So you have secretly peeped at the aunt next door.
Stolen money from your mom’s purse to see Bo Derek in 10.
Lied about your grade to your parents and about the flirtatious ‘friend’ to your wife.And you think you have sinned?
Trust me, I have done all of the above and I think I still could have made it to the good books and got a white Rolls-Royce to drive on the ivory-paved roads of heaven. But now I won’t. Because I just spent a glorious day driving a... er, white Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 in and around Las Vegas. Let me tell you, if there was heaven on earth… oh, you have heard that one before.
Imagine this. You have woken up, shaved and showered, worn fresh clothes and had plenty of black coffee along with your breakfast. In short, you are all set to wholeheartedly embrace another brand new day. As you stroll by a phenomenally great hotel lobby, whom do you meet? Well, in my case, it was an equally fresh looking woman who smiled at me and asked whether she could come with me to my room. It was seven in the morning, for heaven’s sake!
To cut that short, I didn’t need further proof that I was in Sin City, where dawn plays the role of dusk and neons react to a sun sensor. But what the pretty solicitor didn’t know was that I was already hooked beyond respite. How could she know that I travelled for more than 21 hours, halfway across the globe, just to drive a new Lambo?At this point, let me dedicate this little story to all of those 2,321 people who thought I was insane to travel all the way to the US – that too, to Las Vegas – for just one day of driving a car. What they didn’t know, and in all probability will never know, is the fact that I will go to Titan to drive a Lamborghini even if that means travelling in a cannon ball. Baarp. Baaaarp. Barp, Baaaaaarp… that is how the new 5200cc, 90-degree V10 sounds when you tickle its throttle. There is no shrillness, only lots of bass, and when you are not disturbing its direct fuel injection system, there is an eerily quiet idle. The new, bigger engine was required to meet emission norms that are not becoming any easier for the endangered species of supercar makers in the world. Will we get to see diesels, and worse still, super-hybrid powered Lambos in the future? The charismatic, almost film-star material president of Lamborghini, Stephan Winkelmann, is not ready to disclose the future of the Sant’Agata firm, but we all know that big sister Audi has shoehorned a 12-cylinder diesel in the rather tight engine bay of their supercar, the R8 – so everything is possible. But for the time being, it is a gasoline engine that is throbbing amidships the Gallardo and the world is a beautiful place for it. Encountering a Lamborghini that is idling next to a racing oval is a scene not too dissimilar to the introduction of the Bond girl in any 007 movie. You know it is only a matter of time before action of all sorts explodes on the screen.
Lamborghini today is the supercar movement gathering momentum and the Gallardo is at the centre of action. Check out the numbers – between 1963 and 2002, Lamborghini never sold more than 250 cars in a year. After the Gallardo was conceived, the firm started building and selling more than 1,000 thoroughbreds a year. In 2007, the number stood at 2,406 units and it is still climbing. So the variants are coming – the lighter, extreme Superleggera last year and now the ‘new’ LP560-4. For a two-model car company, the changes that they make to their bestseller – however small they are – are reason enough for a worldwide celebration and a 17-day launch programme which includes the choicest of hotels, seven helicopters, exceptional models, a superb film, a world-class racing circuit and, of course, the city of Las Vegas.
A bit about the nomenclature here – LP stands for Longitudinale Posteriore (in English, that means the engine lies lengthways in front of the rear axle), 560 stands for the output (40 horses more than the older model) and 4 stands for four-wheel drive. So the basic constitution of the Italian supercar has not changed at all – just that the new Lamborghini people like the idea of an exotic sounding Italian prefix for their new branding exercise. Nothing wrong with that and actually you get more – the rev counter says ‘giriX1000’ and Italian translations can be seen on every other gauge. So what if the magnificent engine that can be seen through the perspex cover has hoses made in Germany? It proclaims the fact that the raging bull now belongs to Audi. If ever there was a good thing about companies being taken over, Audi ruling Lamborghini is it. Okay, it is better than Chrysler, Proton and various consortia owning Lamborghini and almost ruining the legend.
The driving constituted of two parts – we could sample the car behind an ultra-fast Murcielago on the Las Vegas Speedway’s oval and the inside course with corners, and later in the day, take the little monster back to Vegas by road. Seven Eco-star Eurocopters flying in formation took us to the track and the waiting, which started the moment I applied for the US visa a month back, was becoming unbearable. The speedway was deserted but for the eye-watering line-up of Lamborghinis and the energetic event organisers who would stop the Earth so that the road test went smoothly. The shiny Gallardos had their engines running, threatening to create a small hole in the ozone layer all by themselves.
I walk with limbs trembling with anticipation – it is the first time I am attending a Lamborghini launch drive, though I have driven the beasts before. My destination is the only right-hand drive car of the lot, a bright orange Gallardo. Ferraris are red, Jaguars are green and Lamborghinis are supposed to be orange. At least, it is for me since the day I saw the orange Miura driven to extinction in the opening sequence of the original Italian Job. The things an impressionable age can do to you.
But white is the predominant colour at the launch and the new LP560-4 looks a bit like an unaccounted-for offspring of the Reventon – the ultra-limited edition, aircraft inspired Murcielago derivative – that was meant as much for the walls of boys’ bedrooms as much as it was for the dark, airconditioned garages of filthy rich collectors.
