LAMBORGHINI DI­ABLO SE30

…or Lan­cashire, aboard the Lamborghini Di­ablo SE30, in­spi­ra­tion for Jamiro­quai’s Cos­mic Girl

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS CHRIS CHILTON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TONY BAKER

A devil from Sant’agata that pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tion for a top 10 hit sin­gle

Even with­out the tow­er­ing op­tional rear wing of its later, Pirelli P7-shod in­car­na­tion, the Lamborghini Coun­tach casts a long shadow over its suc­ces­sor. Sand­wiched be­tween that Gan­dini orig­i­nal and the Mur­ciélago, the first fully new car built un­der the Audi regime, the Di­ablo was tasked with mod­ernising the Ital­ian car maker dur­ing one of its most tur­bu­lent pe­ri­ods.

That tur­bu­lence didn’t only come from within the com­pany, thanks to var­i­ous own­er­ship changes – first the Mim­ran Brothers to Chrysler, and then to In­done­sia’s Me­gat­ech – be­cause the en­tire su­per­car mar­ket Lamborghini had helped cre­ate was be­ing turned on its head. The Di­ablo had been launched to ac­claim in 1990, grab­bing head­lines with its gen­uine 200mph per­for­mance. But by 1993 its maker, the one­time en­fant ter­ri­ble, had hit 30 and was look­ing at a dif­fer­ent su­per­car land­scape.

First, there was an en­tirely new breed of be­yond-su­per­car cre­ations, the first germs of to­day’s 1000bhp, £2m hy­per­cars. The Jaguar XJ220 and Bu­gatti EB110 had both raised the bar, tak­ing a lead from the Porsche 959 and Fer­rari F40 the decade be­fore, and the Mclaren F1 was about to send it into or­bit. But even if Lamborghini couldn’t hope to sock it to the F1, it was not about to lie down qui­etly. For one thing, there was the mat­ter of the mar­que’s 30th an­niver­sary to cel­e­brate.

The firm’s pre­vi­ous birth­day present to it­self and its fans had been well re­ceived, though in truth it wasn’t the gift orig­i­nally en­vis­aged. Lamborghini had in­tended to cel­e­brate its 25th an­niver­sary by re­veal­ing the Di­ablo, but when it be­came clear that wasn’t go­ing to be ready in time, the Coun­tach was given one last re­fresh, in­clud­ing new bumpers, side skirts and a fat set of OZ split-rim wheels, the visual up­date over­seen by Ar­gen­tinian Ho­ra­cio Pa­gani, who would later go on to form his own su­per­car com­pany a hand­ful of miles away.

Vis­ually, the An­niver­sary stood out – and ar­guably not for the right rea­sons – but un­der the skin it was lit­tle changed from a reg­u­lar 5000QV. The new com­mem­o­ra­tive ma­chine would be an al­to­gether more se­ri­ous af­fair, tap­ping into a sec­ond trend in su­per­cars: lighter, harder, faster vari­ants that blurred the line be­tween track and road. That car was the Di­ablo SE30, SE stand­ing for Spe­cial Edi­tion, a name more suited to tarted-up end-of-line fam­ily mo­tors than a Lamborghini pseudo-racer.

SE30S were avail­able in var­i­ous hues in­clud­ing red and yel­low, but none is more closely as­so­ci­ated with the model than this car’s vi­o­let me­tal­lic, called Lambo Thirty. Per­haps it’s be­cause this was the colour most com­monly seen on SE30S in mag­a­zines at the time. Per­haps it’s sim­ply the un­likely pair­ing of a 525bhp V12 su­per­car, Lamborghini’s most ex­treme yet, with a colour that more likely makes you think of the Queen Mum’s pet­ti­coats. But quite pos­si­bly it’s down to a cer­tain mu­sic video ac­com­pa­ny­ing a song by the ’90s jazz-funk out­fit Jamiro­quai.

Filmed in An­dalu­sia, south­ern Spain, the video for Cos­mic Girl fea­tures a pur­ple SE30, a Fer­rari F355 and a Fer­rari F40 rac­ing along some twisty Span­ish coun­try roads after sun­set for no dis­cernible rea­son be­yond in­dulging Jamiro­quai front­man Jay Kay’s well-known pas­sion for su­per­cars. A quick scan of the lyrics re­veals no men­tion of Lamborghini or even cars of any sort, but few grow­ing up in an age of wor­thy TV mo­tor­ing shows and be­fore wide­spread in­ter­net avail­abil­ity were go­ing to com­plain about the chance to ogle a V12 su­per­car be­ing driven as Lamborghini in­tended.

Though the con­cept of the video was in­cred­i­bly sim­ple, the pro­duc­tion turned out to be any­thing but, as Kay ex­plains in a video on Jamiro­quai’s Youtube chan­nel: “I was on the tour bus in Ger­many and my man­ager comes up to me and says, ‘You know your Lamborghini, it was off to be put on the truck to go to Spain? The guy mov­ing it has crashed it.’”

