As Lamborghini’s chief test driver for some 40 years, Valentino Balboni had a hand in the development of virtually every car to emerge from Sant’Agata since the last Miuras rolled off the line. His invaluable feedback helped ensure that Lambo’s production cars were set up properly, and his occasional demonstration rides to new owners have become the stuff of legend. Balboni’s impact was such and his enthusiasm for the brand so great that a limited-edition, rear-wheel-drive Gallardo was named after him in celebration of his storied career, which officially ended in 2008.
AM: You held every man’s dream job for four decades. Was it difficult to leave?
Yes. I knew one day I’d have to retire due to Italian law. Well, the one day I was retired, and the second day I was employed again as a consultant [to Lamborghini]! I’m waiting now for a contract renewal.
AM: How was it that you got your start at Lamborghini?
The local priest of my village said, “Come with me. I want to go see my parents in Sant’Agata.” When we got there, we passed by the company [Lamborghini], and I saw a truck unloading Miura bodies. I said to the priest, “Please stop here. I want to see those cars.” A man came out, and we started talking, and I ended up helping him push the bodies inside. On my way out, the security man, who was a good friend of Ferruccio Lamborghini, started asking me, “Who are you? Why are you here? You shouldn’t be here.” He was making me feel very bad, but I explained what happened, and he said if I wanted I could fill out a form and then I’d be employed by Lamborghini. So this is what happened! I was an apprentice mechanic at first, cleaning the floors, cleaning the tools.
AM: What was the first Lamborghini you drove?
It was one of the very last Miuras that we built on Sept. 5, 1973. After a year of training with (then chief tester) Bob Wallace, I became assistant test driver.
AM: You began your career in an era of supercars that were very raw. Are today’s software-driven, hybrid-powered supercars going soft?
Well, I always say—and I still feel—that I was extremely lucky in my life to live and experience the best moment of the sports car. I have a lot of respect for modern cars. Modern technology is amazing, but I’m lucky to have worked with the cars that I did. Still, it’s important to have constant development. Alternative power, you know, it’s good to have people studying for the future.
AM: How much driving are you doing in your semi-retirement?
Still every day I am driving and testing cars, because me and a group of retired Lamborghini people that worked together for 40 years founded a shop, and we are restoring Lamborghinis. We are the only ones that have the experience from that time—the electricians, the people working on the interiors, all doing the same things we did. The shop is very close to Bologna where I live. We restore all types of vintage Lamborghini; Miura, Espada, 400GT, 350GT, the real Lamborghinis of those days.
AM: What else do you do to fill your time?
Well, I like to garden. I like to bike. But you know 90 percent of my time is devoted to cars. Devoted to Lamborghini, actually! Not just to cars. Still, still! Lamborghini is my life.
AM: Is there a Balboni Edition Gallardo in your stable?
One of the ones at the company I can use when I want. I’m very proud of that car.
AM: You’ve driven plenty of cars in your career. Are there any you’d still like to drive that you’ve never had the chance to?
No. (Laughs.) I think this car is still to come.
AM: There must have been some days on the job that were more memorable than others. Do any stand out?
Despite 45 years or more, every day is a new day. Every day is an emotion, especially now that I can concentrate on vintage Lamborghinis, which are in my opinion the best cars ever. Bringing back those cars to life is a huge reward.