This past month two automotive legends ceased production, their spirits rising into the Great Pantheon of Iconic Cars in the sky. Two vehicles that defined terminally opposite points of the spectrum, different in pricepoint, performance, utility, powertrain, spirit… well, just about everything. Even the reasons for ending their lifecycle could not be more different, but they both share a common trait: they changed the cultural landscape of the world around them, both automotive and pedestrian.
The Lamborghini Gallardo made its world debut in 2003 at the Geneva Motor Show, a gleaming mechanical celebration of its maker’s 40th Anniversary. Keep in mind that until that point, Lamborghini was a world-renowned but tiny boutique builder of supercars, its reputation and iconography reaching far further than any of its cars ever did. Selling a meager average of 250 cars per year, it’s safe to say that only a tiny percentage of humans that ever gazed past some bikini’d model splayed out on the hood of a Countach in ubiquitous 80s posters had actually ever laid eyes on one.
The Gallardo changed all that. It was the first “affordable” Lambo, but by no means anything less than a true supercar. It was also the first Lambo to benefit from its 1998 purchase by Audi, which promised to keep the soul of the Raging Bull while cleaning up much of its suspect electronics. They delivered. With its potent naturally aspirated V10 mated to Audi’s AWD technology, the Gallardo was among the first generation of supercars that could actually be driven on the street without whiplash, and yet flogged on the track without mercy.
The Gallardo holds a personal place in my heart as it was at the Spyder’s launch, in 2006, that I attended my first Big League auto testdrive. Lamborghini flew a small group of journalists, most quite elite (still not sure how I made the cut) to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, first class, for a weekend of tropical driving. I remember staring at the $13,000 ticket, dumbfounded that someone thought I was worth that pricetag. We raced up Mount Teide, a volcano on Tenerife, with engines blaring. We ate imported sushi and smoked hand-rolled cigars. We outran police.
Years later I had the pleasure of test-driving the Valentino Balboni edition Gallardo, and dubbed it “one of the funnest, most dangerous vehicles ever created by man.” It was no hyperbole; Valentino — Lamborghini’s veteran in-house driver, forced into retirement by Italian bureaucratic protocol — had demanded that the car named after him be RWD only, and lose the AWD safety of its Audi-built predecessors. The results were fucking startling. Speaking of Audi, it’s important to note their R8 supercar would never have existed without the bones (and V10 engine) of the Gallardo.
Hit the Jump to continue reading our eulogy of the Lamborghini Gallardo and VW Bus…
“The Gallardo was the first generation of supercar that could be driven on the street without whiplash, & yet flogged on the track without mercy…”
Some would say the Gallardo achieved cultural immortality when it was used as the lyrical hook for Akon’s “Smack That” — the requisite milestone for a supercar to reach worldwide legitimacy in the 21st Century. But I would argue it reached immortality on that fateful day in Geneva, 2003. The Gallardo sold over 14,000 cars in its decade-long run, in 32 variants, in 45 countries — nearly the same number as all other Lamborghinis ever built, combined. When that last gleaming “rosso mars” (aka red) Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder Performante rolled off that factory floor in Sant’Agata Bolognese this week, its place in the automotive canon had long been preserved.
On the complete opposite end of the vehicular spectrum stands the VW Bus. There is no vehicle on Earth that singularly encapsulates the social liberty, spiritual curiosity and hippie swagger of the 60s and 70s than “The Bus”. Sure, the Beetle might be the first true “Volkswagen” (aka “people’s car”), but the Bus was the first true people mover. The first low-income wide production vehicle that could substitute as a home, a live-in rolling ode to carefree freedom. And it was beloved the world over, built in Germany, Mexico and Brazil.
Unfortunately the Bus saw its run end in Germany in 1979, and Mexico in 1995. The last remaining holdout, Brazil, is now coming to an end after 10 million Buses have been sold the world over. Call it a victim of progress, as Brazil’s once ultra lax vehicular standards are upgraded along with the country’s rising economic clout. Starting next year, all cars will require anti-lock brakes and airbags, technical updates the Bus cannot absorb. Sigh.
My experience with the Bus came after college, when my recently graduated buddy Mike Gary asked to park it in the backyard of my house for a couple months while he got his shit together. Mike lived back there happily, cooking in the tiny kitchen, hanging out in the pop-up canopy, bumping DJ Krush from the modified Bose soundsystem, living the life of a 90s Venice Beach bum. I may have looked the role, he was living it.
Mike would intermittently take the Sunkissed Pumpkin on long road trips all over the states, disappearing for weeks or months and then popping back up unannounced. “She could get hot, grumpily grunting and throwing tantrums when driving long, level straight shots on those hot summer days,” Mike remembers. “Serendipitously, I found her mimicking my own mental and emotional states and situations; we were somehow intertwined in spirit, beyond driver and machine.”
The key to owning a Bus, according to Mike, was to own “two of everything”. He grew adept at roadside repairs, quickly diagnosing broken gaskets and missing couplers. But as difficult and temperamental as the orange Pumpkin could be, it was also amazingly consistent at getting him home — even if that meant surviving unlawful police searches, tornadoes and, literally, hurricanes. He can’t count how many times he was approached by people smiling, telling him they were conceived in a Bus.
But just like in Brazil, Mike’s time with the bus had to come to a finality as well. When the nonprofit organization he worked for was over 2 months behind in salary, he was forced to sell her to a local tattoo artist. “He first had to pass my rigorous buyer application process, and later I saw that he really did treat her well, giving her a new interior and paint job,” he tells me, wistfully recounting the end of an era. “I was still sad to let her go and always regret it when I see another bus out on the road; she’ll always live in my memories. Sure she was a bit outdated and temperamental, but she was a beautiful classic and most importantly, she could always be willed to the finish line. That was more than I could say for my girlfriend at that time, who I also coincidentally dumped shortly after the sale of my VW bus.”
The end of an era, for one of history’s most successful supercars and the low income people preferred mover the world over. Rest In Peace brothers, you’ve worn your badges well.