The Best Model That You'll Never Drive
Sunday, November 4, 2007
SANT' AGATA BOLOGNESE, Italy Extremism in pursuit of power and technical superiority is no vice. That is the guiding principle of Lamborghini, a small car company long accustomed to making the world's most expensive and most extravagant automotive statements.
Located in this tiny village in North Italy, Lamborghini, founded in 1963 by Ferruccio Lamborghini, has a history of trying to outdo itself and everyone else in pursuit of the ultimate sports car, which usually means turning out the fastest, most powerful automobile that any carmaker legally could put on the street.
The most extreme representation of that corporate philosophy is the Lamborghini Reventon (the "v" is pronounced like "b"), which I was allowed to drive here under the watchful eyes of Lamborghini officials.
Their caution was understandable. The Reventon is a 650-horsepower, 12-cylinder super-coupe valued at the U.S. equivalent of $1.45 million -- about the same as a mini-mansion back home in Northern Virginia. Only 20 copies of the Reventon are being made. All of them have been sold -- 11 in the United States, seven in Europe, and two in Asia.
That meant I was driving somebody's car, which required accompaniment by a skilled Lamborghini test driver and engineer, Mario Frasinetti.
I was quite willing to let Mario drive first. In fact, I insisted. For one thing, I wanted to see how a professional driver would handle the motorized beast. For another, I was scared witless. I had never driven a car with that much power and that kind of price.
Mario, of course, made everything look easy. He keyed the ignition, pressed the right carbon-fiber paddle shifter behind the steering wheel, put the all-wheel-drive car into first gear and -- whoosh!
The Reventon, which shares many underpinnings with the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, is controlled via a six-speed automated manual transmission. "Automated manual"? Yes. Like many race cars, it has a manual transmission in which the driver does put a left foot on the clutch. Gear shifts are executed via two carbon-fiber paddle shifters -- one on the right for moving into the lower gears and another on the left for higher gears.
Mario played those shifters in the manner of a virtuoso pianist -- so smoothly and swiftly, with the Reventon instantly responding to his inputs. We ascended mountainsides sans railings. I dared not look over ledges of those unguarded high roads. I wouldn't have seen much anyway. The Reventon was moving so fast, everything was a blur.
We arrived at what Mario considered a safe spot for a driver exchange. "It's an easy car to drive," he said. "You'll do fine."
He turned out to be right. But doing fine first meant forgetting that the car costs $1.45 million and that it was someone else's car, and that it could move from zero to 62 mph in a scary 3.4 seconds.
I tried to obey posted speed limits, which only created traffic problems. When Mario was behind the Reventon's wheel, the car moved so fast that no one else on the road could even think about keeping up with him. When I drove, the car moved slowly enough to tempt people to pull up alongside of it and take photos with their camera phones. At a stoplight, one teenager who was following me in what appeared to be a Fiat jumped out of his car and ran in front of the Reventon to take pictures. It was an image hijack likely destined for the Internet.