Getting in and out of a Lamborghini needs a certain degree of athleticism which I bid good-bye to in my college days. By the time I am seated and belted, revs were climbing around me. It was time to go. For a nanosecond, everything became a haze – how do I select first gear? Almost instinctively, my fingers extended to the right paddle behind the wheel and the Lambo was moving. The pace car was gathering momentum. I had to catch up and that meant flooring the right pedal. And that meant shock. The V10 lost its muted attributes and barked loud enough from deep inside its guts to send shivers down my spine and we were off like bullets, out of the paddock area and onto the oval. I was driving the new Lamborghini. And how. The new car revs to 8000 rpm before it demands a shift and that it does in any gear without fail – as long as you are ready to cope with the resulting acceleration and emotions that your brain goes through in the process. As I gripped the meaty steering wheel in the general direction of the pace car, we passed 100 kph in just 3.7 seconds (probably, that is what it can do). But this is a super, super car that can actually do 325 kph when given the space, and that means the time taken for 0-200 kph is what owners would discuss when they are not busy driving the wheels off it. How about 11.8 seconds for 200 Kmph, easier said than done – to achieve that, I had to fall well behind the pace car and go through the three gears in perfect sync as if my life depended on it. The oval banking at the Nascar spec track helped and I was doing this 200 thing with remarkable ease by the third lap onwards. Once you get used to it, you start playing with the robotised e-gear system and you can hear the music only excited valvetrains can make. It was time to roll the windows down and hear the Sant’Agata Philharmonic.
What resembles and sounds like a fighter jet (alright, a trainer) on straights transforms into a sticky sports car that does not like to waver from the line that you throw at it. An extremely capable four-wheel drive system runs at a 30-70 torque split all the time, but takes away unwanted turning force and redistributes it when it detects wheelspin. Add to that a limited slip differential at the rear (brake distribution actuated slip differential at the front) and new age P Zero Pirellis that can give chewing gum competition when it comes to adhesiveness, and you have a car that is very difficult to lose control of. As I was driving through the inside course, I was thinking of the beautiful launch video where the cars were almost always sideways. Now to achieve that you need terribly wrong lines… and even then, a slight slither is all that you would get out of the car. The Porsche 911 Turbo, which comes very close to the Gallardo when it comes to general dynamics (again, a four-wheel driven, rear-engine sportscar), can be considered more malleable compared to the new Lamborghini. With 54 kgm of torque developing at 6500 rpm, you can be in any gear as you exit a corner and the car will pull away nice and clean. While the manual geared car (we never tried that) with its shift gate could be considered more traditional, what makes sense is the automatic with paddle shifts – why bother trying to rev-match the shifts when the electronics can do it for you much more quickly and efficiently? And you do need two hands on the steering wheel to be in complete control of this bella macchina.
I can tell you a lot more about the new LP560-4. I can tell you that it is lighter and better than the already light and very good Gallardo Superleggera which it replaces, I can tell you about optional ceramic disc brakes, the Ferrari rivalling modes in the ‘e.gear’ system (normal, sport, corsa, thrust – read mad – and automatic). And then about the ‘Ad Personam’ concept, which means the permutations and combinations for colour, trim, carbon-fibre and Alcantara is simply inexhaustible. Instead I would like to take you back on the highway to Vegas.
If the track experience was intense, the on-road experience was a bit emotional. We were driving on roads which had 45 or 55 mph (72-88 kph) limits and it proved to be almost impossible to maintain. Not that the car was suffocating, actually it could handle low speeds like a little Fiat runabout, but it was me, the driver, who needed to be kept on a leash. The ride quality dished out by double wishbones on all ends was stiff but not bone-jarring stiff.Occasionally, when the flowing tarmac opened up and there were no police car silhouettes on the horizon, I would give the LP560-4 a chance to fly. The scattering of Lamborghinis went through beautifully laid national park roads before almost everyone got lost completely – we did too, and I was not complaining. Eventually, we aimed at the Vegas skyline the way astronauts did with Mother Earth in the Apollo 13 mission, and reached home. As we closed in on the famous ‘Vegas strip’, neons were just about coming on, tourists still had children with them and slot machines were more or less silent.
Some chose to give a thumbs-up to the new Lambo on the prowl and some others chose to use a different finger to show their appreciation. It was nice, to be at the signals, being swarmed with attention. And then it was time to park, blip the throttle one last time to hear the magnificent ten in the underground lot and toss the key to the parking attendant. She had legs all the way to her neck and she wore a Lamborghini shirt – I hated her nevertheless.
I never tried my luck on the slot machines – not even a dollar was spent on it. Neither did I attend any of the extravagant Vegas productions like Bellagio’s O or KA at MGM Grand. And yes, I gave the night clubs at Caesars Palace the skip too. The only bit of kinkiness from my end consisted of buying a pink refrigerator magnet that said Vegas Babe! But I felt drained, indulged and satisfied to an exceptionally criminal level.
The high the new Lamborghini gave me was of such an order that I could simply retire to my room and try to stop the adrenaline glands from belching the stuff and sleep. It took a timely SMS from a good friend to explain what was going on within me – there are enthusiasts and there are lovers, she said.
Sometimes, only sometimes, women do get it right.
So you have secretly peeped at the aunt next door.