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Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 India Speciale

Think staying out of the way of rushing bulls in Spain is difficult? Try staying out of the way of the world’s rarest Gallardo in the narrow lanes of Banganga, Mumbai

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The Hyundai Elantra was behaving strange. I was doing 5kph in it when I dabbed at the brake pedal for a U-turn. But I was thrown forward in my seat as if I had stomped on the brake from 205kph. When I turned the steering it rotated as if it wanted to unscrew itself out, and when I pressed the throttle to slowly inch ahead, the 1.6 diesel engine revved to an insane 3000rpm.

Good thing my left foot was on the clutch. Which is when I realised it was all because of the Gallardo.

To be specific, the Lamborghini Gallardo Longitudinale Posteriore five-hundred-and-fifty dash two, fiftieth Anniversario India Serie Speciale. If you’ve just tuned in, Longitudinale Posteriore signifies the longitudinally-mounted engine at the car’s posterior; five-hundred-and-fifty is the power the engine makes in PS; dash two is the number of wheels the power goes to; fiftieth Anniversario is a reminder that 2013 is Lamborghini’s 50th year.

Then of course, there is the India Serie Speciale. To celebrate 50 years, and as homage to India, Lamborghini India has released an extremely limited number of Gallardos that have the Indian tricolour on the nose, India-specific badging inside the cabin and green and orange stitching on the seats. You will get the India edition only in orange, white and green colours, and there are only six – that’s right, six – in the entire world.

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If I have to be utterly honest with you, I’d have to admit this to be a gimmick. But then, anything that sits so low, has so many sharp edges, has a V10 in the middle and makes 543 horses and 540Nm of torque is a gimmick. Ferrucio Lamborghini did not get into the car business to save the world, eradicate poverty or spread peace, you know. So…

But take it from me. In a couple of decades from now, the India Speciale will find buyers willing to pay way more than the Rs 3.80 crore it costs now, plus inflation. What makes it rarer is that the India Speciale will only be right-hand drive and, in the rarest kind of Lamborghini – a rear-wheel-driven one.

Now, when the Gallardo was unveiled in 2003, the world was very different. Forget the changes in your personal life, politics, or the economy. If you just look at it in car terms, between 2003 and now, Ferrari has had the 360, the 430 and now the 458. But the Gallardo still looks like it was designed yesterday. And it definitely drives like it’s from another era.

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In the past decade, I have driven quite a lot of fast cars, and while all of them have varied between fast and emotional, fast and indifferent, fast and rewarding, all of them have shared one trait – they never demanded too much from you. Once you got around the fact that you’d be doing 100kph in four seconds instead of 14, you could pretty much potter around town or gun it down an open road. This includes the Lamborghini Aventador and the Koenigsegg Agera.

The Gallardo though, still expects the driver to make some effort. The steering is heavy, the pedals are heavy, the ride is hard. If driving a supercar is as challenging as riding a bicycle uphill, driving this Gallardo is like riding a bicycle uphill with weights tied around your ankles. No wonder I was having problems with the Hyundai I mentioned earlier. My ankles and arms were so tuned to the shoving and wrestling in the Gallardo that they were doing the same in the light and easy-to-use Hyundai Elantra on my way home.

But in a strange sense, all that difficulty was satisfying because once you make the effort, this Gallardo is properly rewarding. The engine doesn’t have any turbos ruining the note, the heavy steering is full of feedback around corners, and the heavy throttle pedal allows you to minutely manipulate the amount of fuel gushing into the 10 cylinders, on its way from full tank to empty. And in an era when most brake pedals behave like an on/off switch, the one in the Gallardo behaves like a regulator, letting you nicely shave off speed before you pile it back on in a jiffy, or slam it into the floor and make the machine come to a dead halt.

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I drove this car a couple of years ago on the F1 track at Shanghai. It was sensational. But now that it’s here as the India Speciale, we thought we’d give it the India Speciale treatment at Banganga, one of the most unique places in Mumbai. It’s a freshwater spring located a few metres from the salty Arabian Sea. You could call it a mini Varanasi with its temples, narrow lanes and small houses.

