Obscure Auto: Lamborghini Miura Jota/SVJ

The Miura Jota is one of those unicorn cars, one that everyone who knows about it wants, but that none will ever have. The Jota is a legend because it was the most extreme example of Lamborghini’s beloved Miura, the car that really put the marque on the map. The Jota has a particularly interesting story though, because its fame began with its own fiery death in 1972. The Jota had been a side project of famed Lamborghini test driver, Bob Wallace, and it was the news coverage of the car’s destruction that informed people of the project to build a faster, more racy Miura. The original Jota was damaged beyond repair, never to be rebuilt, but it did peak the interest of several Miura owners, and six Miura SVJs were created. These SVJs are probably the most valuable Lamborghinis around at this point, and they carry on the legacy of their doomed predecessor.

This is the Miura Jota as it originally appeared. Original photos are quite rare, this is a scale model of the original car by Kyosho.

In 1970 Bob Wallace saw a bunch of ways he could improve upon the Lamborghini Miura. He wanted it to be more like a race car, and although Ferruccio Lamborghini did not care to start racing his cars he granted Wallace permission to use the shop to build such a car after hours and on weekends. For me this is one of the coolest aspects of the Jota, how it was built by a man driven purely by passion, just for the sake of doing so. I love to imagine Wallace and his team working late into the night on the car, not being paid, just because they knew this needed to exist.

The Jota featured typical race car style modifications with an emphasis on light weight and high power. The whole car was basically built from the ground up for its new purpose. Lighter metals, including aircraft grade Avional, were implemented in the car’s construction. Any excess of the standard car was simplified, including using a single windshield wiper, plastic windows, a stripped interior, and no air conditioning, among others. In total the Jota wound up weighing in around 1800lbs (800kg). The aerodynamics were also optimized for efficiency and cooling over the standard Miura, with a new front diffuser to keep the nose down, a roof mounted spoiler to aid high speed downforce, new air ducting vents on the sides and hood, and fixed headlights opposed to flip ups. The Jota was as focused as could be for its time.

The Miura’s 3.9L V12 was also modified with new cams and headwork, higher compression, total electronic ignition, a better flowing exhaust, and dry-sump lubrication that was better suited for fast cornering. This netted the Jota 440hp, a seriously high number for the time period, and with closer gear ratios it would’ve been all the more insane to drive compared to a standard Miura. Also of note, the pedals on the actual Jota were hinged above the pedal and hung, opposed to the floor hinged pedals on the standard cars; a feature not seen in any of the subsequent SVJ Miuras.

The Jota underwent around 20,000km of testing, and was used to develop tire and suspension technology for Lamborghini. The top speed was found to be in the neighborhood of 186mph (300kph) and 0-60 times are estimated to be in the high-mid 3 second range, again quite astonishing figures for the time and still very impressive today.

Under difficult economic times in 1972, the Jota was eventually sold to InterAuto in Brescia, Italy. It is there that the Jota was taken out on its final fateful journey by either a mechanic or salesman who got in over their head trying to show off for their girlfriend; this is a very Italian kind of story if you cannot tell by now. The driver lost control at some ridiculous speed, and the car burned to the ground in a mangled wreck, never to be repaired. From what I gather though, both occupants survived the wreck, so that says something for the strength of the Jota’s construction.

As I said above, news of this crash and the details of the Jota were published in various automotive press outlets. This peaked the interest of a few Miura owners, and five Miura SVJs were built. Each SVJ features some, but not all of the Jota’s upgrades, with the engine modifications and body kit being the most common features among the cars. Since each owner had different tastes, each SVJ is different from the other five, some were converted Miura SVs, and some were built as SVJs for customer orders. Only 3 of the original 5 featured dry sump lubrication, and most cars were left with their full interior fitted. There has since been a sixth car built by a Lamborghini enthusiast in the UK, with help from Bob Wallace himself, that is the closest thing to a replica of the original Jota around (red one at the top).

My photo of the SVJ at Pebble Beach

The Lamborghini Miura Jota will remain a lost treasure, and a legend of automotive history, but its legacy lives on through the lessons learned by Lamborghini during its development and by the six SVJs roaming the streets of the world. I was fortunate enough to see one of the SVJs up close at Pebble Beach in 2008. It was a beautiful raspberry colored car, and bidding for it reached $2 million at auction, but even so the owner decided not to sell. That same car has recently been featured in EVO magazine, where it is compared to the current Avantador. The saga of these most extreme Miuras continues…

-Nick Walker

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