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Monaco, Maserati, Lamborghini and Other Nice Things in This Month's Letter From Europe

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Letter from Europe
Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

For once it really is a case of where do I begin? Maybe back in May which seems like ages ago. Virgin Atlantic were as good as ever while the food was bad as ever. Certain things never change. Still, it got me to TACH’s European HQ and with the help of deadly rival British Airways we were soon on our way to Bologna.

Sergio, our old friend with the only air conditioned BMW for miles greeted us with a huge smile, I am beginning to think that we are making a major contribution to his retirement fund!

The main thing is he delivered us to Maserati in no time at all. The ever- helpful Claudia handed over the keys to the Quattroporte’s latest and best version, the Sport GTS. I know I’ve said it before but the more I drive the big Q the more convinced I become that it is one of life’s great automobiles, a touring car in the finest Maserati tradition.

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Yes, the trunk is small but the seats are like in a boardroom and boy, does it go. As luck would have it long-time Auto Channel contributor and daughter Annabelle was there to share the driving and I don’t think she stopped smiling until we got to the Meridian Beach Plaza in Monaco.

You would have to be a sharp Quattroporte observer to spot the external changes from the previous one which amount to new 19 inch wheels, stunning Pirelli P Zeros and a new grille plus new front bumper.

More to the point the latest evolution of the 4.7 liter V8engine-which comes from sister company Ferrari just down the road- pushes out 440 horsepower giving the Maser a top speed of 285 kilometers per hour and a 0-60 figure of 5.1 seconds. In Sport mode the exhaust sound is every green person’s nightmare, it is awesome! Deep, throaty, the sort of sound that is the domain of only truly great cars. Not to put too fine a point on it-I loved it.

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As in previous years we were lucky to get an invitation to Prince Albert’s pre-Grand Prix reception and the Quattroporte was absolutely the right car for the occasion. You might think that I am somewhat biased towards the company so let me confess-I am.

My Maser wasn’t even overshadowed by a 2 million dollar Bugatti which was also parked outside the party of the year. Sponsored by Bombardier and Vertu- it was attended by just about the who’s who of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend led by the Prince and current World Champion Lewis Hamilton and former World Champion Nigel Mansell. Throw in Jean Todt, until recently Ferrari‘s Managing Director and you’ll get the picture.

However good and exciting the weekend may be, it is always great to leave for Modena and the excitements that await us there.

First call-Ferrari in Maranello. Not a bad way to start! PR Supremo Stefano Lai greeted us with some good news and some bad news. The car we came to drive, the California was not available so instead he gave us the keys to the 16M Scuderia, the fastest convertible around the company’s Fiorano test track. Ever.

Well, we didn’t get a chance to get to the track which is just as well as I much prefer what a car is like under normal circumstances. If you can call a 510 horsepower Ferrari normal under any circumstances.

First of all this bright yellow rocket opens roads like few other cars. Virtually nobody but nobody is willing to race you, after all what would be the point? Not that we were going that quickly. For the record it goes like smoke, handles likes a dream and sounds like a tiger. Whether you would like to listen to it hours on end is a matter of personal taste,

I would buy the ”normal” 430 convertible every single time. More docile, less noisy, does not require your 100% concentration all the time. The Scuderia is a great track car and to my mind that is where is belongs although to be fair it can be driven to the office every day. Especially it happens to be on the other side of a hill with no police on duty.

The same applies to the two Lamborghinis we drove the day after.

The Gallardo LP560-4 is just what is say. 560 horses and four wheel drive. Or in one word-awesome! Here again we have two great cars-this one under the tender loving care of Audi- which are remarkable pieces of engineering. Yet again the latest Lambos can be driven anywhere and this is precisely what Arab sheiks do with them in London. You try and find a car outside Harrods which is NOT a Bahrain registered Lambo and you’ll be lucky. Oh, unless it is a Bugatti. What upsets me is that these cars never ever get a ticket. As for clamps, dream on.

For readers living in rural Nebraska let me explain. Ordinary folks like us get parking tickets which cost around 100 dollars. Then, if the warden’s daily quota of revenue is not achieved they start wheel clamping. This means that the warden phones his colleague who produces the clamps and the fine will have to be paid before the clamping person reappears which of course could take several hours.

What is even worse is the dreaded tow-truck which removes your car into some faraway destination which can only be reached by taxi and of course initially, until you’ve made some frantic phone calls is unknown to you. Not nice.

Admittedly, if you can afford a Lambo you can afford the fine but that is beside the point, it stinks. A guy in front of our house got clamped because having paid for parking he accidentally put the ticket on the dashboard upside down! It was perfectly readable-I checked it- but a great excuse for a 200 dollar fine.

But getting back to the Gallardo.

Firstly, like all Lambos it cannot be mistaken for any other car. Even if it is standing still half a mile away you can tell by its unique and stunning styling. And it is also highly successful. Since 2003 over 8000 have been sold and interestingly enough sales are holding up even in 2009 when most other car companies are suffering.

The company’s CEO Stephan Winkelmann was justifiably enthusiastic about the latest Galladro when we met him at the company’s new showroom in West Hollywood. “You must drive it when you go the factory” he said, “ it only takes 4 seconds from 0-60 miles per hour but don’t try the top speed of 201 miles per hour in Italy because even we couldn’t get you out of jail!“.

Well, we did as told.

As you come through the factory gates you take a left at Ponte Samoggia. The road is straight and deserted. Stopwatch, full throttle and thank God the breaks are good! Yes, Stephan, you were not exaggerating, 4 seconds it is.

Interestingly enough even supercar companies are paying attention to the new green world, Lamborghini reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by a very impressive 18 %. Don’t be too surprised to see a diesel version in the future, because of the very strong Audi connection anything is possible. Audi’s legendary V10 diesel had been successful at Le Mans so we are not talking about some slouch. On the comfort side I must salute the company on the new top. Whereas last year the soft top on the Murcielago was a joke, this Gallardo top is great. A fully-lined fabric top, 20 seconds and hey presto-you are under cover.

Once again, just like with the cars from Maranello I have to ask the question- would I like to have one? Let’s forget money for a second. In London or San Francisco-never. In Aspen or Vail probably. Yes, one could have 200 miles per hour dashes in the Nevada desert but with respect anybody could do that. Those sweeping roads of Colorado, especially in the fall would make a perfect back drop to the LP 560-4 Spyder.

A hair-raising experience. The problem-those who can afford it will probably have very little hair left!