The Touareg driver never saw it coming. Mesmerised by the receding sight and sound of the slate-grey Gallardo Spyder burbling through the bustling Highland town of Glen Coe, his eyes are glued to his rear-view mirror rather than the road ahead.
Watching incredulous from the Ferrari, it’s clear that the Corsa innocently parked in his path doesn’t stand a chance. Nailed by two and a half tons of wayward SUV with a grimace-inducing crump-thump-skrrsssch, the hapless Vauxhall hatchback buckles under the force of the collision, while the distracted Touareg driver wears the expression of a man who’s just swallowed his own tongue, snapped from blissful daydream to waking nightmare in one sickening thud.
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It’s an unexpectedly dramatic end to a fabulous two days in which we’ve enjoyed these Modenese roadsters to the full amongst the towering peaks and tranquil lochs of the Scottish Highlands. It’s also a timely reminder of just what a spectacle these cars make amongst ordinary traffic. They certainly made an impression on the Corsa…
Rewind 48 hours, and John Hayman and I have just emerged from the Gallardo after a five-hour haul from Northamptonshire to Livingston, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. We’ve not lowered the roof once, which feels a bit fraudulent, especially when the sun’s out, but when you’ve got big miles to cover you stick to the motorways, at which point the appeal of open-top driving is torn to shreds in the conversation-killing slipstream. Better, we think, to keep our powder dry until tomorrow, when we’re due to collect the Ferrari F430 Spider and make for the roads that lie between Fort William and Mallaig, on the west coast. Not only are they a fittingly epic stage on which to drive these two towering supercars, but the endless Highland days see the sun rise at just after 4am and darkness held at bay until almost 11pm. Short of driving to Scandinavia, nowhere packs more sunshine into a summer’s day. Let’s just hope Mother Nature doesn’t rain on our parade.
We arrive bright and early at Rio Prestige (the supercar hire company) to collect the Ferrari which they have kindly made available to us for this test. It’s finished in the classic combination of Rosso Corsa paint and Crema leather, and looks quite a sight. More of a surprise is that it’s also fitted with an equally ‘classic’ manual gearbox and steel brakes, rather than the optional F1 paddle-shift transmission and carbon stoppers that the vast majority of F430 customers are reported to select. It’s fortunate in a way, because the Gallardo has three pedals and a stick, too, so we’ll be comparing old-school like with like.
For the most part, the drive up to Fort William isn’t a memorable one, thanks largely to a satnav system that seems determined to take us through every unremarkable, traffic-choked town between Edinburgh and the Highlands. Things pick up once we get to Crianlarich, from which point the roads open, the traffic abates and Hayman decides to stretch the Lambo’s legs.
It’s quite something to follow, even when you’re chasing it in a Ferrari. Emitting a ground-shaking soundtrack, the chiselled Gallardo, with its broad, square shoulders, looks just as cohesive as the coupe from which it’s derived, and is more convincingly sculpted and pleasingly proportioned than the slightly awkward-looking Ferrari.
The reason becomes apparent when we decide to drop the roofs. The complexity on show in both is jaw-dropping, even if the assorted whirring, clunking and straining of electric motors is ultimately a bit of a palaver compared with the simplicity of, say, a BMW Z4. But while the entire engine deck of the Lambo tilts skywards to allow the tightly folded hood to contort itself into the small rectangular compartment close to the rear scuttle, the Ferrari’s mechanism is confined to the small humps that surround each roll-hoop, thereby preserving the beautiful ‘display case’ engine cover.
While it’s wonderful to see the red crackle-finish of the Ferrari’s 4.3-litre V8 on show, the roll-hoops, roof cover and humps interrupt the F430’s sharp lines. The Lamborghini’s design is tidier and less disruptive, even if it does deny you any glimpse of the equally impressive V10. The flat, vented deck runs in one unbroken line from cockpit to tail lights, creating a beautifully clean, lean profile. It also incorporates a brilliant glass anti-buffeting screen, which raises and lowers like an electric window from the bulkhead behind the seats. It’s a very neat touch.
With our pace increasing and the road punctuated by some wicked crests, dips and smooth sequences of corners, both cars are finding a fast rhythm. The F430 has that distinctive, pointy-steering feel of the Berlinetta, with very keen front-end responses, and it’s an easy, satisfying car to thread along these unfamiliar roads at a brisk pace.
