James May

James May

James and the Gallardo Spyder

Let me say straight away that I've always loved Lamborghinis, and especially the Gallardo. It's a fabulous-looking car. Somehow, it has about it a hint of folded paper, an impression it was a stroke or two of artistry, rather than the product of a protracted design process.

There's also something satisfyingly punkish about a Lamborghini, the legacy of a tractor maker who'd gone a bit feral. Nothing cheers me up more than seeing a bright green one driving past as a sort of two-fingered riposte to Ferrari's endless posturing about race breeding and some overtaking manoeuvre that occurred at Eau Rouge in 1957. A Lamborghini is the supercar for people who think supercars should be a laugh first and an expression of serious driving intent second, and I approve of that.

But there were immediate issues with my Gallardo Spyder. Whenever I approach a supercar, the first question I ask myself is, ‘Will this make me look a berk?' I thought the Lambo probably would. It was matt black, a silly colour for a car, and faintly suggestive of wet teenage fantasies about flying stealth fighters. The interior leatherwork was a particularly lurid orange, and pleated in a way that reminded me of incontinence bedsheets.

I had to drive this thing all the way from somewhere near Castle Hammond to my bothy in West London, without at any time feeling as though I was drawing attention to myself. Unlikely.

This is at the root of my long quarrel with Lamborghinis. I like them, but I want other people to have them. I feel about them the way I do about the National Trust. I want to know all that stuff is going on, but I don't actually want anything to do with it myself. Rod Stewart can have a Lamborghini because he can wear leopard-print trousers and get away with hair highlights. Even Jeremy Clarkson can pull it off to some extent, because he's an international ambassador for overdoing it. But I can't. I'm a bit of a nerd, which makes me more of a Porsche man, but more of that on another day.

"Rod Stewart can have a Lambo because he can wear leopard-print trousers and have hair highlights. I can't. I'm a bit of a nerd"

If I were a proper road tester, I could dismiss the Gallardo Spyder for all sorts of mundane reasons, though they pale into insignificance next to the overriding consideration of how much of a knob I look while driving it. Small gripes include the size of the ‘boot' at the front, which most motoring writers would describe as being ‘big enough fora couple of soft weekend bags' but which I would describe as too bleeding small, because I've spent some time with women. I accept that, traditionally, practicality is seen as a fair trade-off for driving excitement, but why should it be? My Boxster has two boots.

A bigger objection might be this. We know that Lamborghinis are sort of German now, but, spiritually, they remain Italian supercars. Therefore the interior plastics are a bit shonky, because the nation that gave usthe Renaissance and mastered craftsmanship in wood, marble, lost-wax bronze casting, leatherwork and stained glass has never quite got its head around injection moulding. Furthermore, the folding roof, when up, creaks and groans like the Cutty Sark and doesn't really square with the receipt for £135k in your wallet.

I even have some big complaints. With the flappy paddle gearbox, it is almost impossible to reverse up a slope with any dignity, and certainly not without making as much noise as a GP car. All this while travelling 20 yards at 0.05mph and generating exactly what I wanted to avoid - a crowd of head-shaking onlookers. The brake pedal is too mushy, and the ride at low speed is catastrophic.

In fairness, the Gallardo is one of those cars that comes together once you start going a bit faster, and it performs the essential trick of feeling exciting without requiring you to go completely mad. Even the gearbox works quite well, so long as you avoid any of the places where people want to live, which I was inclined to do anyway because otherwise they might see me. The fact remains, though, that it's one of those cars that ‘likes smooth roads'.

That's the problem. The Gallardo could never be as good as it looks, and to contemplate something this lovely and then discover that it's only a car is especially disappointing. The Gallardo is a wonderful object, but a ridiculous car, and frankly 'twas ever thus with Lambos, which is why they should only be bought as posters.

I should have known this. The Countach, when I drove it after 30-odd years of innocent fantasy, turned out to be rubbish. Lamborghini, for me, is an object lesson in why you should never meet your heroes.

It's why I avoid Brian Cant.


James May, Column

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