Lamborghini isn't exactly renowned for building roadsters. Whereas Ferrari has produced ragtop (or targa) versions of many of its cars over the years, there have been only two series-production Lambos: the Silhouette and the Diablo roadster. The Touring-bodied 350GT convertible was built in tiny numbers, and there was a single Miura roadster, so they hardly count. In Lamborghini land, then, the Murcilago roadster is an event. The latest roadster from Sant'Agata is definitely a fair-weather friend that's perfect for the U.S. Sun Belt, the Costa Rolex, and the Cte des Millionaires. The canvas top is a bit of a joke, to be honest. You need a doctorate in mechanical engineering to operate it, a bridge to park the car under while you're doing it, and a bottle of Lambrusco to soothe your nerves. A folded fabric top and a bunch of supporting posts are stuffed into a bag that occupies a good third of the bonsai luggage compartment. Certified Boy Scouts eventually may get this jigsaw puzzle perched and installed, but by the time you get around to it, it's likely that the sun will be shining again. And once it's up, you'll probably forget that you shouldn't exceed 100 mph with the fabric roof fitted.
But this is Italy in early July, and instead of fiddling with the roof, we reach for sun block with a high UV protection factor. This is going to be a long, exhausting drive, from Bologna through Tuscany to the Mediterranean coast at Grosseto, then up north on the Via Aurelia (SS1), almost all the way to Portofino, then inland again to Parma and back to Bologna. The itinerary includes a fair amount of auto-strada, but that's not so bad, because the sections between La Spezia and Parma and Bologna and Florence are twisty and challenging.
Via Aurelia-constructed by the Romans and allegedly the world's first significant fully paved road-can be anything from a four-lane superstrada to a winding mountain pass. More often than not, it leads through bleak industrial districts, past mushrooming blocks of apartments designed by the same visionless architect, and through suburbs so poor and ramshackle that your guilty conscience refuses to go away for miles afterward. Luckily, though, Italians regard a Lamborghini not as a capitalist plaything but more as a national treasure. When they spot a Murcilago, kids instinctively give you the thumbs up, notoriously aggressive Fiats and Alfas move over as if struck by lightning, truckers honk, and streetwalkers lift their tops. Even the cops waved us through with authority and grand go-faster gestures.
Wherever we stopped, the scissor-door roadster drew a crowd. The filling-station aficionados were primarily interested in numbers (how much, how fast, how many horses), the village-square regulars lined up for a quick peek at the sizzling engine bay or the all-black interior, and the teens down at the beach took turns posing in front of the car and taking pictures with their cell phones. Everybody had the same request: that I start the engine and floor the throttle as long as I dared. I obliged.
In terms of sheer presence, the Murcilago roadster can take on a freshly landed UFO. At 42 inches high, it is lower than the lowest Caterham Super Seven; at 88 inches wide, it is broader than a Maybach; and yet, at 180 inches long, it is actually shorter than supercars such as the Ferrari Enzo Ferrari and the Porsche Carrera GT. With 2.8 inches shaved off the top of the coupe, the proportions are as badass and gung-ho as those of the Batmobile. Sadly, the visibility is poor. Even the steeply raked windshield acts more like a full-width periscope, and it's prone to glare. Space utilization is not exactly a forte, either. The cabin is unusually wide, and the seats are nicely supportive, but although the headroom is actually unrestricted, the airflow over the cut-down windshield limits speed. If you take the impractical top with you, the tight luggage space is further restricted. And another impractical aspect is the ridiculously wide turning circle of 41.2 feet, which makes this hard-core sports car about as maneuverable as a school bus.