I have to confess to inadvertently pulling at the indicator stalk a few times and wondering why the transmission wasn’t delivering a punchy shift, before remembering, somewhat embarrassed, that I should be stirring that quaint alloy stick down by my left knee. It feels odd in a car I normally associate with fingertip immediacy, but the action of the clutch and lever are light and positive, and the evocative ball-topped stick is soon clacking between the fingers of the hallowed open gate in satisfying style.
We power through the humbling beauty of Glen Coe, two raucous wedges of aluminium darting through the holiday traffic, in pursuit of possibly the only car and driver combination capable of upstaging us: a Hertz rental Focus driven by photographer Andy Morgan. By the time we pass Fort William and find the roads we enjoyed so much back on eCoty 2003 (evo 063), it’s well into the afternoon, and Morgan’s shutter finger is clearly getting itchy.
While he and Hayman busy themselves with some shots of the Lambo, I make off with the Ferrari for a solo drive. It’s a sharp, dashing blade, the F430. Quick-witted and hungry for revs, it thrives on the fast, flowing roads that characterise this remote region of Scotland. You need to work at it, though, for although tractable, the V8 really hits its stride, and finds its voice, above 5000rpm. Below this the engine emits an intrusive but not especially pleasant blare. Stay above it, though, and the Spider builds to a shrieking crescendo that ricochets off the craggy outcrops at the road’s edge, filling the open cockpit with echoes of Fiorano.
There’s tremendous feel to the brakes, and excellent stopping power too. In fact, for all but the most extreme road and track use they feel plenty strong enough, even if they do look a bit weedy behind the five-spoke alloys. It’s delightful to brake hard into a corner, roll your ankle across to execute a heel-and-toe downshift and find the brake and throttle pedals perfectly placed.
Less satisfying is the scuttle-shake that shivers through the structure over major road imperfections. It’s not catastrophic, but it is noticeable, and it does diminish the sense of precision you feel compared with the Berlinetta. Worse is the pronounced kick-back through the steering wheel when you hit a mid-corner drain- cover or pot hole with the inside front wheel. It really does jar, especially when the flow of information is otherwise detailed and delicate. The impact wrong-foots the car for a moment or two. If you’ve experienced the rock-solid integrity of the Berlinetta, it comes as quite a shock.
Inherently, though, the F430 Spider’s chassis balance remains exciting, exploitable and minutely adjustable. Entering one of the countless tightening corners a shade too fast, I’m forced to brake deeper than ideal, and wind-on another quarter-turn of lock. It’s one of those moments that makes you catch your breath, but the Ferrari is with me all the way, tightening its line without complaint, the mildest hint of understeer the only outward sign of my misjudgement. For an agile, prickly mid-engined car, it’s impressively forgiving.
By the time I return to Morgan’s photographic base on the shores of Loch Shiel, he’s done with the Gallardo. Having got really dialled-in to the F430’s responses, the contrast between it and the Lamborghini is immediate and startling: where the Ferrari is all about lightness of touch, the Gallardo is a chunky heavyweight that demands a more muscular approach.
The clutch, gearbox and steering are all significantly weightier than the Ferrari’s. The engine brims with bombast from the moment you fire it up, and the chassis feels beefier, all four tyres planted squarely on their treadblocks where the Ferrari always feels light on its feet. It’s a more physical, all-encompassing car. You drive it with your forearms rather than your wrists, and while you don’t have to bully it, you do have to assert yourself before the Gallardo gels.
If there’s one element that dominates the Gallardo experience, it’s the engine. Moments when the Ferrari can be caught off the boil simply don’t exist in the Gallardo, for the big-capacity V10 has grunt to spare. It pulls with conviction from nothing and even manages an inspiring second wind between 7000 and 8000rpm, it’s note hardening, the sense of acceleration intensifying just when you think things are about to tail off. Full-revs with the roof down is a cataclysmic experience, the brutal, tortured howl surely ranking as the most visceral cry since Chewbacca did his flies up too quickly.
The gearshift isn’t as quick as the Ferrari’s, thanks to the extra effort required and also because of a slight gristly feel as the lever passes the neutral plane of the gate. It’s not obstructive, in fact if you like to get stuck in, the shift’s meaty quality can be particularly satisfying. However, for sheer speed and purity, the Ferrari ’box is best, although I can’t help thinking that the superb F1 system better suits the F430’s character. Heresy I know, but…
Wearing Pirelli P Zero Corsas, the Gallardo is a gripfest on these smooth, well-surfaced roads, long swooping corners highlighting its high-g abilities to perfection. Coupled with weighty steering that increases in effort and feel as you pile on the speed and cornering force, it’s astonishingly sure-footed and surreally rapid. The one fly (or should that be midge?) in the ointment is a pronounced self-centre effect which tries to pull the car straight when you relax your grip on the suede-rimmed wheel as you see a corner begin to open out. You can drive around the trait, but you’re forced to steer the car straight rather than let the wheel flow through your hands, which compounds the physicality of hustling the Gallardo.
