Founded more than four decades ago, Italian sports-car maker has always tried to be ahead of . In 1966, at the launch of the mid-engine , many felt as though Lamborghini was years ahead.
History may be repeating, with the Sant'Agata brand writing a new chapter in this ongoing high-speed battle. We are talking about the latest Gallardo version, called Superleggera, which means lightweight. It hits the U.S. in July, well before Ferrari's version of the , which is expected this fall.
Most obvious on the Superleggera (Ampersand, May 2007) from the outside is the exclusive lettering written inside black body stripes. Air intake frames, headlight housings, forged Speedline wheels and exhaust pipes are also darkened, while the side-view mirrors, underbody plate, engine bay and hood, rear wing and diffuser are made from clear-coated carbon fiber. Using this material shaved off some serious pounds, but even more effective are the polycarbonate screens replacing all glass sections from the B-pillars rearward, 30 percent of the total 154-lb. weight loss. The result: a total weight of just 2998 lb. "It's easy to lighten a car by throwing out equipment," stated Lamborghini chief engineer Maurizio Reggiani. "But we wanted to keep the ideal weight distribution."
The weight savings continue inside the , where door panels and parts of the center console are made from carbon fiber, as are the seats' monocoque shells, which can be individually upholstered in Alcantara, adding a racy look to the cabin. Interestingly, the radio has disappeared (it's optional), but electric windows and climate control remain in place: "Our customers demand these features," said Reggiani, explaining that the Superleggera is still meant for daily use. And in saying so, he also agreed that the Superleggera's orange instrument lettering isn't ideal, and promises an improvement.
Starting the Superleggera is an acoustic event. Less noise isolation makes the stunning exhaust sound even more alive, and it makes you want to downshift even when it's not necessarily needed. The all-wheel-drive powertrain has been improved with a new propshaft and front driveshafts; front wheel carriers and bearings carry less mass as well. A lighter intake manifold and a new exhaust system increase the power of the 5.0-liter V-10 by 10 bhp — up to 530 bhp at 8000 rpm. According to the factory, the weight savings the extra power make for a 0.2-second quicker run to 60 mph, now accomplished in 3.8 sec. And in contrast to the basic Gallardo, the Superleggera features the robotized E-gearbox as standard; the manual version comes for an extra $700.
A top speed of 195 mph remains unchanged, but that's no reason to be disappointed — a big part of the Superleggera thrill is the even-more-precise handling. A retuned suspension with softer spring rates and modified dampers supports this effect. After a few laps to get used to the car's handling behavior, you realize the lateral g-forces the Superleggera can attain are truly incredible. It feels glued to the tarmac, taking corners at higher speeds and even more accurately than the normal — no slouch itself. Slight understeer gives way to well-controlled sliding; less mass makes this maneuver easy to control.
The brakes react stunningly, but just make sure your co-driver is prepared for such stopping forces. If, for some reason, you feel the standard brakes aren't enough, you can order carbon ceramic discs for $15,600. If you still have some money left, an extra-large rear wing to increase downforce can be had for $5850. Unfortunately, even if you are lucky enough to have the spare $220,300 that it takes to buy a Superleggera, you can't — all 350 of the 2007 model-year cars are spoken for.
Next year promises to be special, too, as Lamborghini states it will "step back into sports activities in 2008." It seems Lamborghini is saying: "Watch out, Ferrari! The game is on."