Italian Super-car Road-trip - A Lamborghini Huracán Delight
By Nicholas Frankl
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel
Ear plugs are not the first thing one thinks of when heading to the Lamborghini factory, situated in the glorious Emilia Reginnio region of Tuscany about 20 miles from Modena, but upon arrival to the most hallowed ex-tractor factory on earth, I was greeted by the awesome matte pearlescent white spyder V10, waiting for me next to the dark glass walled reception, intimidating and inviting all at once.
Before I could retrieve the black key fob with its proudly engraved bull, I immediately ran into my old dear friend and automotive legend Antonio Gini, who up until he was hired, like so many others now roaming the corridors at Sant’ Agata, was a senior executive at Ferrari, in Antonio’s case, running the communications department for 20+ years. Along with the genuinely good, really smart & humble, all around good guy Stefano Domenicali at the helm, and the bean counters taking over at the prancing stallion, everyone wants to jump ship and move to the cooler, younger, hipper Lamborghini.
Antonio, always known for his passion for people and Italian warmth, was pleased to see me and my father, fellow TACH scribe and automotive legend Andrew Frankl. Antonio had just completed a multimillion dollar renovation of the museum and was excited to give us a personal tour. I wasn’t expecting what we discovered: The most complete racing and memorabilia exhibition of F1 legend and old acquaintance Ayrton Senna. Like you, I suspect, I had no idea that Senna had secretly tested a V12 Lamborghini powered McLaren MP4/8b at Silverstone back in 1993, and that although the unit had promise and was faster in testing Ron Dennis went back on his handshake agreement with then Chrysler CEO Bob Lutz, stuck with the FORD V8 till the end of the season and then went with the Peugeot V10 in 1994 and the sponsorship budget attached. Antonio has managed to assemble every significant car the late three-time world champion ever drove in his career, from his first go kart in Brazil to F3 and up the ladder in F1 with Toleman, Lotus, McLaren and Williams. Along this trip down legendary memory lane are captivating photos, personal items like race suits and race worn helmets, trophies and a video wall showing his early years, first wins and famous clashes with Prost. I highly recommend a visit to the factory to experience this incredible collection, not to mention the famous production facility itself.
After an hour, and with friends waiting, it was time to saddle up with my ride for the next week, and all of her 640 horsepower. I had previously driven the new spyder at its launch in Miami on a rainy day in February 2016, so this was a real chance to test, what is still, a ‘new model’. The bespoke interior wasn’t totally to my taste, although the cast carbon air vents were certainly and literally ‘cool’ but I dread to think what they cost. The V10 ignites ferociously after you lift the red starter cover and hit the button, settling down into a friendly but only slightly muted baritone burble. Out of the front gates and, with both my father following me in a new Ferrari Lusso GT and another friend in yet another white Huracán, it was off to the famous Futa pass. The roads get narrow and start climbing above the Tuscan hills that allows us all to fully explore the lightning fast yet easily accessible performance of these best in class machines. I’ve always been a roof down guy as one gives up very little in real world performance, particularly considering the enormous improvement in chassis rigidity and development in the last ten years, and gain hugely in the experience of the senses with sun on your face, wind in the hair, the scents of the countryside, and the noise of the engine ricocheting off the scenery, particularly with this crowd of large capacity, normally aspirated ten and twelve-cylinder emotional excitement generators.
The Futa pass is one of the most famous, not just in motoring but cycling, too. Part of the original Millie Miglia and Coppa Italia, every legendary driver and rider has climbed its peak and all went past the famous Ristorante Albergo Bar, which is still owned by the same family who welcome both pedal and horse power enthusiasts with warm smiles, decent sandwiches and great coffee. With over 2,000 horsepower at our disposal we declined the offer of an aperitivo, fueled up with coffee and photographs and began the chase down the hill. Strada Statale della Futa is a must drive! Like the famous Highway 1 winding its way down from Carmel through Big Sur past Hearst Castle to Santa Barbara, California and the Stelvio pass in Switzerland, it oozes gasoline from the soul of its bitumen like melting mountain run off through the Colorado rockies.
With the security of constant four-wheel drive, a very benign set up favors mild understeer rather than any hint of over-steer, a common engineering theme these days given the cognoscenti have decreed over steer is bad and cannot be allowed to happen unless provoked with ungodly intention, with all handling controls deactivated and a large wallop of the right foot to the floor in first gear exiting a hairpin corner. With Corsa mode engaged the tightly controlled horses bursting from the V10 still behaved impeccably as the low profile Pirelli’s gripped tightly to the hot asphalt and launched us out of corners, the naturally aspirated baritone reverberating off the hills and ancient stone walls.
