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Lamborghini Gallardo

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Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

Driven April 2010

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8.30am: The arrival...

We arrive at a photographic studio on a grey and functional Bolognese industrial estate in the kind of weather that manages to siphon off positive emotions and leave you feeling depressed for no good reason. The clouds are off-white, low and thick, heavy with implied resentment, a few desultory flakes of snow slowly spiralling to their inevitable deaths on the concrete. It's rubbish. Rubbish right up until we pull back the roller doors of the studio. At which point our day starts to look a damn sight brighter, in every sense that matters.

Squatting behind said doors is a new Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, painted blazing yellow, wedge-shaped body parenthesised by black, carbon-fibre bits that stick out all over the place. It has the ‘big wing' option, black wheels, the Reventón's chin. It has Superleggera stripes down the side, a 562bhp direct-injection V10 in the back and a quad of matt-black exhausts the size of storm drains. The man from Lamborghini hands me the key and simply says, "'Ave foon." It takes me a second to translate the heavily accented English, and then I'm advancing on the SL with a boyish gleam and a very uncool grin plastered across my face. Sod the weather, time to get noisy.

See our pics of the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

9.04am: Not so fast sunshine...

Charlie and Joe immediately stand in front of me, pulling large and important-looking cameras pointedly from bags. First we must shoot the cover. First I must hurry up and wait in a state of tortured idling. Balls. I amuse myself by wandering around the car spotting the new bits, and trying to figure out which bits aren't new, but have been skinnied to allow the Superleggera, or ‘Superlight' to live up to its name. The first bit is pretty easy: the front-end air intakes are new and pleasingly jutting, there's a big fixed picnic table (a smaller wing comes as standard) and a straked Venturi-style rear bumper underneath that, all woven from the finest carbon fibre. The sills are similarly made of weave, as are the rear-view-mirror casings.

If you prod various bits of the outside of the car, you discover that the engine cover is also carbon, and the clear bit in the middle turns out to be thin and wobbly polycarbonate, which also features as the material of choice for the side windows. On casual acquaintance, pretty serious stuff, even if a lot of it is really racing jewellery rather than hard-core weight saving. But then you look closer, and you see that Lamborghini's got fantastically anal with this car - probably because the standard Gallardo isn't actually very porky in the first place.

10am: carbon-fibrous...

Let's just whip through some of the dietary highlights. Those black wheels are forged aluminium with titanium wheelnuts, saving 13kg. Most of the flat undertray is carbon fibre, as are the aforementioned sills, Venturi, air intakes and engine cover.  Inside you sit on Alcantara-skinned carbon seats, right thigh resting on a carbon-fibre transmission tunnel that houses a carbon-fibre handbrake, looking at a carbon-fibre dialset and pulling closed a carbon-fibre door card with a lightweight, leather-tab handle. The wheel is carbon fibre, wrapped in a fluffy Alcantara that feels identical to grasping a worn-through towelling bathrobe. Getting the picture?

The SL has four-point, semi-race harnesses that drip intent. There's no radio and no satnav, though I'm pleased to note thatyou do get aircon and electric windows. Anything really to break up the unrelenting attack of carbon-fibre weave. It's making my eyes go funny, and I'm sure that after staring at the centre console for 10 minutes I can see a leaping dolphin. But at least it works. The LP570 has shed more than 70kg, making it lighter than the rear-wheel-drive-only Balboni special edition, despite the full suite of 4x4-ness. It weighs in at just 1,340kg. If you still think that sounds porky, it can be put into perspective by pointing out that a Porsche Boxster weighs 1,356kg. This thing is as fat-free as road-going supercars get. And at this point I'm so desperate to start driving, I'm standing behind Charlie and Joe, and hopping from foot to foot like a five-year-old kid, desperate for a wee.

1pm: wake up, time for harness trouble...

