2009 Lamborghini Gallardo

Roy Ritchie

A light smack on the back of my head wakes me from my daydream. It comes from Paolo Di Netta, the forty-three-year-old production-line foreman, and I see his hair turning grayer by the minute. He speaks no English, and I under- stand almost no Italian (save for the few choice words my grandmother used to scream at me), but words are superfluous when you're speaking Italian - Di Netta's hand gestures say it all. Flapping about, twisting, turning, and pointing, they spell out: "Dear sir, the six gentlemen on this team have precisely forty-five minutes in which to complete all of the tasks outlined in the PDM."

"PDM?" I ask.

"Produktdetail Montageinstruktion," he and his hands go on to explain. "It's a German term meaning Product Detail Mounting Instructions. Or, more clearly, a list of tasks that this team must accomplish at this station. If they are not complete, the whole assembly line will be halted. So, perhaps you could stop feeling up the fuel tank and mount it in the car?" Oh, right - I'm here to build a car!

Di Netta is the Godfather of the line, only without that Hollywood character's breathy voice and homicidal temperament. He always remains calm - a significant accomplishment with me slowing things down - and it's obvious that the workers have immense respect for him. They call on him frequently, especially while working on this new car. Each time someone asks a question, the hands start dancing. Di Netta speaks, too, but I'm convinced that the verbal part of his communication is just for effect.

The Gallardo guys have an energy and enthusiasm that you'd never expect to see in an automobile factory. Within the strict confines of the German rules, they're enjoying themselves in that distinctly Italian hyperactive way, making fun of each other (and me, probably), singing, and laughing. Their upbeat attitude doesn't come from the fact that they're assembling an exotic supercar - let's face it, a Chevy Cobalt is a bolted-together pile of parts just like a Gallardo is - it's due to the factory's much longer cycle times. Unlike in a high-volume plant, where each worker might repeat a few simple tasks every two minutes, these guys work in forty-five-minute cycles. That means each person is given a much more complex job - say, installing the complete front suspension on eight cars per day - rather than a simple one like threading the same couple of door-panel screws 250 times a day.

One manager who spoke English in addition to Handtalian told me that, before Audi took over, there was no documentation, no information, and no rules at Lamborghini. At that time, the factory produced only one car per day, and it takes only a quick peek across the building at the production line of the much lower-volume, much older Murciélago to see a vast difference. In place of the Gallardo's structured, labeled booths is a little bit of that old Italian chaos . . . er, charm.

The Murciélago workers also appear to be older than the guys working on the Gallardo. Appar-ently, many of the original Lambor-ghini factory workers left because they didn't like the structure, reporting, and audits that the Germans instituted. While it's true that the Murciélago's line is subject to the same quality controls as the Gallardo's, the build process is less rigid, and many of the older employees prefer to stay there.

All of the factory workers refer to the new Gallardo as "the face-lift." Mutter that F-word in front of a journalist, however, and a PR person, apparently equipped with bionic hearing, will hunt you down, correcting you as they sprint across the factory. "The new-a car is not-a just una face-lift," they say, Italian shoes tapping feverishly across the floor tiles. "It's-a very different!" Extraneous syllables fly around the Lamborghini factory like panties at a Tom Jones concert.

The very different face-lift even gets a new name: Gallardo LP560-4. The addition to its name stands for its engine's position (Longitudi-nale Posteriore - longitudinally, mid-mounted), its horsepower rating (560), and four-wheel drive. Neither the engine's layout nor the number of driven wheels has changed, but the engine itself is completely new. It's a direct-injected, 5.2-liter V-10 that produces 40 hp more than last year's 5.0-liter while dumping eighteen percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Our LP560-4, equipped with a revised E-gear automated manual transmission, will return just over 17 mpg on the Euro-pean combined-fuel-economy cycle - a significant jump from last year's 14. Lamborghini says that it will accelerate to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds, 0.3 second quicker than the 2008 Gallardo.

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