For the uninitiated the narrow mountain roads at speed can be intimidating: With tractors, trucks and occasional livestock there is no time for the mind to wander and the thought of the chase cars behind barreling into a corner, hot on my heels and into an obstacle was an insurance nightmare I didn’t need. The Huracán behaved beautifully. It’s one of the best, most sure-footed and confidence inspiring sports cars in the world, and really the only option if you want authentic & consistent V10 power delivery producing an aural thrill, the safety of four wheel drive, crowd stopping looks - even in northern Italy! - and the reliability of a modern ‘mass produced’ supercar. Lamborghini is certainly on a roll. With sales records month-on-month, the USA and China booming and a pipeline of new innovative cars, including the recently launched Urus that promises to reset the benchmark in luxury SUV performance, which other automotive company would choose to launch the car on a race track I ask you?? I doubt Rolls or even Porsche, but that’s what the house of raging bulls is planning. An updated and maybe slightly roomier Huracán is in development and Sant A’ Gata recently shocked the automotive, design and engineering world with the new Terzo Millennio vision for the next gen of super sports cars, in partnership with MIT.
Back to Modena and, after a fabulous dinner at the scenic and splendidly small, friendly and family owned Opera O2, with numerous bottles of world class 2006 & 2007 Sassicaia the most famous of the famous Super Tuscans accompanying the finest Aceto Balsalmico Tradizonale di Modena, brewed on site which seems to go with every dish, even the vanilla ice-cream, which is certainly no worse for it, we were planning a day trip to Florence and, if time allowed over the weekend, even a dinner in Lake Como north of Milano. With a public holiday the highways were thankfully free of the trucks that normally clutter them up and after lunch overlooking one of the world’s most romantic cities the matte white stealth missile cruised onto the famous Ponte Vecchio. This caused a bit of a scene as apparently this bridge is a no car zone and flooded with tourists. Fortunately driving a new gleaming convertible Huracán, roof down, rendered the usually excitable local caribinere impotent and we were met with smiles and crowds of snap happy tourists who probably thought I was Jeremy Clarkson and we were filming an episode of Top Gear. Navigating slowly through these historic cobbled streets and past the Ferragamo Museum we ended up at the Pope’s old residence at Palazzo Tornabuoni. This has now been converted into a Four Seasons private residence and is simply mind blowing, especially if you’re lucky enough to stay in his holiness’ bedroom which features 60 foot ceilings with original Medici family murals. Dinner followed at the famous Harry’s Bar (the sister restaurant in Venice having created the legendary peach Bellini) with a slow walk past the many leather and cashmere boutiques for which the region is famous.
After a rooftop lunch it was time for a brisk drive to Lake Como to review the recently opened Il Sereno hotel perched on the lake’s banks in the village of Torno. In development for five years it is the sister hotel to the legendary Le Sereno in St. Bart’s which regularly hosts the Victoria Secret models and calendar shoot every year.
With little meaningful six star competition the Villa D’Este has ruled the roost for a century hosting an encyclopedia of world leaders (Yassir Arafat took it for weeks at a time), The Aga Khan, every notable European royal and most celebrities (with a big C) one can think of from Sinatra to George Clooney, who loved the area so much he purchased a property himself nearby.
Fueled up and ready to launch the tightly packaged and packed (as two hand luggage cases will only fit without a passenger) it was hard onto the A1 that stretches north to south. With light and enthusiastic traffic, which meanders in the outside of the two lane high way at pedestrian speeds until they finally notice the gentle flashes of white LED lights and amber indicator a few feet off their bumper (the “Italian way”) and whom having taken ten minutes to notice then wave excitedly as the white missile launches past them in a crescendo blur of noise and speed. One might suppose these overtaking maneuvers would be met with anger or jealous stares but on the contrary, Italians are in love with Lamborghini.
I, too, was feeling the love, roof down, earplugs in (just like riding a high powered motorbike), navigation set and iTunes blasting. As Dan Gurney once said after the original 1972 Cannonball Run, at no time did I exceed 180 mph. The Huracán excels on the highway. If you’re taller than six foot then you might be buffeted as the front windscreen is very low and angled, a deliberate style over function decision that separates this manufacturer from all the others. Google maps told me three hours ten minutes, which would have ruined lunch with waiting friends, so two hours and five minutes after departure the crackling exhaust arrived at the steep entrance to warm sunshine and wide grins. Mission accomplished.
2018 will see the new Urus and the Huracán Permormante on the roads and I can’t wait to drive both back in that gorgeous and unique Italian countryside.