In April 1987 the Lamborghini supercar company was bought by America’s Chrysler Corporation, as part of Lee Iacocca’s plan to expand Chrysler sales around the world. Iacocca wanted to see Lamborghini in Formula 1, going head to head with Ferrari. Former Ferrari team manager Daniele Audetto was hired to run a new company called Lamborghini Engineering to oversee the project and the legendary Mauro Forghieri was appointed technical director to oversee the design and construction of a V12 Formula 1 engine, to be raced under the new 3.5-litre Formula 1 regulations in 1989. A deal was struck in 1988 to supply the new engines to the Larrousse-Calmels team. The 1989 season was not easy but progress was made. Larrousse and Team Lotus used the engines in 1990.
Lamborghini was keen to have its own team, but did not have the budget to do it and so decided to try to find a customer to buy chassis and pay to build up a chassis department. It seemed like a great idea. Towards the end of 1989 an ambitious young Mexican businessman called Fernando Gonzalez Luna announced that he had started a company called Gonzalez Luna Associates, known as GLAS, and was raising money to become the Lamborghini factory team. Forghieri immediately hired designer Mario Tolentino, who had previously worked with Alfa Romeo, EuroBrun and Dallara, and he started work on the chassis that would later become known as the Lambo 291.The car was ready to be launched in June 1990, with Mauro Baldi signed up to test it. On the day before the launch Gonzalez Luna disappeared. To the horror of those in Bologna, it emerged that not only had he disappeared by $20 million has disappeared with him. It was a disaster, although Gonzalez Luna probably thought otherwise as he enjoyed the money in wherever it was that he went to hide.
Lamborghini Engineering tried to find a replacement financier. The obvious choice was Carlo Patrucco, an Italian who had earlier tried to buy Larrousse. He was young and ambitious and had married into the celebrated Cerruti textile family and, as a result, had been put in charge of the Fila clothing company and had become a vice-president of Confindustria, the Italian employers’ federation. He then set out to prove that he could make fortunes on his own and was involved in both a print machinery business and in helmet-making companies. He found enough money to get the programme up and running and the newly-named Modena Team signed Nico Larini and Eric Van de Poele to race in 1991.
At that time there were 34 cars entering each race, but only 30 were allowed to qualify and only 26 raced. There was a brutal one hour of pre-qualifying early each Friday morning, which knocked out four of the cars in pre-qualifying. The problem for Lamborghini was that two of the pre-qualifying teams had very competitive cars: Scuderia Italia and Jordan. The Modena Team made its F1 debut in Phoenix and Larini not only qualified 17th, but raced to seventh. It was a good start. In Brazil, however, the Dallaras and Jordans pre-qualified and so Modena Team was locked out. At the third race, in Imola, Van de Poele qualified 21st and was running fourth in the race, with half a lap to go when his fuel pump failed (or his fuel ran out). After that neither driver pre-qualified again. At the midway point in the season, thanks to Larini’s seventh place, the team emerged from pre-qualifying with Brabham, Footwork and AGS being pushed out. The problem was that the level of performance in qualifying improved as a result and with Modena Team struggling for money, Larini qualified only four times and could finish no higher than 16th. It was not enough. The sponsors lost interest, Patrucco, who was in trouble with other businesses as well, could raise no more. The team closed at the end of the year. Lamborghini went back to being just an engine supplier.
No-one knows what happened to Gonzalez Luna.
Please think about donating to the Jill Saward Fund, which aims to continue the work of my sister Jill Saward (1965-2017), who campaigned to help rape victims and to reduce the number of rapes in the world.