensued between the American FMC Corporation that claimed its XR311 off-road vehicle’s design had been copied.

The two vehicles had a similar chassis, but different bodies, and a functional capacity for machine guns and anti-tank missiles.

The Cheetah project was mothballed by Lamborghini until several years later, when its design was resurrected in the LM001 and then the LM002.

The reincarnation included a V12 Countach engine inserted into the front end rather than the rear to bring more off-road stability.

The vehicle was no longer designed with the military in mind, but as a high-performance civilian car ideally suited to the terrain of the Middle East.

To make a crazy car even more wild, the manufacturers gave an option to insert a seven-litre powerboat engine for a little extra oomph, while its specially designed Pirelli tyres cost an eye-watering $3,800 each.

Due to its weight, fuel economy was on the low side – with most vehicles averaging 100kph expected to get little more than 16km for every gallon of fuel.

Collector's item

When it first went on sale, the LM002 cost about $120,000 and today it is valued at almost double that amount due to its scarcity.

“This model from 1987 is a very early example, so it is particularly special, especially as Lamborghini only made around 300 or so of these,” said Mr Hughes, who is co-owner of RMA Motors in Dubai.

“It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it had a high price point. People told me it performed really well in the desert, it was heavy but it had the power to work through the dunes easily.

“It is a very rare car. When you are a young lad from Scotland working on Ford Escorts it was a real treat to come out and work on these kind of unusual cars.

“Lamborghini was ahead of its time and set the standard for off-road high-performance vehicles.

“It was the grandfather of the luxury SUVs we see today.”

Updated: August 28, 2023, 11:50 AM