Join Date: Nov 2004
Jeremy Clarkson/ Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder
I can always spot those of a Guardian disposition. No matter how well disguised as a normal person they may be, they always reveal their true colours at some point by asking, scoffingly, why on earth we feature such expensive fast cars on Top Gear when the roads are so congested.
Sometimes, I just roll my eyes, and sometimes, I set them on fire. But occasionally, I adopt my special calm voice and explain that while the road from Islington to the headquarters of Channel 4 News may be a bit jammed up on a Tuesday morning, the road from Thwaite to Hawes in North Yorkshire usually isnít.
Nor is the road past my house. And nor were any of the roads we featured in the final and much misunderstood item in the last Top Gear show a few weeks back. In what was supposed to be a lament to the possible passing of the fast, petrol-powered car, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage was seen thundering along on mile after mile of completely deserted blacktop. This was filmed partly in Wales, partly in the Cotswolds and partly in Hertfordshire. You see my point. Even in the southeast of England, even in a home county, you can still find a road, lots of roads in fact, where you can enjoy your 500 horsepower sports car.
I found another last weekend. Though it was undoubtedly paid for by you and me, itís in Spain, linking the crime-caper coast with the charming hilltop town of Ronda 35 miles away.
Sadly, Iíd had rather too many wines to drive the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 Spyder that was parked outside. Indeed, had it not been painted metallic pea green, I might not have been able to find it. But happily, I had a chauffeur, a man who has no concept of alcohol. Or why ducks float. Or Tuesday.
Strangely, even though I work with him all the time, I had never been in a car with the Stig until this point. And had I not been a bit tipsy, I might not have got into a car with him that night either. Sober, youíd think about the road that lay ahead, with its cliff faces and its precipitous drops and Ronnie Biggs coming the other way and youíd elect to crawl on your hands and knees rather than get into a car with a man who has two speeds: stationary and absolutely flat out. Iím glad I did, though, because Jesus, the manís driving is sublime.
Not once did the car pitch or lurch. There was never a shimmy from the rear or a squeal from the tyres. We just went up that smooth, brilliant road with the roof down and me looking at the stars flying by as though we were on the Starship Enterpriseís observation deck. It was, I think, the most enjoyable drive of my life: to be in a car that good, with its V10 bark echoing off the limestone and a bit of Steely Dan on the stereo, doing about a million with a man who truly knows what heís doing at the wheel. This is what those of a Guardian disposition donít understand: that a car can be a tool but it can also be so much more. It can be a heart-starter, it can be a drug, it can be a piece of art, it can stir your soul and it can get you from Marbella to Ronda before the bar closes.
The new Lamborghini Gallardo does all of those things at least as well as any other car money can buy.
I am aware, of course, that soon Ferrari will launch its new 458, the first truly pretty car it has made since the 355. But even this is only a match for the sheer aesthetic rightness of the Gallardo, one of the most perfectly proportioned supercars the world has ever seen. And boy, the Ferrari will have to be good ó very, very good ó to be a better driving experience. I spent several days at the remarkable Ascari track with it, and it is fantastic. You can turn into any corner at pretty well any speed you like and the grip from the four-wheel-drive system beggars belief. Floor the throttle mid-bend and all you ever seem to get is more and more grip. The downside is that you have a less flamboyant time than you would in a car with rear-wheel drive. The upside is that when you are in public, overtaking another Dozy Dutchman in a Datsun, you know that you can floor it, use the monstrous power to get past and not have to worry too much about braking for the next bend because you will get round.
Then thereís the new 5.2 litre engine. Itís magnificent and even that doesnít do it justice. The power is immediate, the torque immense and the speed it delivers mesmerising. I particularly like the way the exhaust makes a derisory snorting noise when you lift off. Itís as though itís saying: ďWhy are you slowing down?Ē
Thereís more. In the past, a Lamborghini was more brittle than a pressed wild flower. One gust of wind and itíd turn to dust. Not any more. I pounded that Gallardo, and its big sister, the Murciťlago SV, round that track in blazing 40-degree heat for day after day and neither of them made even a murmur of complaint. They felt as robust as Audis. Which, of course, is only right and proper, since, technically, thatís what they are.
In the past, youíd look at the whole engine cover sliding upwards to let the roof fold away and youíd think: ďWell, thatís going to break.Ē But now, the whole mechanism feels like itís made from bronze. Itís the same story with the system that allows you to connect your iPod to the central command centre and select playlists as you drive along. Yes, itís all wired up by an Italian. But a German was looking over his shoulder, so it works.
The only real technical problem ó apart from the minor fact that a lot of Gallardos seem to catch fire ó is the gearbox. If you order a manual, the clutch pedal is so close to the transmission tunnel there is nowhere to put your left foot when you are driving. This is extremely boring. So you must select the flappy paddles. However, because the rest of the carís so good, this is a price worth paying.
But ... Here we go. Iíve owned supercars in the past, a Ferrari 355, the old 5-litre Gallardo Spyder and a Ford GT. But, and this will bring a smile to the Guardianistasí endlessly thin lips, they really donít work on a day-to-day basis.
You quickly grow tired of being looked at when you are stationary. You canít see whatís coming at oblique junctions. Your hands are always dirty from lifting the bonnet, under which thereís a boot thatís never quite big enough for the things youíve bought. And while the noise is sublime when you are in the mood, it is annoying when you are not.
Running a supercar as your day-to-day transport is like hacking out on Desert Orchid or moving to one of those all-glass modern houses or being married to Jordan or living entirely on haute cuisine. They arenít really designed for real life. Theyíre designed for dreaming, and thatís why I wrote that Aston Martin piece for Top Gear. Itís why I selected Brian Enoís track An Ending as the score. Itís why the director, Nigel Simpkiss, spent so much time and effort on the pictures. We wanted to highlight the dangers of what the anti-speed lobby and the pressure groups and the governmentís eco fools are doing. Itís one thing removing our freedom to live the life we want to live. But now they are waging war on our freedom to dream.
Iíve said this before and Iíll say it again here. I donít really want a Lamborghini Gallardo. But I donít want to live in a world where it doesnít exist.
Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder
Engine 5204cc, 10 cylinders
Power 560bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque 398 lb ft @ 6500rpm
Transmission Six-speed auto
Fuel 18.7mpg (combined cycle)
Acceleration 0-62mph: 4.0sec
Top speed 201mph
Road tax band M (£405 a year)
Last of a dying breed