After roughly 40 years of waiting, Charlie and Joe are finished doing whatever it is that people from the art department do, and it's time to leave. I wiggle easily into the non-adjustable seat and then fit together the various pieces of harness jigsaw. Once comfortable, I realise that with the harnesses on, I can no longer reach the door to shut it. I take the harnesses off and shut the door, put the harnesses on, programme the satnav, then realise that I now can't reach the windscreen to attach the sucker. Harnesses off, attach sucker, put on harnesses and realise that the key is actually in my jeans. Under the harnesses. At this point I'm pretty much ready to commit suicide and I'm gnashing my teeth so furiously that several molars spill into the footwell. A crowd has gathered to watch the car pull away, and I look like I'm sitting in the car park arguing with the seatbelts. Charlie and Joe follow in the hired Ford Focus. I suspect they are laughing.

See our pics of the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

1.30pm: Oh. My. God...

Ten minutes later and my frustrations have been sluiced away in a vicious tide of acceleration, noise and unnecessary gearchanges. I'm giggling to myself and need to wipe my nose, but can't because my tissues are approximately 1mm further than the bloody harnesses will let me get to, even if I slacken them off. But I don't care. We're headed up and north away from Bologna, in search of mountain roads to match the Lambo; pretty stuff that includes - one assumes for artistic and emotional reasons - corners. But to get there, first we must dispatch glorious stretches of Italian Autoroute. At the first toll booth, I am forced to risk smearing the car along the barrier just to get close enough to take a ticket, and still have to undo the harnesses and open the door, but feel strangely glad that I'm proving to be so amusing to the following Focus, whose occupants appear to be laughing so hard they're in danger of vomiting up a lung.

An angry right foot sees the Gallardo reach out and hungrily smash forwards through the horizon. The revised 5.2-litre V10 strung out behind my head makes slightly more power than before (up 10bhp over stock), thanks to new more efficient, stratified fuel-injection system, but the Superleggera just feels keen to get up and go, even if the mass-loss is relatively low in percentage terms. The 0-62 dash takes 3.4 seconds, and 0-124mph occurs a smidge over 10 seconds after that. The old-school standard-fit six-speed e-Gear gearbox is fast but jerky, whipping your head back to the headrests when changing up, but gloriously blipping downchanges with the kind of barking huff that's pure racecar. We variously try to bait Modena-bound supercars, trying it on with Maserati GranCabrios and even a full-spec 599, but nobody's having any of it. I decide they're probably scared.

4pm: Lake Garda. Feedback. Need a massage...

We head out to the western shore of Lake Garda aiming for the mountains, and everything is good with the world. The Focus has caught back up after it failed to maintain the required Lamborghini cruising speed, and we drop back onto some slower A-roads and calm down a little. It's here that I realise how tense I am.

The Superleggera may be very easy to actually drive, but it never, ever stops mainlining information. Which is knackering. The steering reacts at thought-speed to every tiny input. And you can download ridiculous amounts of data through your palms; at one point driving across a cobbled section of roundabout, I could not only tell you the shape and size of the block paving, but that one of the sets on the right-hand side of the car was loose. There is no ‘sneeze factor'. Sneeze at speed in this Lambo and you're likely to find yourself in another lane. Possibly on another carriageway.

The other thing I realise as we cruise through an out-of-season Garda that looks like a Gucci Skegness, is that the suspension is actually racecar hard. Damping, engine mountings, anti-roll bars - they've all been wound down to something approximating the Super Trofeo racecars, and you find yourself idly wondering whether you can swallow down the bit of intestine that's bounced up into the back of your mouth. It might not crash, but if you've got the LP570-4 in ‘Corsa' mode on a public road, you're in for a bumpy ride just the right side of actual pain. Which you might expect to be an issue for a Lambo, seeing as some previous models have had a reputation for less-than-perfect fit'n'finish. But the Superleggera, despite being mostly made up of sheets of rattly carbon and furnished with the spartan minimalism of the truly fetishistic, doesn't squeak or rattle. True, it sounds kind of hollow, the pulsing rasp of the V10 moving more easily through the cabin, but not cheaper or less solid.

7pm. Hairpins. Lots of them...

Which is a feature we're about to test as we head up into the hills past Riva and out to Pranzo and Ballino, up towards Bolzano. The countryside here is desaturated, all browns and winter greys, just awaking from a winter hibernation. And there are hairpins. Lots of them. Excellent.

