Three Lamborghinis spear fast through France at 160 mph. One, the Countach, with its 375-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-12, could go faster. But its driver remains in the convoy with the Silhouette and Urraco; their 250-hp, 3.0-liter V-8s are flat out. The cars, each painted a bronze gold, glisten in the early sun of this pristine fall morning and gobble up the miles. It’s a quiet Sunday, and they slice through the long, lazy curves of the A6 Autoroute du Soleil as it climbs through the soft hills of the Côte-d’Or northwest of Beaune. A lonely Renault, Simca, or Ford occasionally looms ahead. The Lamborghinis leave them lost in a different time.
The police won’t bother the Lamborghini drivers. This is October 1976, and France has yet to introduce autoroute speed limits. The Countach howls past a stationary motorbike cop, and the V-8s follow suit. He mounts up and tails them into the next service area, moseys over, nods hello, and admires the cars. Two more bike cops do the same, and then a group of gendarmes comes over to look. Word is spreading.
The drivers — I’m one of them — know they’ll be OK. After breakfast, we accelerate hard back onto the A6 and chew the remaining 400 miles to the north French coast at Calais. We’ll get a ferry across the English Channel, 80 miles to London.
It all began four days earlier when England’s Lamborghini importer, Roger Phillips, phoned and said if I got to Heathrow Airport in two hours, I could fly to Italy with him and two pals to drive three Lamborghinis from the factory at Sant’Agata Bolognese to London. I was editor of Car at the time, so I shot home, got clothes and passport, and sped to Heathrow.
The Countach stayed in its monumental second gear and occasionally third. “It’s certainly a driver’s car. You have to keep going to the gym to have the strength to drive it on an epic road like this.”
In Sant’Agata, we waited a day while the Silhouette was finished then took off Saturday morning. We got into our stride at a steady 110 mph or so on the Autostrada del Sole up to Milan, sailed past trucks in the Aosta Valley up to the Mont Blanc Tunnel into France, and cleared gaggles on the back roads beyond Geneva. At nightfall, after a struggling Citroën 2CV on the wrong side of the road nearly took out the Silhouette, we called it a day and stopped at a hotel near Nantua. We fired up the Lamborghinis at 6 the next morning. They were properly warm when we struck the D979 that swoops in and out of the Ain River valley. It’s the kind of road you dream about. The day was magical. Mist turned the valley below us silver, and as we zoomed down we stayed nose to tail, windows open, relishing the thunder of 28 cylinders, 12 cams, 14 Webers, and eight exhausts bouncing off the banks in the still air.
A few months ago, Lamborghini Silhouette-owner Richard Head reread the 1976 Car story titled “Convoy!” I wrote about the journey. It also appeared in Car and Driver’s August 1977 issue, thanks to my good friend and AUTOMOBILE founder David E. Davis Jr., who was then Car and Driver’s editor. Head had thought it would be neat to do a sequel. He hatched a plan with fellow Lamborghini enthusiast Alan Robb for a reboot with a Countach, Silhouette, and Urraco, and maybe a few more Lamborghinis. Robb is after-sales manager for Super Veloce Racing, a high-performance car sales, service, and events company in England. The company is the sole agent for the Noble M600 in the U.K. and Europe, and among the marques it handles, it has a particular penchant for Lamborghinis going back to when SVR’s owner, Ben Adnett, bought a Countach when he was 23.
We sought a different route this time. With no need to rush, we wanted as many miles on captivating roads as possible. I had two in mind. My friend and automotive journalist Peter Robinson, who lived in Italy for 16 years, reckons the SP85 up and over Monte Bondone, near Trento, is Italy’s best driving road. Robinson, with American Pete Davis (then Fiat design boss and later director of interior design for General Motors), in 1996 determined that the epic opening scenes with the Miura in the classic movie “The Italian Job” were filmed on the SS27 north of Aosta. Irresistible.
So six privately owned Lamborghinis — a Countach LP5000 QV, Silhouette, Urraco 3000, Diablo SE30, Murciélago SV, and Espada — traveled by transporter from England to a hotel near Bologna, along with a Huracán LP 610-4 Spyder loaned by Lamborghini.
