YOU NEVER FORGET YOUR FIRST LAMBORGHINI.
For me, that moment was 15 years ago in Sardinia. Just the other day, when I levered myself into the new Lamborghini Huracan (picture left; see Wheels, page 56), the memories came flooding back.
My first was a Diablo, which as you may know means Devil. The track-oriented rear-wheel-drive Diablo GT was to be the last and greatest of the line (though the 4wd VT released later ultimately had the honour of being last). It was arguably the greatest, with its V12 stroked out to 6 litres, taking outputs to 429 kW and 639 N.m. Just 80 GTs were made.
As the only South African on the world launch I travelled alone; for 30 hours, from memory. I was pretty wiped out on arrival and the prospect of even a hotel bed seemed quite inviting.
But my hosts insisted I go out for a drive with one of their own.
So I squeezed in alongside wiry, thirtysomething, personable Antonio Leandro. There was the hint of a swagger in his manner: you know, I drive karts for fun and Lambos for a living.
We drove quite briskly up the freeway and back, before we exited to a secondary road. Sideways, in a perfectly executed power slide.
We were, as they say, proceeding at a speed in excess of the island’s nominal 80 km/h limit when up the road a uniformed figure stepped out, palm upraised. Antonio jumped on the brakes.
I didn’t understand much about the animated discussion with the carabinieri that ensued, though I did recognise primavera and nuovo. By now the speed gun was forgotten. Under the raised bonnet, heads nodded gravely, lower lips protruded. Eventually, reluctantly, they waved us on with something that sounded like it might have been the local equivalent of “Go with God.” At about the same time, a woman driver, the local equivalent of a soccer mom in a hurry, was brusquely waved down. It looked like she was in trouble.
She was driving only a station wagon, after all.
By the way, the GT was said to be the first Lamborghini capable of more than 200 miles per hour, or in metric terms 320 km/h. I can’t vouch for that, but I do recall having seen 310 on the speedometer.
So it went for an hour or two, until, now thoroughly awake but considerably more tired out, I returned to the hotel for my overdue nap.
Later that evening, when I headed into the foyer for dinner it was obvious something was wrong. “Haven’t you heard?” one of the other visiting journalists hissed. “One of their guys got killed.” Antonio. He’d been taking a prospective customer out and, at fatally high speed, rear-ended a vehicle that moved out in front of him. The Diablo was a burnt-out wreck, the passenger miraculously alive. Antonio didn’t make it.
Was it really worth going on? Shouldn’t we just pack it in and go home?
On a sunny Sardinian morning, a twisty mountain road, the clack-clack of the gearshift lever through the gleaming gate with its awkward dogleg to First, made doubly awkward for someone accustomed to right-hand drive.
The body’s daunting width. The almost complete absence of rearward visibility, forcing the then-new idea of a rear-view camera. (Without that camera, I’d probably still be making a 374-point turn on that gravel side road we took by mistake.)
And, of course, the sheer brutal drama of it all. The explosion of sound at start-up, the spine-tingling bellow under acceleration, the thundering performance.
The words came easily when the time arrived to write up my memories of the drive. And I chose to focus on life, not death.
It was when I came to choosing pictures I felt a sudden chill. My press kit showed a Diablo GT in that distinctive Lamborghini orange. In various poses; some driving, some static. There was something terribly familiar about the person at the wheel, though. Irony of ironies: it was Antonio.
For one reason and another, you never do forget your first Lamborghini.