The Cheetah was Lamborghini‘s first attempt at an off-road vehicle. It was built on contract from Mobility Technology International, which in turn was contracted by the US military to design and build a new all-terrain vehicle. The basis of the design came from MTI, and was largely a copy of FMC‘s XR311 prototype developed for the military in 1970.
The Cheetah was built in San José, California. After initial construction, the prototype was sent to Sant’Agata so Lamborghini could put on the finishing touches. They decided to go with a large, waterproofed 180 bhp (134 kW) 5.9L Chrysler engine, rear mounted, with a 3 speed automatic transmission. The body was fiberglass, and inside there was enough room for four fully equipped soldiers as well as the driver.
The original Cheetah prototype had a rear-mounted Chrysler V8 engine. The prototype was destroyed during testing by the US military. This led Lamborghini to develop the LM001, which was very similar to the Cheetah, but had an AMC V8 engine.
It was finally determined that the engine being mounted in the rear caused too many unfavorable handling characteristics in an offroad vehicle, and the LMA002 was built with an entirely new chassis, moving the engine (now the V12 out of the Countach) to the front.
Lovingly dubbed the “Rambo-Lambo”, its aggressive styling and powerful engine made it a success for Lamborghini. Civilian models were outfitted with a full luxury package, including full leather trim, tinted power windows, air conditioning, and a premium stereo mounted in a roof console. In order to meet the vehicle’s tire needs, Lamborghini commissioned Pirelli to create the Pirelli Scorpion tires with custom, run-flat, tread designs. These were made specifically for the LM and were offered in two different tread designs, one for mixed use and the other for sand use only. These tires could be run virtually flat without risk and were the only rubbers available to compete with the desert heat, the loading and the speeds that the LM could inflict on them. A 76 gallon (290 liter) fuel tank supplied fuel.
The civilian version was often marketed toward rich Saudi sheiks because of its incomparable performance in the desert due to the Scorpion tires, an oversized radiator, and a large air cleaner which sat on top of 6 Weber carburetors. The military version of the LM002 omitted some of the luxuries, and featured additions including mounting points for machine guns. The Saudi Arabian army ordered 40, each with the roof able to be opened like a hatch over the rear seats. Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi reportedly ordered 100 of them for the use of Libya’s military.
On July 18, 2004, at a US military base near Baqubah, members of the American military used an LM002 that had belonged to Uday Hussein to simulate the effects of a car bomb, not knowing of its rarity or value. The LM002 was destroyed during the test. The approximate current day value is $100,000 USD for a used 1988 12 cylinder model.