Foot Down

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2002, 12:00am

Lamborghini distributors Kingsway Cars (2893 1838) recently curtained off its Gloucester Road showroom for a delightfully low-key Hong Kong launch of the 2002 Murcielago (below), writes William Wadsworth. Security was tight for the $2.88-million supercar and the people who could afford it but the event was a motorhead's delight. As a tenor and pianist tinkled arias in the background, dapper guests examined the 6.2-litre V12 Murcielago, waited for their turn to sit behind the wheel of one of the fastest motors in the world and were then told gently over a glass of white wine that the 2002 model tops at 330km/h and sprints 0-100km/h in a breathtaking 3.8 seconds.

Even so, the Murcielago shouts the size of one's status, or whatever else, with a sleek, squat, high-strength alloy tubular frame in the kind of show-off yellow you see in dangerous snakes in nature programmes. Its doors open vertically with all the carnal ostentation of a randy, chest-puffing frog, yet the latticed, smoked-black rear engine cover only hints at the model's power, unlike the Ferraris that like to flaunt their works. The Murcielago's built for something beyond a quick spin in the New Territories, however, and I wonder how soon we'll see the model's shiny 18-inch alloy wheels, rather erect chromed exhausts, electronically controlled rear spoiler - and, ooh! those gaping front and side air-intake vents screaming 'catch me if you dare' - in a nonchalant preening spot near the Kee Club.

Potential buyers should have lithe hips, small feet and be under 1.8 metres tall, however, for the Murcielago can be a tight fit - and potentially very dangerous at very high speeds - for the tall or clumsy in busy Hong Kong. But even with my 45-year-old buttocks tightly wedged into bucket seats and size-46 feet clumping on the pedals at maximum legroom, I just had to run my hands over the smooth, 'come-back-to-my-place' suede and leather interior and grasp the orbed stainless steel knob of the Murcielago's manual gear stick to sense some real power in that cosy cockpit.

When you get into gear you're reaching for a six-speed and reverse box, a permanent four-wheel drive with a viscous traction system and an engine-management system the marque says includes individual static ignition, multipoint sequential fuel injection, and drive-wire, traction control facilities. I was told the internal mirror has an anti-blinding facility and noticed the rear views on the wings were like cinemascope, as you would expect at speed, with their own electrical heating and closing systems. You get the technology you pay for in a Murcielago but even though the supercar's a parkable 4.58 metres long and 2.045 metres wide, I reckon it is still vulnerable to dings in Hong Kong. The speed-bumps on the road to the Clear Water Bay Country Club and the higher pavements of Staunton Street could challenge the Murcielago's ground-hugging dams and posing credibility while the motor seems vulnerable with limited visibility in reverse. Potential owners might therefore prefer not to delegate the parking of their Murcielago to nightclub minions or loved ones. And talking of which, I sense the Murcielago could be demanding on dates. The doors' intricate push-and-pull opening system could threaten long nails on the outside and, I found, need plenty of elbow to close inside, which could put tight designer-label chest and arm seams at risk too. The seat-belt system is intimate and passengers may need help with any adjustment. High heels and long, flowing skirts seem no-nos in the Lamborghini's left seat, not only because space is tight but because the rims of the doors seem vulnerable to wince-making scuffs and bangs. Minor observations aside, the Murcielago's a collector's dream but it needs care and a firm, confident and restrained hand on Hong Kong's roads, where it can give the Acura NSX, the Ferrari 360 Modena ($2.18 million), and the Lotus Esprit V8 ($788,000) a run for their money. Then again, it can be just as fast as a boy racer's Lotus Elise ($400,000) or, for that matter, an old Mazda 121 bubble. The supercar might be better suited to a four-lane sprint between Milan and Turin but the Lamborghini will always sell to people in Hong Kong who like to be known as someone 'who owns a Murcielago'. Finally, if you're driving overseas this summer, tell us about your car and trip. E-mail