Lamborghini started out converting old military machines into agricultural kit in the 1950s and, when business went well, he visited Ferrari’s local workshop and bought a car. The story goes he noticed the clutch components bore a remarkable similarity to his tractors he sold, and complained.
Ferrari’s temper is the stuff of legend, and he dismissed his own customer as a stupid farmer. Furious, Lamborghini started his own company a contemptuous spit away from the Prancing Horse’s factory, using the tougher Raging Bull as a logo, and one of the great rivalries of the automotive world was born.
But while Ferrari won F1 World Championships,. Went from strength to strength and became part of the FIAT empire, Lamborghini followed a very different path and has flirted with death more times than Evil Knievel.
Two years in receivership and several years under the ‘watchful eye’ of a syndicate that included Tommy Suharto, the son of Indonesia’s disgraced former President, were among the highlights. Tommy was later jailed for land fraud and questioned over contract killings: he was clearly too busy to run a sportscar company.
But, seemingly against all odds the Italian minnow kept pumping out cars that, along with that backside-scratching tennis player, kept poster companies in business. Some were pigs on the road, but Lamborghini has always remained the epitome of excess, the very edge of four-wheeled reason, and one of the few true icons.
And in 1998 that reaped its own reward when German giant Audi took control of the company. And then everything changed.
Lamborghinis have finally gained the reliability and build quality to match its flamboyant designs. It’s as fast as a thoroughbred race horse and screwed together like a tank and it wouldn’t have to beat the Ferrari Enzo in a straight fight, it looks like it would break its legs with a pool cue before the contest took place.
It’s an aggressive, angular wedge that is one of the few perfectly proportioned supercars in its class. Ferrari’s Enzo and Porsche’s Carrera GT are stunning, but the front and rear design teams must have fallen out somewhere along the line as there is little too coherence.
The Murcielago is a geometric work of art, a beautiful equation of clean, straight lines that embody the marriage of Italian flair and German efficiency. A rear wing pops out of the bodywork at approximately 80mph to help stick the rear end to the floor, and the gigantic sidepods raise up to suck more air when the engine starts to sweat, but at low speeds Chief Designer Luc Donkerwolke just wasn’t prepared to ruin the smooth lines. Even the rollover hoops, picked from Audi’s parts bin, pop up only as you crash your pride and joy.
And it’s a consistent story in the interior, with an asymmetric and minimalist, uncluttered design that is dominated by the gigantic gate for the six-speed gearbox.
Apart from those jack-knife doors, which are made from steel, the rest of the car’s body is constructed from lightweight carbon-fibre to keep the weight down to a slimline 1660kg.
Under the skin Lamborghini relies on a tubular steel chassis with carbon-fibre reinforcement, including a cage surrounding the engine that shows just how far the marque has gone to stiffen the chassis and sharpen the handling. Cutting the roof off a car can have disastrous consequences when it comes to taking bends, but the Italian marque has worked hard to minimise the damage done to the handling of its flagship that is famous for its agility.
That’s largely down to the permanent four-wheel drive system, which transfers power to the front wheels when the rear steps out of line. All the Lamborghini’s closest rivals rely on rear-wheel drive, which provides a purer driving experience, but is harder to handle.
In a straight line the rear retains most of the control, but when the Lamborghini slides sideways some of the power is distributed to the front wheels through a viscous coupling and helps pull it straight. Two limited slip diffs and anti-dive and anti-squat technology, which undoubtedly benefited from Audi’s decades of experience on hulking super saloons, also help keep the car on the straight and narrow.
When a car costs this much and goes this fast, a safety net like this is a big bonus and the end result is a car that will corner so fast it can inflict whiplash.
As with any four-wheel-drive, especially one with a large rearward weight bias, go past its limits and it will most likely spit you into a tree before you know what’s happened. But you’d probably be in jail by then anyway.
This 6.2-litre powerplant, supplied by Audi, has an epic 571bhp at its disposal and can propel the Murcielago to 60mph in 3.7s and a top speed of 200mph. With the hammer firmly down this car can expel breath from lungs with its blistering acceleration,
Kept on a gentle throttle the Murcielago is a pussycat that can cruise down the high street soaking up the admiring gazes as the engine lazily burbles away. You can even lift the front end on bad roads to prevent costly scrapes on that low-slung front splitter. Press the loud pedal, though, and the rear wheels spin momentarily before the viscous coupling works its magic, the afterburners light up and the Lambo s snaps at the horizon like a rabid Rottweiler.
It’s an emotional experience driving a Lamborghini in full flight and the sheer violence of the forward motion is borderline frightening. This is a car that can overwhelm the senses, time travel might not feel this quick and all the time it comes with that pulsating soundtrack.
This V12 is just as melodic as anything to emerge from Maranello, even the more delicate and cultured tone of the Enzo. It screams brutality from every pore and the carbon-fibre panels deliberately offer no protection from the haunting, wailing roar.
Despite the sheer aggression at speed, though, it’s the Murcielago’s flexibility that impresses the most. It’s more than two metres wide, which led to some nervous glances towards oncoming traffic on our test, and the rear visibility is non-existent making it a nightmare to reverse. But the controls are light, easy to use and apart from a long gear action that requires muscle, not finesse, the controls are Mondeo-light.
There is also the ‘E-gear’, semi-automatic paddle shift system that takes the clutch out of things completely. Most customers opt for this, suggesting that a Lamborghini owner is generally more interested in looking good than the art of driving. And that’s a shame, because judging by legendary test driver Moreno Conti’s brutal use of the gearbox in particular, using first as a genuine cornering option rather than simple take-off, this is a car that enjoys taking hard driving.
Named after a bull that survived 17 strokes of the Matador’s sword before being spared, this car can take the most savage treatment from the most negligent owner, the kind that probably has the money to buy one.
The only real downside is that soft-top roof, which by Lamborghini’s own admission is nothing more than an emergency cover. It comes with it’s own instruction booklet, took test driver Moreno Conti 10 minutes to assemble and once up the car cannot be driven at more than 100mph as it’s liable to blow away like tumbleweed.
If you have the money to buy a Lamborghini, though, you have the money to buy another car to use in adverse weather. This is a car that should not be tainted by rain in any case, it’s an adrenaline-loaded fair-weather fiend that could possibly be your very best fair-weather friend.