The all-new Lamborghini Murciélago replacement won’t be launched until next March. But Lambo asked Steve Sutcliffe to join them in a secret sign-off test at Nardo in Italy. Cue a mad 210mph in the dark…
A garage door opens, writes Sutcliffe, and at that instant all conversation ceases. Before us, wearing heavy disguise that consists mostly of matt black duct tape atop four monumentally huge wheels and tyres, sits the future of Lamborghini – the very first prototype for the all-new V12 supercar that will replace the legendary Murciélago.
This is the car that will define what Lamborghini means to the rest of the world for at least the next 10 years. And it’s a car, or at least the prototype of a car, that I’ll be driving in less than half an hour’s time.
12 March 2009 1.04amIt has taken me two days of fairly grim travelling to get here – ‘here’ being the Nardo test track in southern Italy. At this stage Lamborghini isn’t allowed to give too much away. We know the tub is made entirely from carbonfibre and that the suspension is of single-seater-style pushrod design, both firsts for any Lamborghini.
What we don’t know – and what Maurizio won’t yet tell us — is what the car weighs. “If a Murciélago weighs nearly 1700kg with a conventional backbone chassis,” says Lamborghini’s main man, Maurizio Reggiani, “and you already know the new car has a carbonfibre tub because I just told you it does, how much do think the damned thing weighs?”
12 March 2009 1.25amI press the big starter button on the console and the all-new Lamborghini erupts into life, much like every other Lamborghini erupts into life: with an enormous burst of revs, like it or not. But immediately I notice several new characteristics.
The sound from the engine and exhaust is smoother and less grainy than in a Murciélago, somehow. And the response from the crank when I blip the throttle is massively more immediate. Before it has even moved, this car feels both more refined and less physically intimidating than of old – less, dare I say it, like a rough old diamond from the good old days and more like a normal kind of supercar. One you’d half expect to see from the more extreme edges of a company like Volkswagen.
And that’s before you so much as mention the cabin, or the driving position, both of which are hugely more resolved than in the Murciélago.
12 March 2009 1.28amThe moment it moves, the new Lambo feels every bit as advanced dynamically as it does aesthetically inside. The ride is calm and controlled in a way that a Murciélago owner simply wouldn’t recognise. It glides quietly over ground that the old car shimmies and thumps across.
Best of all, you no longer get the impression that you are sitting at the front of a very long, triangular machine whose tail contains a bite so venomous that there is no known cure beyond a certain threshold.
Instead, the new car feels fundamentally better balanced, as if it has a much lower, broader centre of gravity; as if it won’t tear your arms off and then kick you in the unmentionables if you do the wrong thing with the throttle at the wrong moment in a corner. And all this, remember, from the very first prototype.
16 September 2010 12.10amScroll forwards 18 months and here we are again, in the middle of the night at Nardo, staring at not one but three different prototypes. Car One is the original test mule I drove last year, Car Two is a ‘mid-program’ prototype and Car Three is pretty much what will be unveiled next March, give or take its duct tape and matt black paint.
I climb inside Car Three and discover that the cabin has a much more polished feel to it this time. It looks impossibly high end and has a discernible air of quality to the way its switchgear, door handles and buttons operate.
It may not be fully signed off yet, but this car feels more like the finished article than any Murciélago ever did. And it feels faster – much faster – than the old timer as I rumble down towards the high-speed bowl and open the taps wide for the very first time.
The kick of acceleration is genuinely outrageous in second gear, as is the speed and severity of the gearchange as the new gearbox slices up through its seven forward gears.
At 200mph the front end also begins to bounce slightly, so at 210mph I back off, even though the car is still accelerating. Something didn’t feel quite right beyond 200mph on that first run. It turns out that the pushrod suspension was nudging its bump stops due to the cornering load, causing them to act as part of the suspension, hence the bouncing. But this will be eradicated, says Maurizio, before the car goes on sale next year.
16 September 2010 10.20amDespite this minor glitch (which is what pre-production testing is designed to uncover, after all), the new car proves itself beyond all doubt around the handling circuit the morning after the night before. I drive a Murciélago SV first, then all three versions of the new car. Again, the differences in balance, feel, steering precision and speed are shockingly obvious.
The SV, all of a sudden, feels clunky and old beside the new car, and nowhere near as stable under brakes or during turn-in. The new car’s basic dynamic ability is so much greater, in fact, that it laps the circuit several seconds quicker in the end. And it feels massively better sorted into the bargain. Which means job done, all thing being equal and considered.
16 September 2010 11.55amTime to go, to take the bus back to the airport – with a head full of questions answered and a notebook full of stuff that I’m not allowed to write about here. One thing I can tell you right here and now, though, is that the new V12 Lamborghini – whatever it ends up being called – is a thundering good car. One with the heart and soul of a traditional Lamborghini but the build integrity – and pure dynamic excellence – of the most advanced supercars money can buy.
Quite a cocktail, in other words, as long as you’ve got the balls – and the bank account – to go with it. Business as usual, then, only better made, lighter and faster than ever.