SPE­CIAL DE­LIV­ERY

Col­lect a brand new Aven­ta­dor S from Lam­borgh­ini in Italy and drive it back to the UK to join the press fleet. Those were our in­struc­tions. The re­sult­ing trip was suit­ably mem­o­rable, though not en­tirely for the right rea­sons…

Evo - - DRIVEN - by DAVID VI­VIAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by STEPHEN HALL

ASULTRY THURS­DAY AF­TER­NOON IN the south of France and, some­where on a road snaking up the side of a moun­tain, the main event is toothache ver­sus Aven­ta­dor S. Will­ing 400mg of re­cently swal­lowed Ibupro­fen to get a grip while 730 vi­o­lently vo­cal horse­power chases the arc of a yel­low­ing sun be­fore it dis­ap­pears be­hind the ragged sky­line of the Col de Vence, it’s a throb-off. And, if it weren’t for the Aven­ta­dor’s un­remit­ting in­ten­sity on this in­sanely twisted and, frankly, too nar­row as­cent, I’m pretty sure my pre­vi­ously dor­mant wis­dom tooth’s tec­tonic rum­bling would be hav­ing the bet­ter of it.

I can’t help think­ing there’s an en­tire Top Trumps Rolodex of cars more suited to hav­ing fun on this ex­tra­or­di­nary road. A Lo­tus Elise Cup 250 with all the light­weight op­tions would be an ab­so­lute riot. Hell, even an MX-5. The al­most ab­surdly wide Aven­ta­dor isn’t the sort of car to sharpen your blade up here, much less chore­o­graph a dance be­tween pos­i­tive and cor­rec­tive lock. Gob­s­mack­ing grip and go are its pri­mary weapons, and form­ing a bond of trust with four-wheel steer­ing that doesn’t quite com­mu­ni­cate the pre­ci­sion and iron re­solve of the front end is tak­ing some time.

Why are we chas­ing the sun? Pho­tog­ra­pher and ev­er­ready co-driver Stephen Hall knows a place on the far side of the sum­mit where the hori­zon’s fade to burnt or­ange will bag the beauty shot barely a day into our oth­er­wise rea­son­ably un­pres­sured de­liv­ery drive. And the rea­son our tim­ing is so per­ilously close to the edge? I’ll come to that.

‘De­liv­ery drive’ sounds a tad pro­saic but, in essence, it’s what it is – a sim­ple train, plane and au­to­mo­bile to-do list com­menc­ing with a brisk morn­ing suit­case drag to Whit­stable rail­way sta­tion, a more leisurely walk to the taxi rank at Bologna air­port, an early doors ap­point­ment at Via Mo­dena, 12, 40019 Sant’agata Bolog­nese BO next morn­ing and, a thou­sand or so bug-smeared, su­pe­run­leaded-glug­ging miles later, a fi­nale in the dark just four paces from a Lam­bolit front door, the ground out­side gen­tly shak­ing, neigh­bours’ cur­tains furtively twitch­ing.

But it doesn’t have to end there. Stick­ing to an ex­tra scene in the script that I wrote my­self, I’ll hang out with the life-sized Hot Wheels hero for a cou­ple of days, bash­fully duck­ing all the at­ten­tion and gen­tly de­clin­ing offers from young peo­ple who want to come and live in my house and sit by the win­dow. Above all, though, my task is to keep the pearly painted, circa-£350k with op­tions, 217mph bolide from Bologna safe un­til a bloke comes to de­cant the widest tyres around into the back of a lorry and unite them with those on the rest of Lam­borgh­ini UK’S press fleet. Not any old car. An Aven­ta­dor S. The fastest and finest Aven­ta­dor you can ac­tu­ally buy this side of the hard­core SV. You’ve got to won­der what Fer­ris Bueller would do. Best-laid plans and all that…

Back in the south of France, the puls­ing pain I can feel in my jaw is slowly eas­ing but, de­spite the dis­tract­ing, adrenalinepiqued ac­tion be­hind the wheel, the dim­ming light of the day is out­run­ning a fab­u­lous, echo­ing, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V12 in ex­tremis that surely can be heard for miles around. Stephen, who men­tioned the pen­cilled-in lo­ca­tion over break­fast, is per­haps won­der­ing why I’m not driv­ing faster, but we’ve cov­ered barely 250 miles since leav­ing Sant’agata, and fallen shards of rock hid­ing in shad­ows have blown the break­neck sched­ules of too many ex­ot­i­cally shod su­per­cars into the mid­dle of the fol­low­ing week. Be­sides, we’ve got

‘The fastest and finest Aven­ta­dor you can ac­tu­ally buy this side of the hard­core SV’

two more goes at a sun­set and I rather fancy a beer un­der the waxy, softly suf­fused street lights of the first al­fresco bar we come to in charm­ing Castel­lane, an old Route Napoléon evo Car of the Year haunt, and bed for the night.

