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Top Gear drives the Lambo Gallardo STS

  1. Late mid-morning outside Haller’s Bar in the small Italian town of Galeata and a Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Super Trofeo Stradale has just eased its way onto the cobbles out front, burping up exhaust gas in a gently menacing manner. You can’t miss it: one, it’s a Lamborghini; two, it’s painted in a deep Rosso Mars - think shiny venous blood; and three, it’s got a carbon-fibre-composite rear wing the size of a small farmhouse table strapped to the back. As supercars go, this is about as unapologetic and unsubtle as it gets. It’s also a mighty fish hook in every single eye in the square. The scene feels like the opening credits of a Coppola movie. A knot of gnarled old men, basking like liver-spotted lizards in late and unexpected sunshine - wrapped warmly Mafiosi against the spectre of winter in scarves and black overcoats. Hair slicked in the manner of Fifties screen idols, sipping midnight tar from impossibly tiny cups. Grumbling, sub-bass old-man-speak - a light smattering of the F-word. But, here, supercar literacy is bred not taught, religiously confirmed rather than learned. And the Church of Ferrari will inevitably be invoked in conversation when you rock up in something that looks like the weekend wheels of the Father of Lies himself. The wobble of saggy jowls ponder the car, suddenly more vital, and nudge each other with woollen elbows, making small whuffing noises. It’s like watching a pack of very old dogs waking up to the scent of an arthritic cat.

    Words: Tom Ford
    Photos: Joe Windsor-Williams

    This article was first published in the February 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. We’ve paused to do some frantic map consultation. Lamborghini has given us an exclusive distance-limited drive of the car it calls the “most extreme model in the Gallardo line-up”, and I’ve taken a gamble on a couple of hundred kilometres of dullish autostrada in search of interesting kinks in the road. You might think that 600km sounds like a lot, but it inevitably feels like too little. There’s also the added complication that now I can’t - quite - seem to find the swaggering bit of tarmac that looked so inviting on Google Earth. Extra painful, because every kilometre spent commuting reduces the time I can spend doing fun stuff. Looking up, I remember another important fact: chuck in the minor gravity of a supercar in town, and, before too long, you’ll draw a bit of crowd.

  3. Explaining the car is difficult with limited technical Italian, so there’s a dervish mix of arm-waving and pointing to explain why this Gallardo is special. Amidst this impromptu edition of International Give Us a Clue, I manage to clarify that this newest version has a 563bhp 5.2-litre V10 stuffed under a lozenge-themed quick-release carbon rear deck, four-wheel drive, a 193mph top speed and will hit 62mph in 3.4 seconds. That it shaves some 70kg from the regular car, meaning a relatively trim 1,340kg, exactly the same as the current Superleggera.

  4. It has a roll cage, impressive but bloody irritating four-point harnesses and an adjustable rear wing nicked virtually wholesale from the Blancpain Super Trofeo racing cars. All conflated to make this roadgoing (Stradale) version, of which there will be only 150. Oddly, our car is badged ‘0’ from 150 - layering another element of confusion into the Italian/English language tangle. Not bad considering I couldn’t for the life of me remember the Italian word for ‘light’. It would have been simpler to assert that this is, in basic shorthand, a Gallardo Superleggera with wings and STS badges that costs £195,000. But I couldn’t remember the Italian for ‘Superleggera’.

  5. There is much appreciative nodding. Small boys appear and stare with the unselfconscious gaping mouths of the very young, while their fathers rue the ungenerous Lotto. The old men have worked themselves into a frenzy - one nearly stood up, and a couple of them have leaned forward on their knees. One has - possibly - died. But we’ve grabbed some much-needed espressi and orientation, and it’s time to head back out in search of that confusingly covert road to see if that rear wing has any effect other than as a parasol for the congregation of four black exhaust mortars.

  6. Ten minutes later, I manage to find the route that I’m looking for. It’s called the SP4/SS310 and it runs from Santa Sofia to Stia through the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e Campigna… and lives up to expectations, climbing up and out of the lowland all crooked and bulging. And empty. Tree-shrouded drops fenced on one side by rustic-looking wooden crash barriers and on the other by bare, unyielding cliff. Neither of which look particularly comforting.

  7. All that stuff is easy to ignore, though. The gods are smiling. It’s a perfect day. Crisp and bright, endlessly shiny and newly made. The sunshine is as unsubtle as the STS’s spoiler; light slicing its way through the forest like silvery lasers. I’m only half-surprised it’s not setting fire to the trees. And this is still a rather lovely Lamborghini Gallardo, even, if we’re being brutally honest, if it feels pretty much identical to the Superleggera - the rear wing sitting so high on its twin posts that it’s invisible from the driver’s seat. A little stiffer through the body perhaps, thanks to the web of half-cage/roll bar behind the one-piece carbon seats, but no major revolution. Climbing higher on this wiggly road, second and third gears scourged, fourth in brief, hard-won spurts, it’s shaping up like one of those lovely dreams where everything just clicks into place. Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people for whom perfection is never quite achieved when awake. I turn hard into a shady corner and realise I’ve missed the mischief in said deity’s grin.

  8. “HOLYMOTHERJESUSGOD.” A bit cocky, and suddenly I find religion. There’s an airy moment of discovery that - hello, suddenly thumping heart - the wheel is turned, and absolutely nothing is happening. Ice. The road has flipped to slippery, slick and shiny, and this very-special-edition Lambo is ploughing blankly towards the wooden barriers. I sit like an imbecile for what seems like an age, wondering idly whether I’m about to lose my job. Time enough to flick through the phone call to the boss: “It’s not going to polish out… because it’s two feet shorter than it was this morning. And 100ft down a gorge. On its roof. On fire.” Perceptions accelerated during moments of stress, and all that.

