Class act by a roaring devil

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 March, 1996, 12:00am


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Ferruccio Lamborghini was still tuning Fiat 500s in 1946, but in 1949 he started building tractors. By 1966, Lamborghini tractors were being turned out of Bologna at a rate of 20 a day.

Ferruccio had always been a Ferrari fan but in 1963 decided to build what he termed 'a better car'. Equipped with a 3.5-litre, four-cam V12, and no less than six Weber DCOE carburettors, the first Lamborghini sports car churned out 360bhp, a healthy output for the day.

All-round independent suspension, Girling disc brakes and a five-speed ZF gearbox gave the first Lamborghini GT impressive handling and performance, while the body styling was the work of Gian Paolo Dallara.

Around 200 of the GT models were built and, in 1966, a four-litre version was introduced, this time with Lamborghini's own gearbox and final drive unit. Also in 1966, the company launched the stunning Lamborghini Miura P400 coupe, a beautiful, low-slung, two-door design with a dry-sump, four-litre engine mounted transversely behind the cockpit, and capable of 288km/h.

Financial woes saw the company fall into Chrysler's hands for a while but Lamborghini is now back in private hands, only this time it is owned by the Indonesian and Malaysian syndicate Megatech, which took over in 1994 and now produces the fabulous Lamborghini Diablo and Diablo Roadster.

Capable of more than 325km/h, the Diablo can rightly claim to be the world's fastest production sports car.

The Roadster, in Hong Kong on its way to Australia, was essentially just a show car, but the opportunity to drive a 500bhp monster was too good to pass up. Although it was a left-hand drive, trade plates enabled Asia's finest to turn a blind eye to what otherwise would be an illegal machine.

Blindingly quick, it is also totally tractable, pulling from 1,000 revs without a murmur. This is a car that's completely at home within minutes of setting off. Despite the inevitable visibility limitations of this type of car and the unfamiliarity of the steering wheel's location on the left, it was easy to drive without feeling vulnerable.

Power comes from a massive 5,700cc V12, with four cams and 48 valves, and peaks at 7,000rpm with a maximum output of 492bhp. The gearbox is a five-speed version with, as on other Lamborghinis, synchromesh on reverse as well, while there is permanent four-wheel drive and front and rear limited slip differentials with a central viscous coupling. The principal difficulty in Hong Kong when testing cars of this calibre is the intense congestion and, regrettably, our blanket speed limits. Consequently, the Diablo never made it above second gear, but this is still good for 148km/h. Even first gear will take you to an amazing 97km/h in less than four seconds. The suspension can be adjusted from soft to hard and there's also electronic adjustment of the front ride height, which can be lowered by 50mm at the touch of a button. The brakes are everything you need on a 325km/h car, firm but retarding the 1,625 kilogram machine effectively. Brakes are by Brembo with aluminium alloy, four-pot callipers.

It's hard to find anything to criticise on the Diablo. Perhaps the clutch is a little heavy and maybe the seats a touch on the firm side, but these are mere quibbles in what must qualify as one of the world's best supercars.

That it looks good, has outstanding performance and sells for just $3.5 million, a bargain in its class, makes the Lamborghini Diablo Roadster the best car of 1996 so far.