Op­ti­mism sag­ging, it soon be­comes ob­vi­ous na­ture’s clock has de­feated ours so I cool the pace and stand down the bru­tal, max­i­mum-at­tack Corsa pow­er­train and chas­sis set­ting for the marginally more com­pli­ant and softer-voiced Sport mode. Search­ing for an al­ter­na­tive way to nab a few stat­ics be­fore push­ing on to Castel­lane, we soon pull into a sid­ing with a clas­sic, 3D, pop-up book Col de Vence back­drop. Not what we were af­ter, but it will have to do. Then, with just a hint of misty rain brush­ing our faces and Stephen slith­er­ing on his back in the mid­dle of the road to drum up a lit­tle more drama in his Nikon’s viewfinder – as if the Aven­ta­dor needed it – a rain­bow slowly ma­te­ri­alises in a per­fect arc over­head and stays with us for ten min­utes or so (see page 11). Not a sun­set, then, but a colour­ful wrap all the same.

WE COULD HAVE MADE SUNDOWN ON THE COL with time to spare but for a tra­di­tion played out in the pages of car magazines over the gen­er­a­tions. And it’s this. No epic drive in an Ital­ian mid-en­gined V12 su­per­car col­lected from the fac­tory of its man­u­fac­ture ever starts on time. There is al­ways, with­out fail, a last-minute drama – in this case, the un­mis­take­able smell of petrol af­ter the early morn­ing, pre­han­dover test drive. On in­spec­tion, and rather help­fully, there’s a small pud­dle of the stuff un­der the car. By the time

we ar­rive as re­quested at 9am sharp, our knee-wob­blingly gor­geous pearl-white Aven­ta­dor S has been wheeled out of the daz­zling sun­light for the leak to be hunted down and fixed with all haste while we get to drink cof­fee and eat buns in the re­mark­ably spa­cious and rarely seen Lam­borgh­ini work­ers’ can­teen. Af­ter that, re­lo­cated to the re­cep­tion area with more cof­fee (but no buns) and given reg­u­lar op­ti­mistic up­dates about when our car will be good to go, it’s a bit like one of those old black-and-white films where the pass­ing of time is ex­pressed as the hands of a wall clock smoothly ro­tat­ing away the hours.

It would have been a treat to have had ac­cess to the in­ner sanc­tum when, per­haps to no one’s great sur­prise, they took the engine out. There can be few more in­spir­ing sights than a Lambo V12 in the raw. In a way, it’s the engine that en­cap­su­lates the his­tory of the mar­que, re­call­ing a blood­line that reaches all the way back to the early ’60s and the ex­tra­or­di­nary quad-cam 3.5-litre pow­er­plant de­signed as a quasi-race unit by ex-fer­rari en­gi­neer­ing wizard Giotto Biz­zarrini. A clenched fist of an engine, taut with com­pres­sion and ex­plo­sive po­ten­tial, it set the bar for ev­ery­thing that fol­lowed. By the time it ap­peared in the Miura in 1966 – sen­sa­tion­ally slung side­ways – it had grown to 4 litres and 350bhp. With twelve cylin­ders, four camshafts, six dou­ble-bar­rel car­bu­ret­tors and what must have seemed like a few miles of in­testi­nal chains, it was an engine of some sonic sig­nif­i­cance. Emo­tion­ally, noth­ing much has changed. Sta­tis­ti­cally, it’s 52 years later.

To put that in per­spec­tive, 730bhp at 8400rpm from 6.5 litres and a 0-62mph time of 2.9sec means the Aven­ta­dor S has more than twice the power and takes half the time to cover the bench­mark sprint – pretty much pole po­si­tion for nat­u­rally as­pi­rated su­per­cars and, with a top speed of 217mph, the po­ten­tial to be an an­noy­ingly per­sis­tent, fang-grilled pres­ence in the rear-view mir­rors of any hy­brid hypercar is equally im­pres­sive. I think Fer­ruc­cio Lam­borgh­ini would have ap­proved.

