I turn around and see something so upsetting that I almost drop a differential on the ground. Someone is affixing a black and gold Lamborghini badge to the hood of a completely naked Gallardo body within seconds of its arrival on the production line. Already?! It doesn't even have an engine in it! No, No, No! This is Italy, the birthplace of opera, for crying out loud! The Lamborghini badge is supposed to be screwed on during a formal crowning ceremony in an incense-filled booth at the end of the assembly line. A teary-eyed Italian engineer should decree the vehicle worthy by signing the build sheet with an oxblood fountain pen while white-gloved courtiers carefully apply the badge to the hood. Onlookers should weep.
But no. The little badge is unceremoniously attached at the very first station on the production line. I blame the Germans.
It's likely that the lack of such elaborate ceremonies is at least partially responsible for the fact that Lamborghini now produces more than ten times the number of cars it did a decade ago, before Audi took over. I didn't know what to expect walking into the factory in Sant'Agata, but a few unpleasant experiences working on old Italian cars led me to believe that it would be mass pandemonium: a huge rat's nest of straggly wires; parts pouring out of unlabeled bins; maybe even driveshafts hanging from ceiling rafters. Boy, was I wrong. Lamborghini's production facility is, in fact, a perfectly organized, uncluttered, and well-thought-out pièce de anal retentiveness of truly Germanic proportions.
I'm here to help build the first production 2009 Gallardo - a car that I've never even seen. It's scheduled to make its debut at the Geneva auto show, which hasn't yet occurred. And unless I trip over a wire, inadvertently weld a wheel to a frame rail, or accidentally drill a two-inch hole through the roof, some lucky soul will one day dump his 401(k) for this very machine.
Lamborghini's PR team seems to think that I won't slow the production process, which makes them even more insane than the cars they hock. True, I spend more time on my garage floor than I do on my couch - but that's only because I usually break more things than I fix when I'm under a car. Maybe they just invited me because I have something in common with the company that Ferruccio Lamborghini built: an Italian name and heritage combined with a decade's worth of experience working for Germans. Before finding my way to Auto-mobile Magazine, I spent nearly ten years at a German company, tormenting my logical, rational colleagues with my New-York-Italian high-drama antics. A similar culture clash in a supercar factory should make for some pretty good comedy, methinks.
Incidentally, it also makes for some pretty incredible cars. You might accuse the Gallardo of being slightly less passionate than older, pre-Audi Lamborghinis. But the Italian-passion-meets-German-engineering paradigm means that a modern Lamborghini routinely starts when you turn the key, moves forward under its own power, and likely never engulfs itself in a large mushroom cloud of dense, oily smoke.
Anyway, back to the factory. We're building our new Gallardo on the same production line with the old car. It's a modern, twenty-station line split into two halves in the building where Lamborghini has built cars for decades. Our Gallardo's hand-welded, 900-pound body arrives fully painted from an Audi plant in Neckarsulm, Germany. I push the body onto the assembly line as some workers remove the doors and apply plastic protectors so no one damages the pristine paintwork.
The line doesn't move constantly; instead, it stays in each station for forty-five minutes, advancing forward after a siren sounds. Over the next two and a half days, we will bolt a thousand or so parts to the body - this is a final assembly station; no really dirty work is done here. Each station working on last year's model appears to be done a few minutes early, but not ours. Obviously, the training that the workers received on the new Gallardo didn't include a chapter explaining how to work around a slow, klutzy journalist trying his best to help.
One of the young, non-English-speaking factory workers shrugs his shoulders and hands me a plastic fuel tank. I believe this is Italian for "do something useful, would ya?" It doesn't work - now I'm just standing there with a grin on my face while the six station workers jump around me like monkeys in a cage. I'm thrilled to be in the factory, but that's not why I'm smiling: I'm simply stupefied by the tank's cleanliness. See, every time I've held a fuel tank, it's been after spending hours extracting it from the bottom of some unwilling old car. It's invariably covered in decades of road grime and filled with the dirtiest common denominator of the 5000 gallons of carcinogens that have passed through it. To me, it's a small miracle to be holding a clean, unsmelly fuel tank.
And good thing, because getting fuel-tank grime on these clothes would be a sin. All the factory workers, myself included, are wearing the same all-black, perfectly tailored factory outfit. The Italian-made, cotton-polyester-blend pants are soft and comfortable, with Lamborghini's cursive logo embroidered on the left leg, and the tapered Polo shirt is slim-cut. Unfortunately, I'm not - so I'm wearing a snuggle-soft, fat-kid sweatshirt over it. There are no buttons or zippers with which I could scratch the paint of . . . Whack!