Milan, Italy-- As I shifted the Ferrari 575M Maranello into sixth gear, the speedometer flicked past 160 mph, and the Lamborghini Murcilago loomed ever closer in my rear-view mirror. Running hard behind us were a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, a Porsche 911 Turbo, and an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish. For a brief moment, we were heading into the upper reaches of these cars' performance envelopes, before we had to brake for a slow-moving Fiat to pass an even slower truck--but what a moment.
Twenty-five years ago, if we had driven through northern Italy in the finest production supercars, they would have included a Lamborghini and a Ferrari, as well as an Aston Martin and a Porsche. (No Mercedes back then could have been called a supercar.) But where those cars would have been running out of breath at (or before) 170 mph, these five still had plenty in reserve and were still breathing hard. And they were serene at this speed, unaffected by surface or wind, their cabins cooled by effective air conditioning. That wouldn't have been the case in 1977. One thing hasn't changed, though: Beyond 160 mph, on a public highway, things happen very fast. Super high speed needs vigilance, and you don't spend much time up there dancing with the fates.
Italy is one of the best places on earth to drive supercars superfast. The police don't seem too worried about speeding, so you can run all day on the autostrada at 110 mph without fear of getting nailed. Go much faster than that, though, and you could be fined heavily--if the police weren't so thin on the ground. The minor roads that cross the Apennines are a perfect playground for these vehicles: sinuous, lightly trafficked, challenging, with plenty of creases to test a car's suspension. So long as you're sensible through towns, no one cares what you're doing in such cars; they're just glad to see them out on the road.
Of course, when we'd arrived in Italy, we weren't sure whether all five cars would actually be there. European bureau chief Georg Kacher was driving down from Germany with photographer Martyn Goddard in the two German cars; the Aston was arriving by cargo truck; and associate editor Joe DeMatio and I were picking up the Ferrari and the Lamborghini from their respective factories. Twenty years ago, one of the Italian cars might well have been waiting to have plates fitted, or we could have been greeted with a casual "I thought you were coming next week," but the advent of e-mail and professional PR departments has changed all that.
So on a sunny Monday morning, there they were, five cars sitting in the courtyard of an old Italian farmhouse. Even hardened professionals like Kacher and technical editor Don Sherman were grinning like five-year-olds at the sight. DeMatio and I nearly fainted with excitement, and only Goddard kept on an even keel. Swooning time doesn't figure for a man whose only impulse is to immortalize cars with a camera.