Wait­ing in re­cep­tion, the third read­ing of the spec blurb is just as en­tic­ing, if some­what more frus­trat­ing, than the first. As it points out, the sig­nif­i­cance of the ‘S’ is tied up with the new elec­tronic four-wheel-steer­ing sys­tem team­ing up with the rear-bi­ased four-wheel drive and sym­pa­thet­i­cally re­tuned elec­tronic dampers, the be­spoke Pirelli rub­ber, the ad­vanced aero in­cor­po­rat­ing an ac­tive rear wing that gen­er­ates 130 per cent more down­force than be­fore and a new fourth set­ting for the dy­namic drive pro­gramme called Ego that al­lows you to mix and match the steer­ing, pow­er­train and chas­sis set­ups to per­sonal taste, what­ever your mood or the road. So, quite a lot going on, but to en­sure all the sys­tems mesh to­gether and are read­ing from the same page, there’s one ‘cen­tral com­mand’ ECU to har­monise all the in­puts with the driver’s. A first for Lam­borgh­ini, says tech boss Mau­r­izio Reg­giani. For the time be­ing, and hav­ing necked enough espres­sos to war­rant a health warn­ing, we’re all ears. And wired.

AL­MOST THREE HOURS TO THE MINUTE AF­TER our ar­rival at Lam­borgh­ini HQ, an im­mac­u­late Aven­ta­dor S, no longer smelling of petrol and leav­ing pud­dles on the ground, its pearles­cent paint­work glint­ing sex­ily in the swelling mid­day heat, is finally ours. Al­though the de­lay re­quires quite a re­set for our day, the rolling ‘just an­other 20 min­utes’ tra­di­tion is in­tact, adding a fris­son of ten­sion and ur­gency to what fol­lows. Mostly tun­nels.

Af­ter fold­ing our­selves and the boot over­spill of cam­era gear un­der the swing-up doors and into a cabin of con­sid­er­able Top Gun charm and need-for-speed func­tion­al­ity – the switch­able TFT dis­plays are ace, the mis­sile-fire pro­tect cap over the starter but­ton a lit­tle silly – it’s a bit dis­ap­point­ing to dis­cover there’s zero stowage space, save for the nar­row, leather-clad cor­ri­dor be­hind the seats, quickly oc­cu­pied by a cou­ple of sturdy metal tripods. But with only mi­nor phys­i­cal con­tor­tions and per­sonal chat­tels jammed into ev­ery avail­able nook and cranny, we fire up (that starter mo­tor shriek and in­stant both-bar­rels com­bus­tion al­ways a mo­ment to savour), roll for­wards and turn right out of the fac­tory gates. And then re­alise we should have turned left.

The Aven­ta­dor feels ev­ery inch as wide as it is. It isn’t one of those cars that shrinks around you. Nor is it one you im­me­di­ately feel in sync with. The ex­treme rake of the wind­screen gives a let­ter­box as­pect to the view ahead, rear vis­i­bil­ity wouldn’t pass the Trades De­scrip­tions Act and the slightly rough cut of a warm­ing 6.5-litre V12 com­bined with the dozy, drawn-out and slightly shunty auto-mode shifts of the pad­dle-op­er­ated, sin­gle-clutch seven-speed trans­mis­sion con­spire to make ev­ery­thing feel the op­po­site of slick. Or per­haps it’s just the op­po­site of a Mclaren 720S, and de­lib­er­ately so. No magic-car­pet ride, no seam­less,

‘The Aven­ta­dor feels ev­ery inch as wide as it is. It isn’t one of those cars that shrinks around you’

lick­ety-split gearchanges, no easy-peasy. Old-school rough edges you have to fi­nesse your­self are part of the big Lambo’s dy­namic per­son­al­ity and just as ev­i­dent trundling along in traf­fic as they are when a flat-throt­tle, peak-revs, Corsa- cal­i­brated sec­ond-to-third shift threat­ens whiplash.

Yet warmed, set­tled and with the leash loos­ened, it all comes to­gether like a gath­er­ing storm, and on the au­tostrada head­ing for Genoa and the French bor­der I can’t re­ally think of a car I’d rather be in. It isn’t just the sin­u­ous course of the road through the cease­less, moun­tain-travers­ing tun­nels but also the way the Aven­ta­dor ef­fort­lessly bosses this high­ve­loc­ity en­vi­ron­ment, which can some­times seem like a Ger­man-spon­sored cage fight be­tween Mercedes Sprinter vans, VW Pas­sats and, per­haps most alarm­ingly of all, Audi A6s trav­el­ling so rapidly they might as well have a brick lashed to the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal.

