Thanks to the nice people at Lamborghini, Manchester a pleasant change from eating – driving three latest models from the Audi-owned Italian supercar maker at Millbrook Proving Ground in the Midlands.

There were a couple of surprises – the first a chance to meet an old friend, Valentino Balboni,  Lambo’s legendary test driver and the man who developed the racing Diablo SVR I used to race. This guy is so famous that when he “retired” Lamborghini developed a “Valentino Balboni” special edition of the Guillardo – but more of that later.

The occasion was meant really for potential customers – not liggers like me. So the deal is a professional driver sits alongside as the nervous would be buyer samples 500 brake horsepower around the sinuous curves and ferocious gradients of the alpine handling course. Which is fine, except that I’m not nervous and am soon going much faster than the now nervous pro driver thinks is appropriate.

All fine after some explanations of my cv.

So back to the cars. The basic Galliardo – if that is not a contradiction – is a revelation to someone who last sat in a Lambo before the Germans took over. The Diablo was an incredible bit of kit – but things like the interior, electronics, fit and finish were a bit hit and miss. The whole point of the thing really was to look and sound fantastic and go faster than pretty much anything else on the road. All of which it did supremely well.  As a car to use everyday it was, frankly, hopeless.

The Guillardo, quite thoroughly up-dated for 2010, changes all that. For a start it is tiny and beautifully, exquisitely fabricated. To say it is better than anything Audi build themselves is meant as very high praise. Secondly there is a driving position that normal sized people can get comfortable in – another Lamborghini first.  There is also a reminder how far the latest paddle controlled gearboxes in supercars have improved over the last five years. The two others I have driven, Aston Martin and Ferrari, were respectively a bit sluggish and unnatural and too ferocious for comfortable driving.

The gearbox in the Guillardo is so precise, so rapid and so intuitive that I’m, for the first time, sure I’d take this not a manual.  It blips the throttle in down changes to give that authentic racing driver heel and toe sensation.

What else? Well this was a customer day not a race track outing so the handling wasn’t properly tested but I can’t imagine any customer ever complaining. Whether you’d trade in the Porsche 911 Turbo while adding about £50k to the bill is a difficult question. The fact is that the Lambo is SPECIAL and that costs.

Next up was the Superlegerra – or superlight. This has a bit more or less of everything than the ordinary model. Lots of beautiful carbonfibre inside with lightweight and more controlling seats, a bit more power (562bhp), a bit more stiffness on the suspension settings.

It is more expensive but definitely worth it. Attacking the track there is an immediate benefit with a sharper, dartlike turn-in to corners. My perception – I didn’t ask – is that the gearchange is also quicker. A fantastic drive ended with a glimpse of 185 mph at the end of the proving ground straight – about 15 mph more than the standard car.

Then a complete change. To be honest the idea of a convertible, drop top Lamborghini has never appealed. These cars are for driving fast not for posing – well they are to me anyway. And for driving fast you need a roof over your head.

But with those limitations taken on board Lamborghini have made a pretty good job of things with the Guillardo Spyder. Roof down the car looks if anything even more dramatic than its sister models. Scuttle shake is totally absent and 100 plus mph comfortable without too much disruption to the hair-do. The big surprise is how the open-top drives. The suspension is much softer – maybe even a little too soft for me at the rear and gear changes under full-bore acceleration brought a little back-end shimmy as the next ratio slotted in.  The result is a surprisingly nice cruiser.

Finally the chance to ride with Valentino is “his” car the Balboni edition. This is one for the purest. Unlike all other Guillardos this is rear, not four wheel drive. It is also lighter and has more power than the basic but not quite as much as the Superleggera models which interestingly is lighter even with 4 wheel drive showing just how seriously they have taken the “lightness” route.

I’d never driven with Valentino before – although tales of his reducing strong men to tears are legendary. As are the insiders’ tales of the trail of devastation he sometimes leaves behind him. In the event everything was as I expected. This guy has driven every Lamborghini for maybe the last thirty years. So, of course, he’s quick – but not too scary. The revelation to me was the brakes. He was braking far later than I had been doing – utterly confident in the power of the ceramic brakes. I asked him how many laps of the circuit it would take before they faded. He thought for a minute – “never, I don’t think.”

The racing Diablo used to lunch its brakes in about two laps at Monza so there is real progress when a road car – albeit an extreme model like this – has better brakes than a racing car of 10 years ago.

All in all a chance to re-assess these cars. There is a depth of engineering excellence, a drama, a visual excitement that, for me, anyway takes these latest Lamborghini way beyond the “too flash for their own good” image that the maker has suffered from in the past. As an ex-Supertrofeo champion I’m a bit biased and a bit of a friend of the family – but wow, these are stunning cars.


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