They say bad things happen in threes. Before we got to Sant’Agata, we lost the first of the cars, Tadek and Verna Lipinski’s Countach, when a coil lead failed. Then the front brakes went out on Head’s Silhouette, and as we reached the factory, Chris and Sandra Notley’s Urraco dumped its clutch fluid. Lamborghini’s workshop, dedicated to restorations and getting new premises as part of its expanding Polo Storico program, squeezed in the Silhouette to fit new front calipers and took care of the Urraco. The Countach was soon ready, the Silhouette and Urraco 24 hours later.
In the morning the SP85 showed us its delights, a 35-mile mix of visually clear hairpins and fast open bends interspersed with straights. We soon had the stirring sight of the Countach, its exhausts spitting sparks on the overrun, hounded by the thunderous Diablo and sinister Murciélago, braking hard into bends, squatting onto fat rear tires to power out and bolt through the gears to triple-digit speeds. In the Diablo and especially the Countach, unassisted steering, hard brakes, meaty clutches, and gated gearshifts made for a physical experience. The more recent Murciélago, despite its paddle shifts, was stirringly tactile too.
The Huracán delivered today’s kind of supercar experience: mega performance with little effort. I knew by now how well it rode and behaved and why its stonking 5.2-liter V-10 suffers no inferiority complex in the company of older V-12s. As we climbed toward Monte Bondone, it gripped and tore through the bends—accurate, dependable, and fast.
Returning from the top of SP85, on the 11-mile-long stretch that’s been one of Europe’s best hillclimbs since 1925, I learned what the Huracán is about. Switching from Strada to Sport mode sharpened the engine map, seven-speed gearbox, Haldex all-wheel drive, steering, and stability control. The exhaust note snapped to spine-tingling, with fortissimo pops and crackles on the overrun and ferocious downshift blips. With the throttle flat between bends, the V-10 held its gears to 9,000 rpm, well past its 8,250-rpm power peak. The carbon-ceramic discs delivered amazingly short braking distances as the transmission snipped down — blam, blam, blam — to whichever gear it decided was right. For a while I manually flicked the paddles, but I couldn’t do it as fast or perfectly as the system. This was very different from driving an old-school manual such as the Countach or Diablo. Without time to shift so often, you’d stay in second or third and utilize the V-12’s flexibility and engine braking. Same in the V-8s.
I’d been mindful of comments that early Huracáns understeered. With the Spyder’s introduction, Lamborghini recalibrated the front-rear torque split. In Strada mode the settings lean toward understeer, but I wasn’t getting run-out at the nose. Both ends’ grip matched the speed and power, and the Huracán flowed around accurately. In Sport, where Lamborghini anticipates a higher level of driver skill, the attitude moves to the verge of oversteer. If there’s enough room and power, the tail will move but not much. Corsa delivers dogged neutrality for ideal cornering speed. The takeaway: This car allowed me to access as much of its power and capability as I wished, with supreme safety and dependability to enjoy a thrilling drive.
Back in the bar, Nick Tranter reckoned it was the best day’s driving he ever had as he discovered new aspects of his 518-hp Diablo SE30. “Given the Diablo’s size, the thing that surprised me,” he said, “was how nimble she was through the hairpins and how quickly she restored balance under full power out of them. That huge whoomph of torque kicked in early and stayed there all the way to the limiter. Second gear’s versatility was fantastic for acceleration and engine braking. … It’s an analogue experience versus a digital experience.” Glenn Brooks in the Murciélago SV, with its paddle shifts, used the gears more as he laid down all of his car’s 661 hp and found it just as soul stirring.
After stretching his Urraco’s legs for the first time: “It surpassed our expectations. It’s an elegant, remarkably comfortable, and surprisingly quick and economical sports grand tourer.”
The Silhouette and Urraco arrived, and we left next morning for the 240-mile run across the top of Italy to Courmayeur. Top down (dropped in 17 seconds) the Spyder was a quiet, comfortable cruiser in the autostrada traffic. Near Courmayeur, we peeled onto the serpentine SS26. High up, its bends are so compressed that the Huracán’s speed was governed by how fast I spun the wheel from lock to lock. There’s little feel in the electronic steering, but its variable ratio seemed to match it to each corner. The orchestration of V-8s, V-10, and V-12s through the route’s tunnels was an utter delight. Sant’Agata has always understood that kind of music.