Kay se­cured a sec­ond, iden­ti­cal SE30 and pushed back the shoot, but this Di­ablo only fared slightly bet­ter: “I flew in, got out of the jet and ev­ery­one looked ashen-faced. My man­ager said, ‘We don’t know how to tell you this, but they’ve smashed the sec­ond Lamborghini and it’s now got no wind­screen.’ They’d slid on a corner and hit the cam­era on the edge of the cliff we were driv­ing on. I just hit the roof.”

But with­out enough footage in the can be­fore the ac­ci­dent, the crew, led by di­rec­tor Adrian Moat, had no op­tion but to con­tinue film­ing. In cer­tain ex­te­rior an­gles you can see that the ’screen is miss­ing, and for the in-car shots Kay’s hair is blow­ing as if he’s driv­ing a Se­ries One Landie with the front glass folded.

“If you’ve ever tried to drive a Lamborghini… try­ing to also sing a song on a de­mand­ing Span­ish road to a cam­era strapped to the bon­net is re­ally hard,” says Kay.

Con­trary to some re­ports, this par­tic­u­lar car – num­ber 142 of 150 built – is not the Di­ablo used in the Cos­mic Girl video. It does, how­ever, have a Jamiro­quai con­nec­tion, hav­ing orig­i­nally been sold to Jay Kay after his first car was de­stroyed. It was sup­plied by Sheik Amari, whose fam­ily was the of­fi­cial UK dis­trib­u­tor for Lamborghini in the 1990s, who now runs Amari Su­per Cars of Pre­ston – and whose black F355 does ap­pear in the Cos­mic Girl video.

It’s easy to see why Kay was so smit­ten with the SE30. Against the odds, the un­usual colour per­fectly sets off the long, smooth lines drawn by Chrysler’s Tom Gale after Mar­cello Gan­dini’s

‘It’s an un­likely pair­ing: a 525bhp V12 su­per­car, in a colour that more likely makes you think of the Queen Mum’s pet­ti­coats’

orig­i­nal de­sign pro­posal had been deemed too dated. Com­pared with the ‘stan­dard’ pro­duc­tion Di­ablo, there’s a more an­gu­lar front spoiler fea­tur­ing air in­takes to cool the slot­ted brake discs, and a match­ing one at the rear, the lat­ter lower and more curved at its edges than the op­tional wing on lesser mod­els, and sport­ing an ad­justable-an­gle cen­tral sec­tion.

The air in­takes in the sill pan­els are wider, seg­mented by a pair of ver­ti­cal, body-colour fins on each side, and each whee­larch is stuffed full of el­e­gant one-piece, five-hole OZ Rac­ing al­loy wheel, an el­e­gant counter to the launch Di­ablo’s fussy (and very 1980s) split-rims.

But there are two clues that this cel­e­bra­tion is more than skin-deep: an aero­space-style fuel filler on the right-hand flank of this rare right­hand drive car and, less ob­vi­ously – but more im­por­tantly – some strangely sec­tioned door glass. The rea­son for that is be­cause most of the win­dow con­sists of a fixed pane of Plex­i­glas, a knurled wheel on the door al­low­ing the smaller in­set sec­tion to roll down, though barely far enough to feed a park­ing ticket into a ma­chine. Try tack­ling a Mcdon­ald’s drive-thru in an SE30 and you might just have to re­ceive your chips one fry at a time.

This was part of Lamborghini’s mis­sion to slash weight from the Di­ablo as it at­tempted to in­ject its su­per­car with some­thing of crosstown ri­val Fer­rari’s F40. But it was far from the only weight-sav­ing mea­sure. Those hand­some OZ wheels – 17in at the front as on a stan­dard Di­ablo, but 18in at the rear – were crafted from mag­ne­sium, the in­te­rior was pared of elec­tri­cal niceties and body parts in­clud­ing the sill cover and en­gine lid were fash­ioned from car­bon­fi­bre.

When Lamborghini’s en­gi­neers had fin­ished, they al­lowed them­selves the lux­ury of fit­ting a num­bered plaque in the rear quar­ter-win­dow of each car, per­fectly placed to catch your eye as you reach down to push the but­ton that sends the scis­sor door arc­ing up­wards, re­veal­ing an in­te­rior awash with blue Al­can­tara.

You need to be drawn like Mick Jag­ger to fit com­fort­ably in the el­e­gant, but sur­pris­ingly slim seats, and then be pre­pared for their mod­est lat­eral sup­port. More ex­pected is the way the pro­nounced whee­larch in­tru­sion kicks the pedal box hard left of cen­tre, mak­ing you sit like a ’50s debu­tante try­ing not to give too much away. The seat­belts fas­ten from the cen­tre out­wards, and by the time you’ve buck­led up you’ll have no­ticed the ag­gres­sive tum­ble­home that forces your head un­com­fort­ably close to the cant rail. Straight ahead, though, it’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter: the ’screen is so steeply raked and the base of it so far away that you could have a nose penned by Ger­ald Scarfe and not feel claus­tro­pho­bic.

