Thursday, October 25, 2007

Speed of light(ness)













Like all boys aged 14 to 84, I love toys. But, as we grow into men, most of us are beaten into conformity by the harsh realities of working life.


I’ve accepted, albeit reluctantly at first, that I can’t have all the toys I want. I have to be practical. Of late, I’ve even managed to convince myself that I’m no longer interested in things I can’t have.


Now, comfortably ensconced in middle age, middle class suburbia, I find there are not many things worth forsaking a Sunday morning lie-in for.

Yeah, he sacrificed some sleep and hauled himself out on a Sunday morning for this ...An invitation to take a Lamborghini for a spin would be one of them, I suppose. (Woohoo!) And not just any Lambo, but the Gallardo Superleggera, no less.


“I hear you’re into 4X4s,” says Marcus Chye, chief operating officer of Lamborghini Kuala Lumpur. “Well, this car has four-wheel-drive.”


I took the bait. But first, a quick lesson in Italian and Spanish.


Superleggera is simply Italian for “super lightweight”. (Is it just me or does everyone else also find that most things, especially things automotive, sound so much sexier in Italian? I mean, Bahasa Malaysia’s Palingringan or Hokkien’s Chinkhin just don’t have the same glamorous ring, do they?)


It’s an Italian car but Gallardo is pronounced “ga-yar-dor” because the Spaniards like to bunch two “Ls” together and pronounce it as “y”. Gallardo is a famous breed of Spanish fighting bulls, which matches Lamborghini’s famous emblem. It is also the Spanish word for “striking”, which is certainly an apt description of the car’s looks.

The cockpit is a snug fit.(Music fans will know that Senegalese-American artiste Akon – more from him later – sings about his Lamborghini “ga-lar-dor” in his hit Smack That, but then again, Americans pronounce Porsche as “posh” instead of “porshuh”. Perhaps it’s relevant to talk about German as well since Lamborghini now belongs to Audi, and its CEO is Stephan Winkelmann, which is as German a name as you can get.)


Language class is over, let’s hit the road. A quick press of the accelerator is enough to extract that glorious howl from the engine and pin me to the seat. A couple of seconds later, the bend is coming up fast and the massive carbon-ceramic brakes scrub off just the right amount of speed to take the corner.


Lift off the accelerator, a quick pull on the left paddle, the engine blips to lift the revs, the robot gearbox shifts down a cog and the V10 behind my left ear roars.
The sound is awesome. It’s primal, it’s visceral, it’s glorious, it’s spine tingling. If it doesn’t stir your soul, you don’t have one.

If the sight of carbon fibre turns you on, well, you've definitely come to the right place.For a shattering impact, forget the proverbial bull in china shop. Try, instead, a Chinaman in a raging bull through the Karak Highway tunnel just after the Genting turn-off. Ten cylinders on song send out a thunderous roar that reverberates through the tunnel like 530 bulls in a stampede.
Yes, on that quiet Sunday morning, the hills of Genting and Bukit Tinggi were alive with the sound of music, a glorious Italian aria that rose and fell … err, okay, I’m getting a bit carried away here.


Lamborghini says the Superleggera has a top speed of 315km/h and some independent testers elsewhere have apparently gone even faster than that; but, on Malaysian public roads with plenty of Sunday drivers around, I didn’t even bother to try going anywhere near its limits.
What makes the Superleggera special is weight – or, more precisely, the lack of it. Using advanced materials and technologies, Lamborghini engineers trimmed the already light standard Gallardo by 100kg, to 1,330kg (empty and without fuel).

When you’ve got it, flaunt it: The Gallardo Superleggera’s mighty V10 is certainly worth displaying beneath the transparent polycarbonate cover. Bear in mind this is a super car with a massive 10-cylinder 5.0l engine, and it weighs just 30kg more than a 2.0l Proton Perdana. For a bit more perspective, the Mercedes-Benz SL500 is over half a tonne heavier at 1,845kg.
The engine hood (that’s in the rear, of course) is made of visible carbon fibre and transparent polycarbonate, a type of material that guarantees lightness and shows off the magnificent mid-mounted V10 engine.


The rear diffuser and underbody covering, the rear view mirrors, door panels and the central tunnel’s covering are also made of carbon fibre. The Superleggera has so much carbon in it that it’s almost organic (as in organic chemistry, the study of carbon-containing compounds).
Further reductions in weight were achieved by replacing certain glass surfaces with polycarbonate, and even the windscreen has been made thinner.


At the end of the intensive and expensive weight-loss regime, the Gallardo Lite … drum roll … “needs only 3.8 seconds to go from 0km/h to 100km/h, 0.2 seconds less than the basic model,” according to Lamborghini’s brochure. Huh? Well, at this level, a fraction of a second means a lot, apparently.

A familiar sight, if you pedal this metal around a bit.For the interior, vast expanses of sensual Alcantara leather cover the entire dashboard as well as one-piece carbon fibre sports seats.
Not many people have driven Lamborghinis but, thanks to Astro’s Discovery Real Time, many know that these exotic Italians are difficult to reverse because rearward vision is virtually non-existent. Surprisingly, the Gallardo gives the driver a pretty good view of the rear, plus there is an optional TV camera that makes it a breeze to back up.


Superleggera customers usually don’t pay attention to the audio system since the only aural entertainment that’s ever needed comes from the 390,000watt sound system called the V10.
Less (weight), in this case, adds up to more (money). For 100kg less car, you pay RM300,000 more. The Superleggera is priced at RM2.15mil, compared to your garden variety Gallardo that’s just RM1.85mil.


For that much money, the Superleggera makes you adjust the seat with your own muscle power. Electric motors are heavy, you see.


Back to Akon, who sings, “Wanna jump in my Lamborghini Gallardo….”


Well, the reality is that you don’t jump into a Gallardo, or any Lamborghini, for that matter.
You contort your torso and limbs, carefully and slowly, and execute a manoeuvre that rivals origami in intricacy. You don’t jump out of it either; you unfold yourself out of it.
Driving the Superleggera was an exhilarating experience for sure, but I ended up with a stiff neck and sore knee, just from the unfamiliar exertions needed to get in and out of the car. Having said that, the actual driving position is comfortable, if a bit snug, and the posture is great for spirited motoring.


So, if you’re dreaming of owning one of these toys, buy one before you turn 40. If you think it’ll take longer to gather enough loose change, take up yoga now. Oh, if you’re on the heavy side of 90kg, start dieting too.

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