'Nowadays Lamborghinis flatter their drivers, rather than frighten the bejesus out of them'
Worried that Lamborghini might be losing its hardcore edge, Meaden appraises the future of the raging bull
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Lamborghini. Specifically the Lamborghini Countach. This was partly down to learning its name was derived from a Piedmontese swear word (what impressionable small kid doesn’t love a bit of legit profanity?), but it was mostly down to the crazy looks and Top Trumps-winning specification.
There was also an air of mystery to Lamborghini that made the company and its cars seem all the more fantastical. In the days before Google, Twitter and YouTube, the folklore surrounding Lamborghini was spread via a kind of osmosis. Mostly via the pages of motoring magazines such as Motor and Car.
And what tales they were. The tractor maker motivated by his dislike of Enzo Ferrari and dissatisfaction with the cars from Maranello. Models named after fighting bulls. A mysterious Kiwi engineer called Bob Wallace, who created hardcore experimental cars such as the Miura Jota in his spare time, then tore off down the autostrada until they threatened to take off. The Espada’s party piece of accelerating from walking pace to V-max in one gear. Barry ‘BR33’ Robinson. The LM002. And, of course, my treasured die-cast Marzal.
Thus steeped in geek mythology, I burned to drive or even ride in a Lamborghini. The wait was long, but thankfully the gods smiled upon me and I landed a job as a motoring journalist. Given I’d spent my school years reading and re-reading Car magazine’s ‘Convoy!’ story, where Mel Nichols recounted bringing a Countach, Silhouette and Urraco back from the factory to the UK, I was never going to have a normal job. But to find myself learning my craft alongside those who had worked through those Car magazine glory days somehow cemented my spiritual connection to Sant’Agata. I had to get there.
The moment came in 1996 and it couldn’t have been more perfect. The car was the Diablo VT Roadster. No, not a balls-out SV, but it was a Diablo and it was just for us – a private gig for Performance Car magazine, not an orchestrated launch. The informality of those pre-Audi days was obvious when Valentino Balboni met us from the airport. It continued when we arrived at the factory and were told to wait cinque minuti. An hour and several rocket-fuel espressos later, we were led to the service department, where the car was waiting for us in the sunshine.
I’ve driven many Lamborghinis since, but apart from spending a day on classic Appennine roads in a Miura SV (once again with Balboni for company) for an early evo, nothing has come close to that first visit. Of the current crop, the Huracán Performante has an abundance of fire and brimstone, but the cars and the company are too accessible, too damned reasonable. Press access should rely on a little black book of factory or importer contacts and a preparedness to spend fruitless days waiting while the test car is finished. Buying them should require more than just money. Driving them should demand a level of skill, hand-eye guile and a pinch of madness. Nowadays Lamborghinis flatter their drivers rather than frighten the bejesus out of them.
Not that Lamborghini is alone in this – most of the once-exotic, eccentric and esoteric family-run marques have gone too mainstream. Ferrari has been consistently building truly sensational cars since the turn of the century, but since the departure of Luca di Montezemolo the company has traded hot-headed charisma for cold-hearted corporate governance.
There are flashes of Lamborghini’s free-spirited approach in McLaren’s Super Series cars, but the true spirit of Lamborghini lives on in marques such as Pagani and Koenigsegg – true artisanal supercar builders with the founder’s name above the door and an aversion to racing. But still they don’t seem to resonate in the way Ferruccio’s efforts did. Simpler times, cooler cars.
And the Urus? I’m no fan, but I think it’s the vulgar and somewhat tepid manifestation of a wider malaise at Lamborghini. Namely this once-maverick supercar maker has become a slave to sales targets and made to conform. When Audi took control, we feared that in saving Lamborghini it would also ruin it, though the cars initially proved those fears unfounded. My beef with the Urus is that, of all the major players in this sector, Lamborghini owned the intellectual and emotional rights to building an outrageous SUV. Yet what’s been done with that unique authenticity and heritage? Squandered on a derivative model that shuns a wholly excessive V12 and genuine weapons-grade purpose for vital organs shared with an Audi and a Bentley.
There was a dread inevitability about what the Urus would be. Now it’s here, the inexorable demystification of Lamborghini is finally complete – less raging bull, more marketing cazzate.
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