  9. Now usually, the accepted way to deal with understeer in a mid-engined supercar is to back off and reckon on transferring some weight to the front wheels. Or, if you think yourself a hero with reactions like an SAS mongoose, add more power, loop the back round with oversteer, and pray that you have enough room to gather up the lateral swing before you use the scenery as a massive, crunchy-sounding parking sensor. Which sounds fine during a conversation in a bar, less so when imminently having an accident. Luckily for me, my foot sort of… fell off the accelerator in fear. Instinctively option one. Which worked well for a while, but got a bit… boring.

  10. The LP570-4 is, as the name suggests, an all-wheel-drive car. But with a rear-wheel-drive bias and 43/57 per cent front-to-rear weight distribution. So a much more amusing and infinitely faster way of attacking a slithery corner is to maintain a steady throttle and try to feed in the 398lb ft of torque when you can see a way out. Feed in a measure of will at the top of the tree, and be rewarded with effort from underneath, learn to trust and allow the 4x4 some autonomy to drag you free from potential embarrassment…

  11. Like a failing relationship, it’s hard to trust after that initial bad experience, and mid-engined supercars are usually as forgiving as tax inspectors or traffic wardens. But keep practising, and the Gallardo reminds you why this is one of the easiest exotics to drive fast in uncertain conditions. Small, friendly, quick. So the vision isn’t brilliant and the rear can get a bit squirmy when the 4x4 system is under pressure, but every time you stand on the brakes or accelerate hard - even when one half of the car is actually sitting on slickness - you get what you expect. Which builds confidence.

  12. Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of the car’s shadow cast against a rock face and get reminded of that enormous wing. But it makes very little difference to cornering speed on a road that barely lets you crest illegality. What it really translates into is stability at speed. On the autostrada going slightly faster, the wing manufactures pure unwavering solidity. This car feels utterly unflappable, nailed to the road with bolts of titanium, almost as if it doesn’t want to swap lanes and the wheels have turned exceptionally gyroscopic. Basically, this car feels more resolute at 120mph than 70mph.

  13. But on regular roads at relatively normal pace, this is still a Gallardo. A car first launched in 2003. Which means that, despite all the limited-edition-ness of the STS and its bewinged brilliance, it is starting to feel its age. The creases on the supercar forehead, as yet unsmoothed by a technological botox. The gearbox is probably the biggest giveaway, thumping between changes, nodding heads. The ride has also started to feel mildly fidgety compared to the unswerving poise of cars currently at the very apex of the game, like the Ferrari 458 and especially the McLaren MP4-12C. It’s not bad in absolute terms for a car with this potential, but the class has moved on, and the Gallardo is starting to feel a bit creaky about the knees.

    Pondering the easily blunted cutting edge, I withdraw to the nearest hotel to try to keep miles off the car. I’m tempted to keep driving, but with the temperatures dropping further, that mileage limit and the lack of International Gorge Recovery services, we call it a night.

  14. The next morning is skin-puckeringly cold. And I find that I really don’t care that the Gallardo has become the automotive equivalent of a cougar; definitively middle-aged, but still inherently incredibly attractive. Sat in the car park, it still makes my stomach do a little fluttery dance, more so with that massive wing. Hearing the fuel pumps prime with a whine as you open the door. The percussive crash of the V10 as it fires up in an enclosed space. I know it’s childish and doesn’t make it go any faster, but the Theatre of Lamborghini is always open, and apparently I’m endlessly ready to applaud. Back out on the road, up to the top of the mountain just as dawn shoves greedy little fingers down the throat of the valley. The drive to this point has been formative, most of it spent wondering whether I can actually feel the aeros working, or whether it’s a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. I have wing, therefore I feel downforce.

  15. There’s no radio, and most of the interior is bare-faced carbon, so vibration and that yowling V10 have been my only companions, the combination of which mean I can almost taste the noise on my back teeth. And it is - still - wonderful. But too soon we have to retreat. Back down through the forests and hills, up and out to the A14 autostrada, a blast back to Lamborghini HQ. Where the car is returned with 614km added to the odometer. As we drive away, the Gallardo is parked up in front of Lamborghini’s gleaming, glass-fronted edifice, dirty and magnificent as a counterpoint. And I start to think.

  16. This Super Trofeo Stradale - much like Lamborghini itself - has an odd sort of knack for the unsubtle. The outlandish styling, the 4x4, the mechanical thrash and, yes, even that thumping gearchange, all make it unique. The Gallardo is no longer cutting-edge. But it is anthemic, and almost definitively supercar. It makes you 10 years old in an instant. The Super Trofeo Stradale is, to all intents and rational purposes, pointless.You have to be going silly fast to really take advantage of the wing, and on the road that would eventually lead to your name being replaced with a prison number or a toe-tag. I suspect also that on a big, fast, scary track, the STS might actually - though immense fun for a bit - eventually feel too soft. So, rational thinking would say stick to a regular Superleggera, a standard LP560-4 or the forthcoming, cheapest, non-special-edition and rear-wheel-drive LP550-2.

  17. But buying a supercar for rational reasons is a fatuous demonstration of disposable income. You buy a supercar because you want it, not because it offers serious solutions to transport issues. I know that the Super Trofeo Stradale is basically a racy massage to keep the Gallardo in the news. But it’s also the one with the massive wing. Which makes it, right here, right now, the best car in the World.

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