But all of this is right in the middle of Malabar Hill, Mumbai’s toniest, most expensive piece of real estate and one of the richest Parliamentary constituencies in India. And in the middle of all that wealth is this buzzing, middle-class neighbourhood – with a mid-engined V10 supercar doing its utmost to not go on a rampage.

Navigating the Gallardo in these lanes is like walking a leashed lion in the middle of a hyena pack. If things get out of control, they are both capable of damaging each other. And in those lanes, the heavy steering, heavy brakes and heavy accelerator were giving my knee and ankle muscles a thorough workout. Of course, the car caused a sensation.

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But the most touching aspect of life in Banganga was the trust and co-operation in the neighbourhood. When we needed to move some cars that were in our photographer’s frame, all we had to do was ask around, go to the house and they just gave us the keys to their cars. They didn’t know us. They didn’t know we were there with a Lamborghini. And they still just handed over their car keys to complete strangers.

It is a mindset that is by now alien to the rest of the city, even to Banganga’s immediate neighbours – massive skyscrapers. Banganga’s is a mindset that refuses to give in to temptation and convenience. Despite being a World Heritage site, it still has some of the grime and squalor typical of a small Indian town. But the people who live here are so used to this way of life, they’d have it no other way. Because they’ve been living in the heart of south Mumbai for centuries, in a place that hasn’t lost touch with that era when people talked to their neighbours, compared to today’s single-floor apartments and security cams.

Just as the Gallardo is from a different era. After having driven so many user-friendly supercars, this rear-wheel drive Gallardo is a welcome handful. You cannot drive it to work. You cannot do the airport or school run in this. And if you want a quiet drive down the highway cruising at 100kph, with the engine doing 1000rpm, well, forget it. This car would rather spit you out and pull over. This is not an all-rounder. What it wants is a lot of free road, a lot of fresh air and a driver who doesn’t talk on the phone, reply to IMs, or keep taking one of those ‘Me and my Lamborghini’ pictures for his Facebook.

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The car isn’t without faults, though. The centre console is way too Audi and the car has fixed paddles. Which isn’t a problem by itself because so do Ferraris and Maseratis. But their paddles are long and can be reached irrespective of steering position. The Gallardo’s are too tiny and should have moved with the wheel, instead of staying fixed.

So, allow me to stick my neck out and say, this is the best driver’s Lamborghini available right now. It’s definitely better than the open-top Lambo Spyder, in which the steering doesn’t feel as true. The Aventador is breathtaking but is comparatively easier to drive and is not a hardcore driver’s car. The Gallardo 570-4 comes close, but you are never going to be using those additional 20 horses or its all-wheel drive capabilities.

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I guess the replacement for the Gallardo, the Cabrera will be faster, lighter and more powerful. And I reckon it will be easier to drive. Which is not a bad thing. But it also means that the 550-2 will be the last of its kind.

No such worries for Banganga, though. Its heritage status ensures that its centerpiece, a water tank, built in the 12th century, will never fall to the onslaught of development and fancy apartments.

Now, it’s either by providence or design that India got these rare India Speciales in the form of the Gallardo 550-2. Just the thing to ensure that they are preserved somewhere in the world, just for the rarity and the Indian iconography. And in a few decades, you could tell your kids, “Back in my day, this is how they made supercars.”

(Words: Sriram Narayanan, Photos: Nitin Rose)

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The numbers
Engine: 5,204cc, V10 petrol
Power: 543bhp at 8000rpm
Torque: 540Nm at 6500rpm
Transmission: 6A, RWD
0-100kph: 3.9 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 320kph (claimed)
Fuel efficiency: If you have to ask…
Fuel capacity: 90 litres
Weight: 1,380kg
Price: Rs 3.06 crore (ex-Maharashtra)

Pros: Super rare, superb driver feedback, very rewarding to drive, no optional frills
Cons: Hard ride, Audi-ish centre console, fixed steering paddles

The verdict
If you have to get yourself a Lamborghini, this is the best version to go for

Rating
9/10

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