The Aven­ta­dor S moves through the may­hem like Moses part­ing the Red Sea and with­out hav­ing to try much at all, shrug­ging off smart­phone pa­parazzi with a sonorous bel­low, flow­ing through suc­ces­sive sweeps at a lick even the most ad­ven­tur­ous Audi pi­lots won’t at­tempt, blast­ing cob­webs out of the tun­nels with the kind of sonic war­fare only a high-revving, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V12 can de­liver. Mile af­ter glo­ri­ous mile. Which makes me a lit­tle wor­ried when, at the toll area that hands over from Italy to France, a po­lice­man points at the Aven­ta­dor and ges­tures it to join his col­leagues off to the right, some of whom are hold­ing ma­chine guns. Papers, of course. Chin stroking, nat­u­rally. Ques­tions, in­evitably. Now, guys, stand in front of the car and have your pic­ture taken.

Later that night, as we sup beer in Castel­lane, we count that as a win to balance against the hand­i­cap of our three­hour de­lay in Sant ’Agata. But there’s still much to do, miles to drive, pho­tos to take and one road in par­tic­u­lar, the D996, that should give the Lambo a proper shake­down – es­pe­cially the part be­tween Saussy and Saint-bro­ing-les-Moines, which, come to think of it, is most of it. We mark it down as our key Fri­day way­point des­ti­na­tion and reward for the slow bits around Greno­ble and Lyon.

CASTEL­LANE IN THE MORN­ING IS A FEEL- GOOD place, all misty moun­tain tops at the ends of streets and laid­back, care­free bus­tle. En­cour­ag­ingly, the Aven­ta­dor is still where we parked it in the pretty town square, un­scathed and un­der­stand­ably at­tract­ing less in­ter­est now than when we all too con­spic­u­ously rolled up the pre­vi­ous evening. Tak­ing in the D996, we’ll do more miles to­day, more than 300, end­ing up at the won­der­fully named House of Cus­tard in Mon­treal, though, for the sake of lo­cal har­mony, it says Mai­son Crème Anglaise on the door.

Time for Stephen – no mean ped­aller and a self­con­fessed drift ob­ses­sive in cars more suited to that style of self-ex­pres­sion – to do some driv­ing. Not drift­ing. As our north­ern so­journ re­sumes on the N85 to­wards Sis­teron, his ini­tial im­pres­sions align with mine, es­pe­cially over the steer­ing, which has so lit­tle real feel it’s left to the seat of

your pants and blind faith to gauge how much grip is left in the tank. Hav­ing said that, he ac­knowl­edges that there’s al­ways masses, so it’s largely a com­mu­ni­ca­tion thing, and one that you prob­a­bly get used to over time.

No one is im­mune to the way this car can de­liver a flurry of sucker punches, though. Even by Lambo stan­dards, it looks as­ton­ish­ing. All width, wedge and drama, and ut­terly beau­ti­ful. And if that’s the stuff of dreams, the engine – maybe one of the last great nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V12s – is a leg­end in the mak­ing. For sheer un­hinged ex­cite­ment, no turbo mo­tor past or present, how­ever pow­er­ful, can hold a can­dle to it. As the straights be­come longer on the A51 to­wards Greno­ble and I take the wheel again, we pon­der the propo­si­tion that ac­cel­er­a­tion ain’t what it used to be, smaller and more ef­fi­cient blown en­gines and seam­less dou­ble-clutch trans­mis­sions mor­ph­ing the sen­sa­tion into a char­ac­ter­less, lin­ear surge sim­i­lar to that of an Air­bus A320 tak­ing off. Which gets you down the road but is a bit rub­bish.

Shall we? At this point the black­top is so straight and long it has a van­ish­ing point buried in the rip­pling haze of the hori­zon. Traf­fic has sim­ply ceased to ex­ist. I se­lect Corsa – with its en­hanced sound­track, ded­i­cated blood-red TFT in­stru­ment dis­play and hard-nut pow­er­train/sus­pen­sion set­tings – pad­dle-click down into third and (some old­school par­lance needed here) drop the ham­mer. What hap­pens next is ab­so­lutely bloody fan­tas­tic – a rush so raw, so vis­ceral, so vi­o­lent it pushes the air from our lungs and, slam­ming through fourth and fifth with the del­i­cacy of a hy­draulic ram, all but rinses the mois­ture from our eye­balls. Over in just a few sec­onds, it’s a stun­ning il­lus­tra­tion of how the Aven­ta­dor S can serve up a straight-line ex­pe­ri­ence that em­beds it­self in the mem­ory for good. Our peak speed is logged in the trip com­puter, vouch­safe never to be re­vealed. It’s still some way short of the en­try be­fore it: 198mph, no doubt achieved by a fear­less Lam­borgh­ini test driver. I won­der how he re­sisted that fi­nal 2mph…