As ever with the Gallardo, the brakes come in for criticism. Not for their lack of staying power, as the roads here are fast and flowing rather than tight and twisty, but for the initial lack of feel and pedal travel, making smooth driving, not to mention effective heel-and-toeing, less than intuitive. Again, you do learn to compensate with time and familiarity, but it could be better.
It’s been a memorable day’s driving, but it’s not over yet, for we have an appointment with a sunset on the shores of the Sound of Arisaig. Keen to get prepared in plenty of time, Andy leads us back to our hotel, the amusingly named Cnoc-na-Faire in the equally chucklesome Back of Keppoch. The plan is to check-in, dump our bags and head back out, but as we assemble outside at just after 7pm the sun’s still beating down as though it’s mid-afternoon. As photographers are as fickle as farmers when it comes to the prevailing weather conditions, we go back indoors ‘to let the light soften’, whatever that means…
Three fine courses and two hours later, it’s still broad daylight, but with Hayman twitching every time a resident orders a pint of lager, we decide to head back out, finally running out of light at 11pm. The nights really are short this far north.
Next morning we have a few more shots to do before heading back to Edinburgh. It’s an opportunity to let thoughts and feelings crystallise, and hopefully find a way of picking a winner.
As we’ve established, faults are few and far between. The Ferrari’s biggest failing is the mild but noticeable scuttle-shake and serious steering kick-back, while the Lambo suffers from clumsy brake feel and a lack of delicacy. Neither, it has to be said, are as pure or precise as their tin-roofed relatives, but hasn’t that always been the case?
After many memorable miles, deciding between them is almost impossible. Both deliver a rare sense of occasion and connect you with the world you’re driving through like few other cars, their speed, sound and involvement all top-drawer. In all honesty, when two cars are this closely matched, aesthetics are as good an arbiter as any.
Forced with making a choice, we’d go for the Lamborghini. While annoying, with time you learn to drive around its ham-fisted brake response and the steering’s over-keenness to self-centre, but the Ferrari’s steering grates more. Perhaps the surgical precision of the Berlinetta means the F430 has more to lose in the transition to Spider. That to our eyes the Gallardo also gets the styling nod seals the win for Sant’Agata, but by the slimmest of margins.
If you fancy following in our tyre-tracks and recreating this test, Rio Prestige is about to take delivery of a Gallardo Spyder to complement its F430 Spider. For more information on these and other cars in Rio’s impressive fleet, take a look at www.rioprestige.com or call Edward Legge on 01506 466911 and tell him we sent you.
|F430 SPIDER||GALLARDO SPYDER|
|Location||Mid, longitudinal||Mid, longitudinal|
|Bore x stroke||92 x 81mm||82.5 x 92.8mm|
|Cylinder block||Aluminium alloy, dry sumped||Aluminium alloy, dry sumped|
|Cylinder head||Aluminium alloy, dohc per bank, four valves per cylinder||Aluminium alloy, dohc per bank, four valves per cylinder|
|Fuel and ignition||Bosch engine management, sequential multipoint fuel injection||Lamborghini LIE engine management, sequential multipoint fuel injection|
|Max power||483bhp @ 8500rpm||513bhp @ 8000rpm|
|Max torque||343lb ft @ 5250rpm||376lb ft @ 4500rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, E-Diff, CST||Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive, rear lsd, ESP, ASR|
|Front suspension||Double wishbones, coil springs, ‘Skyhook’ adaptive damping, arb||Double wishbones, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension||Double wishbones, coil springs, ‘Skyhook’ adaptive damping, anti-roll bar||Double wishbones, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes||Ventilated and cross-drilled discs, 330mm front and rear, ABS, EBD||Ventilated discs, 365mm front, 335mm rear, ABS, EBD|
|Wheels||7.5 x 19in front, 10 x 19in rear||8.5 x 19in front, 11 x 19in rear|
|0-62mph||4.1sec (claimed)||4.3sec (claimed)|
|Max speed||193mph+ (claimed)||195mph (claimed)|
|evo Rating||5 out of 5||5 out of 5|