16 Apr
LIAS unleashes Lamborghini's rear-wheeled beast

Lamborghini’s elder statesmen and test driver, Valentino Balboni, retired last year due to Italian bureaucratic red tape. Lambo wanted to honor him by building a signature model, the only problem was Balboni demanded that any car that bore his name must be rear-wheel drive only (as opposed to their now standard All Wheel Drive). The Charging Bull of Sant’Agata balked — they hadn’t built a rear-wheel drive car since the Diablo GT in the late 90s — but then relented and honorably created the Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Balboni edition. In a spell of questionable judgment, they then lent it to Lost In A Supermarket for a week. Grab your radar detector, adult Depends and bail bonds, this may get ugly…

It’s 1 pm on a lazy Easter weekend — usually the type of slow Sunday that you spend quietly shopping or seeing a Sandra Bulluck-helmed matinee — and yet instead I’m driving up the 101 gripped in fear twofold, because: 1) I’m driving the new Lamborghini Balboni, a car most famous for being the most perilous car in Lamborghini’s already dangerous stable. And 2) it’s a holiday weekend, which means there’s more cops on the street than at an Irish funeral.

And the thing about this car — with its gleaming blue paint and signature white and gold stripe running up center — is that you have to drive it like you’re driving a stolen car. At all times, every moment. Meaning, you have to assume everyone is after you: every pedestrian is looking at you enviously; every cyclist is glaring at you scornfully; every cop is eyeing you suspiciously. The attention you spend looking out for Johnny Law is honestly exhausting, because if they see you then you are getting pulled over, period. Our Lambo rep told us how he got stopped on Sunset Boulevard by an officer who said he was revving the engine too loud. The rep explained he worked for Lamborghini, that he had no interest in revving the engine because he drove the car daily, but of course that didn’t help. He still got a ticket.

And truly he wasn’t revving it; that’s just how loud the car’s 5.2 liter V10 hums naturally — the same engine as found in the latest 5.2 Audi R8 (see our R8 testdrive). It’s a deep rumble that massages your body as you drive. And should you edge the RPMs to 4000? Well, then something happens sonically that defies explanation — I don’t know if they tweaked the exhaust note from the standard Gallardo, but at exactly 4000 RPMs something magical happens in that polycarbonate glass-encased engine bay, something musical and tonal and primal beyond description: the Balboni unleashes a pitch from its 10 cylinders that’s so piercing and loud and deep that it just seems like the engine bay rises and supplants itself right inside your cranium.

Read the full review of the Lamborghini Balboni, plus original photo galleries, after the Jump…

Photos by Robert Kerian

“There’s really no way to explain the joy and fear at times like this — the feeling of having this much power at your toe-tips, 562 horses channeled to only the 2 rear tires, all-wheel drive be damned.”

So it is with nothing less than paranoia that we drove the Balboni up and over the Hollywood Hills, through the valley and up into the relative calm of San Fernando, ever diligent of the boys in blue, ever watchful.

And this is where the Balboni is at its most fun, and legally safest — when you’re rolling at a comfortable 85 on the highway in light traffic. There, where traffic offers the serenity of few cops and reasonably open road, you can really enjoy the raw torque of the Balboni; with the lightest tap of the accelerator the car lunges to life with a vivacious roar of its engine, and you easily overtake car after car with potent leisure. It handles so tightly, with tiny bursts you just weave through traffic swallowing the road ahead of you like Frogger toying with cars on the beginner levels. When you want the juice it’s there, and you curl to 150 mph without a drop of sweat on your brow. Again, you cannot keep speeds like this up because of the ever-present paranoia of losing your license, but you certainly can enjoy bursts of 130 and stay relatively safe. Relatively safe.

By the time we got to our favorite swtichback-laden road, our juices were flowing. There’s a reason why the Gallardo is Lamborghini’s most successful model of all time, with more nearly 10,000 units sold to date. But we came to drive a Balboni, not a Gallardo. And what makes the Balboni edition of the Gallardo special, of course, is when you click all those ESP buttons and pull the little silver aeronautical levers on the center dash that disable all the computerized driver assistance options Lambo engineers have so intelligently installed in the vehicle. That is when you transform the vehicle from a standard Gallardo into the Balboni Monster — a car so powerful, so stubborn, so singular minded it makes driving the Dodge Viper RT/10 feel like a Lotus Elise.

And then you hit the gas.

You may want to hold onto the wheel with both hands at times like this, fingers barely tapping the paddles as you shift for dear life, but you won’t be able to — you’ll have that right hand desperately grabbing for the shifter as you barely control the vehicle’s slip-happy backend. That’s because Valentino Balboni also demanded that the standard transmission be a six-speed manual, a very rare set-up in the days of paddle-shifted automated manuals (okay, the paddles are still an option, but know you’re letting Valentino down if you check that option box). There’s really no way to explain the joy and fear at times like this — the feeling of having this much power at your toe-tips, 562 horses channeled to only the 2 rear tires, all-wheel drive be damned. Corners come from out of nowhere, back wheels spin and scream on lonely stretches of California cow roads, yelps emanate from the giddy photographer next to you. Sweat beading on your brow, smile carved on face from ear to ear. Can there be any greater thrill?

The Balboni may boast a top speed of 199 mph and hit 0-62 mph (100 kmph) in 3.9 seconds, but you’ll have more fun running the Balboni at 80%, because truly when you set the car at its most wild (in Corsa mode, with the ESP stability control disabled), it is more car than almost any man not trained in Formula 1 can handle. And since they’re only building 250 of these limited edition creatures of myth, the last thing you want to do is end its life split in half against a lost highway lamppost. Fine, you can call me a pansy or automotive dandy or whatever euphemism for female genitalia you want, but the Balboni is just too powerful, too uncontrollable under these conditions. It’s ass will dance and sway like a flamingo dancer, and all you can do is hold on for dear life. Yes, it really is that scary.

But that fear is the entire point of the Balboni edition, isn’t it? Otherwise just play it safe(r) and simply pick up a standard Gallardo. Because the car is not immaculate — its glove compartment is flimsy at best (prone to breaking off at the hinge), its center console is not intuitive, it lacks steering wheel controls for radio and navigation, the rear view is almost nil, and if you’re a sports enthusiast the trunk is perfectly sufficient only if you’re a bowler, or play croquet. But really, that’s irrelevant because if you actually are insane enough to want the Balboni then all those deficiencies will bother you as much as leaks in a Richard Neutra house. Besides, even if you’re man enough to actually want a Lamborghini LP550-2 Balboni edition, you’re going to have to get lucky with only 250 are being made, at a cost of about $220,000 (about 10% more than the standard Gallardo LP560-4).

And if you do, well then best of luck.

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  1. […] makeovers (with the exception of the rear-wheel drive Balboni (read our fear-filled testdrive HERE) and its carbon fiber-enhanced Superleggera edition) to keep the press coming. This Bicolore […]

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