Traf­fic (much of it an­noy­ingly, some­times dan­ger­ously, mes­merised by the Aven­ta­dor’s pres­ence), cof­fee, com­fort breaks, pho­tographs, salad baguettes and salted caramel ice cream rule the next hun­dred or so miles as we close down the dis­tance to the D996 and, to be fair, it slips by in quasiGT style, in­flict­ing no no­table fa­tigue on driver or pas­sen­ger, al­though ac­tu­ally sleep­ing (Stephen, not me) isn’t easy.

IN PLACES SMOOTH AND FAST, IN OTH­ERS chal­leng­ingly lumpy and curly, the D996 has more or less ev­ery­thing a su­per­car in search of val­i­da­tion could want. I’ve never been here be­fore, and if I could choose a Lam­borgh­ini in which to feel out and im­me­di­ately ex­ploit

‘The way the nose spears to­wards any apex I point it at is mighty and unerring. You just have to trust it’

an un­known road like this, it would prob­a­bly be a Hu­racán Per­for­mante, mostly be­cause of its size, agility and re­mark­able tenac­ity. That said, the best stretches of the route aren’t titchy and so the Aven­ta­dor’s size isn’t such an is­sue. Its fun­da­men­tal re­serves and mar­gins – power, grip, brak­ing – are all so huge, the se­cu­rity blan­ket so im­preg­nable and ex­pan­sive, that ex­er­cis­ing that fab­u­lously fe­ro­cious engine and ut­terly locked­down chas­sis at speed with some­thing ap­proach­ing im­punity is a hell of a su­per­car kick and over­whelms any de­sire I may have to sweat the small stuff. Yes, the steer­ing’s rather syn­thetic re­sponses still grate, but the way the nose spears to­wards any apex I point it at is mighty and unerring. You just have to trust it.

How the car deals with the lumpier sec­tions of the D996 is par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive, too, but the Aven­ta­dor S is very pre­scrip­tive in ex­tremis, never feel­ing that it wants to in­dulge the driver and bend to your will, and lack­ing feed­back. It’s not a car you’d want to slide around and mod­u­late on the throt­tle for the sheer hell of it. You get the feel­ing that it’d just get away from you, and you’d be­come part of the scenery.

Af­ter a splen­did evening at the fine Mai­son Crème Anglaise B&B, we ef­fec­tively do just that and, with no great en­thu­si­asm, hit the grey-green blur of the A6 to Paris and Calais be­yond, Stephen re­lieved that he finally nailed his sun­set shot in the fields be­hind Mon­treal’s me­dieval for­ti­fied houses, me glad that he did. My wis­dom tooth has re­sumed an­other dor­mant phase and, de­spite a cer­tain re­gret that our de­liv­ery du­ties are com­ing to an end, all is well with the world.

Stop­ping on a lonely Es­sex side-road for Stephen to rat­tle off a fi­nal few de­tail shots be­fore drop­ping him home, a Mk1 Ford Fo­cus pulls up and, scram­bling out of the back seat, there re­ally is the kid who wants to live in my house and sit by the win­dow. Later, driv­ing along an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ac­tive Whit­stable High Street close to mid­night – and as in­con­spic­u­ously as I can – a young fe­male par­ty­goer a lit­tle the worse for wear shouts, at the top of her voice: ‘IT’S A F**KING LAM­BORGH­INI!’

So much for that.

Be­low left: big roads and big scenery pro­vide a suit­ably epic back­drop for the vast – and stu­pen­dously rapid – Aven­ta­dor S. Be­low: re­dis­cov­er­ing noth­ing, but noth­ing, at­tracts at­ten­tion like a pearles­cent white Lambo

Top left: leav­ing the fac­tory. Above left: po­lice at toll­booths only in­ter­ested in a photo-op.

Above right: stan­dard Euro­tun­nel car­riages a tight squeeze in a twome­tre-wide Lambo

Left: TFT dis­play changes colour to cor­re­spond with the se­lected driv­ing mode (in Corsa it glows red). Be­low left: 6.5-litre 730bhp V12 surely one of the last great nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gines

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