With no radio to distract, or satnav to silence, I push the ‘Corsa' button and start letting the Superleggera do its considerable thing. And it gets better and better. The six-pot carbon-ceramic brakes need a little heat, but once warm slam the car to a stop with casual violence. The steering is so transparent that you can feel the front diff clawing around for grip mid-hairpin, but with the drivetrain split defiantly rearwards at 30/70 front to rear, the SL punches out of the corner on a wave of oversteer. So you feed the car in and keep a neutral throttle and you get a 4x4, slight understeer experience. Go in hard on the brakes, stab, lift and power out, and you get luscious powerslides gathered up at the ‘overcooking it' moment by the front axle, which just tugs the nose away from the dynamic precipice of a spin. Only after a couple of hours do I realise just how special the Superleggera really is. So much so, that there's barely any fuel in it when we finally drop out of the mountains and head towards Bolzano for some dinner.

See our pics of the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

11pm: Caffeine overdose. Temporary... blindness. Potato issues...

We stow the car in an underground car park for a couple of hours and marvel at how good the Gallardo still looks. I bounce into the restaurant, hyper and gabbling, eat a kilogramme of potatoes and find that carbohydrates cancel out adrenalin. I remember how long I've been awake and consider a rest-stop. At which point I catch the glimmer of the golden bull on the keyfob and decide that 24 hours probably isn't enough. We head out again, into the murk of the night.

3am: WeeeArrrWoooArrr... click... brrrr......

The next two hours are a slight blur as I forget that I've just drunk a double espresso and chugged two cans of Red Bull. The ensuing palpitations mean that I go temporarily blind in one eye and can't stop talking. At the services I start to jig around like a Nineties E-head and then can't drive for 15 minutes because I can see my own heartbeat in my one remaining orb. It's dead  out here, so the TopGear roadcrew heads further north. Towards more mountains. And, before we are really aware of what's happening, copious amounts of snow.

4.30am: we're nearly in Austria!...

It's so late it's become tomorrow morning, but the Superleggera keeps on giving. We've headed out towards the Brenner Pass, above which is Innsbruck, Austria. It's dark, I'm tired and just a little bit scared. But I can't stop driving. Another 85 litres of fuel. More elevation. More snow. I find an incredible piece of squirelly tarmac covered in ice that allows me to gently drift the Gallardo around sets of hairpins for about 10 miles. It's like my own private ice-racing track, and the Gallardo is a car like no other. I'm here for nearly four hours. It feels like 20 minutes. Morning breaks and the car is reading -10°, but taking windchill into account it must be about -30°. The Pirellis stopped working properly at about -8, so there have been a few monumentally hairy moments - all of which were gathered up by the Superleggera's 4x4.

8.30am: Worrying urine. Stolen by the Suit...

I get out for a pee, and realise that I've covered many hundreds of miles, through towns, motorways, mountains, through rain, snow and sunshine, and the Lambo hasn't missed a beat or been wrong footed in any way. Which is positively incredible for such a hard-core car. While I ponder urine coloured a worrying, fluorescent green, I look back towards the car just in time to see the door slipping shut, and hear the V10 bark into life. I stand gobsmacked as the familiar helmet of the Stig turns to me once, nods and then explodes away in a storm of snow and ice, traction off, full commitment. The three of us watch the Stig steal our car, drifting his way down the hill at full speed and without a hint of human imagination. We stare at each other, shrug, and follow in the Focus. Too stunned to know what else to do.

1pm: how did he do that?...

Several hours later and the man from Lamborghini rings to say that he's just gone outside to find ‘our' Superleggera inside the locked compound with the driver's door open and the engine running, but no sign of us. We explain we're still more than an hour-and-a-half away and ask about the white-suited one. Nobody saw or heard anything. But you know that for the Stig to bother taking the car back at all, it must have been impressive as hell.

As we trawl back to Sant'Agata in our much more humble support car, I can't help but agree. The Superleggera is definitely harder work than the standard car, but more rewarding at the upper reaches of ability, and yet less dangerously focussed than the Balboni. And I was right: 24 short hours with a car as exceptional as the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera LP570-4 isn't enough. I need more time. But somehow I don't think Lambo will go for a 20-year loan, no matter how much I plead.

Tom Ford

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