The Lamborghini Cheetah was the company’s first attempt at an off-road vehicle. It was built on contract with Mobility Technology International (MTI). MTI was then contracted by the United States military to design and produce a new all terrain vehicle. The Cheetah was built in San Jose, California and after the initial construction, the vehicle was sent to Sant’Agata in Bologna for Lamborghini to apply the finishing touches.
The base design of the Cheetah was largely copied from another company’s prototype developed for the US military in 1970; which was FMC Corporation’s XR311. When Lamborghini and MTI showcased the Cheetah at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show, FMC took legal action against the two companies.
Promotional video of the Lamborghini Cheetah
The mounting of the engine in the rear gave the Cheetah very poor handling characteristics and the engine used was not powerful enough for the car which had a kerb weight of 2042 kilograms. The United States military did test the Cheetah and allegedly destroyed the only prototype. The remains of the Cheetah were never returned to Lamborghini and MTI. Eventually, the contract was given to AM General with its similar looking Humvee.
The failure of the Cheetah, plus with Lamborghini’s financial problems at that time resulted in the cancellation of the agreement between BMW and Lamborghini to develop the M1 sports car. Later on, with a similar design, Lamborghini developed the LM002 but with a more powerful engine (the Countach’s 5.2-litre V12) at the front.