Twist the key and the V12 be­hind your head awak­ens al­most apolo­get­i­cally. In hon­our­ing Lamborghini’s birth­day, the SE30 cel­e­brates the iconic en­gine’s, too, though with the elec­tronic fuel in­jec­tion, dou­ble the num­ber of valves and nearly twice the power, the 5.7-litre thug be­hind the SE30’S seats is far re­moved from the 3.5-litre ver­sion Giotto Biz­zarrini cre­ated for Fer­ruc­cio’s first car, the 350GT, back in 1963.

As with all mid-en­gined V12 Lam­bos after the Miura, the Di­ablo’s en­gine is lon­gi­tu­di­nally

mounted, but 180º round from the norm, plac­ing the trans­mis­sion ahead of the en­gine. Think 911 that’s been shunted up the back in a traf­fic jam, push­ing the en­gine across the rear-axle line.

Select first in the dog­leg five-speed ’box, ease out the long-travel clutch, smartly feed in some right foot and you get a sim­i­lar sen­sa­tion of be­ing wal­loped from be­hind. There’s a bar­relch­ested coarse­ness, both in­tim­i­dat­ing and ap­peal­ing, to this gen­er­a­tion of V12 that was lost when Lamborghini fi­nally called time on Biz­zarrini’s de­sign in 2010. It sounds an­gry – and feels it, too, send­ing mi­cro vi­bra­tions through the struc­ture that you pick up through the seat and con­trols as you spin the rev counter’s nee­dle right round to 7500rpm.

And the per­for­mance, like the noise, is bru­tal. A stan­dard Di­ablo pro­duced a solid 495bhp from its all-alu­minium 5707cc unit, it­self a use­ful im­prove­ment on the fi­nal four-valve Coun­tach’s 455. But the SE30’S breath­ing mods pushed that to 525bhp; 0-60mph took 4.2 secs, and top speed climbed from 200 to 207mph. Noth­ing to cause a Mclaren F1 to lose sleep, but a clas­sic Ital­ian chin-flick to Fer­rari, which had fin­ished pro­duc­tion of its F40, was yet to start build­ing the F50, and had noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble in its brochures.

Un­like most SE30S, this one is fit­ted with power steer­ing, though the as­sis­tance does lit­tle to dampen the steady stream of feed­back from front wheels tasked only with turn­ing, and not driv­ing the car. Lamborghini had in­tro­duced the user-friendly VT, a four-wheel-drive com­pan­ion to the orig­i­nal rear-drive Di­ablo, in 1993, but the sys­tem added weight and un­der­steer to the chas­sis. Nei­ther would have been wel­come on the SE30, serv­ing only to blunt its per­for­mance and abil­ity to con­nect the driver to the road. In­stead, Sant’agata blew its tech­nol­ogy bud­get on an ad­justable anti-roll-bar set-up you could tweak via a con­troller on the cen­tre con­sole.

Of 150 SE30S, 28 were given a pack­age of up­grades to make them com­pet­i­tive in GT rac­ing and called Jota, after the le­gendary still­born Miura racer whose spirit the SE30 channels. Jo­tas re­ceived twin roof snorkels to feed air to a V12 mod­i­fied with a lighter crank­shaft, new cams, a free-flow­ing ex­haust and a re­pro­grammed ECU. With an ad­di­tional 70bhp over the SE30, the Jota would be only the next in a se­ries of in­creas­ingly driver-fo­cused vari­ants of Lamborghini’s main­stream pro­duc­tion cars that con­tin­ues to this day. A less pow­er­ful, more af­ford­able Di­ablo SV ap­peared in 1995, and in 1999, a year after Audi’s takeover and two years be­fore the ar­rival of the all-new Mur­ciélago, Lamborghini would re­lease the 80-strong run of GTS, the most de­sir­able Di­ablo of all.

Hav­ing spent the first part of the clas­sic boom over­looked while Coun­tach prices rock­eted, the Di­ablo has be­come in­creas­ingly sought-after as the mar­ket ac­knowl­edges both its im­por­tance as the last Lamborghini be­fore Audi’s steady­ing in­flu­ence and, in the case of the SE30, a fine car in its own right. Some­times, de­spite the fund­ing and board­room chaos of the mid­dle years, the stars above Sant’agata re­ally did align.

Thanks to Amari Su­per Cars: 01772 663777; www.amarisu­per­cars.com

‘It sounds an­gry – and feels it, too, send­ing vi­bra­tions through the struc­ture that you pick up through the seat and con­trols as you spin it right round to 7500rpm’

Left, from top: Jay Kay re­port­edly re­ferred to the SE30 as the in­spi­ra­tion for Cos­mic Girl to avoid up­set­ting his girl­friend at the time; drama of the trade­mark scis­sor doors is undimmed after 25 years

Gold-painted mag­ne­sium in­let man­i­folds give the en­gine bay a dash of colour; mag­nif­i­cent 5707cc V12 musters 525bhp at 7100rpm

Sim­ple in­te­rior blends swathes of rather sud­den blue Al­can­tara with racy car­bon­fi­bre sill cov­ers. Above left: Spe­cial Edi­tion cre­ated to com­mem­o­rate the Sant’agata firm’s first three decades

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