The next day we pressed on to the Great St. Bernard Pass, where the old SS27 veers off the new T2 to the tunnel. If you’ve never driven it, find a reason. Here you’ll see the breathtaking Dardanelli viaduct, which the Miura drove across so evocatively in “The Italian Job.” In the Countach on the way to the top, it was fascinating to note the different feel and effect of Lamborghinis 30 years apart. The Huracán’s V-10 is light and snappy as it revs. The QV’s V-12 has 155 hp and 43 lb-ft less, but its brawniness and linearity is addictive, with a rack-and-pinion steering (heavier than in earlier Countachs) that demands muscle. The reward was fingertip-fulfilling feel. As with the Diablo, the Countach stayed in its monumental second gear and occasionally third, working up and down the rev range. “It’s certainly a driver’s car,” Tadek Lipinski said with a grin. “You have to keep going to the gym to have the strength to drive it on an epic road like this.”
Brookes put Robb, who rates the Murciélago SV highly, into his SV for the climb. “In Corsa, I could lean on it and use the weight to set it up through the corners,” Robb said gleefully. “Left-foot braking kept it balanced, either using just the grip or pushing on to get the four-wheel drive to help. At one point, it was so eager and confidence-inspiring I went into fourth and took the corners as fast as I dared. Savoring every new push of power from the V-12 on the way to the redline on that road, with no traffic and perfect weather, goes down as one of my all-time great drives.”
On the Swiss side of the pass, the road is narrow and bumpy, and there’s often no guardrail. Toward Martigny, the highway broadens into sequences of fast, open bends. “The Silhouette was awesome on those sweepers,” Head reckoned, “and responded so well to being driven hard.”
There are interesting differences and similarities between the Urraco and the Silhouette derived from it: lighter but sharper steer-ing in the Urraco, meatier feel in the Silhouette, plus a lower driving position and tighter seats. In both, modest oomph from the 3.0-liter V-8s to 3,500 rpm, then a brisk climb to 250 hp at 7,500 rpm. Both delivered strong directional stability and comfortable rides. Chris Notley, able to stretch his Urraco’s legs for the first time, said, “It surpassed our expectations. It’s an elegant, remarkably comfortable, and surprisingly quick and economical sports grand tourer.” Our run finished on the D1506 from Martigny to Chamonix, along the top side of Mont Blanc, another cracking road that gave us the perfect ending to a perfect day.
And then it was the 400-mile haul to Paris, with the D979 on the way. I threw the Huracán at it and, just as with the Silhouette in 1976, it bestowed immeasurable pleasure. In Sport, I switched off stability control and prodded the V-10 hard enough to make the tail creep in the tighter bends. But somehow that seemed at odds with the Huracán’s nature. The car is properly fast, and its control systems lets you access its pace with extraordinary ease. Three accelerometers and three gyroscopes shoot real-time high-speed data about roll, pitch, and yaw to the ESC, AWD, shock absorbers, and steering. Lamborghini’s R & D boss Maurizio Reggiani says it lets the car get close to the point of no return while checking and controlling its attitude. Down the amazing road into the Ain valley, there was an inhibitor, though: Under braking into tight hairpins, the pan under the nose scraped the asphalt. A dashboard switch lifts the height for speed humps, etc. It’s a definite yes on the options list.
There wasn’t a time when the Spyder’s ride gave up any comfort. With sunny weather all the way, the roof was always down; at serious three-figure speeds, the cabin remained calm, with only the V-10’s panoply of wicked tunes as the soundtrack. Hours at the wheel weren’t tiring; the pedals are well aligned, and at 5-feet-9-inches I had enough room in the cockpit, and the seat shape worked for me. All this made long stretches like the miles up the A6 to Paris a pleasure.
Loping along near Beaune, I smiled when I saw in the mirror a low, wide shape closing fast. It could only be an Espada. Richard and Lynne Bull’s immaculate Series III swept past, in its métier. In 1976 I tucked away 900 miles in 11 hours in an Espada and knew full well its ability on open roads. There wasn’t a faster four-seater at the time.
After a night in Versailles, we had just a 190-mile run up the A16 to Calais. Most of the crew said it’d been their best week’s driving. With the original “Convoy!” trip in my memory, could I say that? This was a less intense experience with more variety in a different kind of Lamborghini. Far more powerful than even the Countach, much faster, and notably more refined, the Huracán Spyder gave me a week of unalloyed joy. I loved using so much of its performance so often. I wish it had better cabin storage and a bigger “trunk” in the nose for more than two small carry-ons, but it’s so liveable in every other way. When I shut it down in London after 1,466 miles, I was left with nothing but a hunger to drive it more. The other drivers felt the same about their cars, best or not. It was a hell of a week, just as it was 40 years prior.