2008 Lamborghini Murcilago LP640 Roadster

Jürgen Skarwan

Lucca, Italy - Rational parameters such as sense and sensibility simply don't belong in the same universe as the new Murcilago LP640 roadster. This Lambo's craziest element, its soft top, is located about an inch above your scalp. It's made of a mix of canvas, transparent plastic, velcro straps, and a thicket of black metal bars. I hate it with a vengeance. When the device is in place, you're advised not to exceed 100 mph or else the outer edges of the roof might come adrift, triggering hurricane-style chaos. But with the roof stowed in the luggage compartment, the topless LP640 can reach a top speed of 205 mph. (As with the LP640 coupe, the name represents the car's engine position--longitudinale posteriore--and its horsepower, 640.) We briefly saw the needle hit 200 mph, but at that pace you need goggles to keep your eyes dry.

After the thoroughly convincing Gallardo Spyder, Lamborghini fans hoped for a similar, automatic folding roof for the updated open-air Murcilago. Unfortunately, the LP640 roadster is haunted by the same manual top as its predecessor. Removing the complex scaffolding takes no more than three or four minutes, but putting the stuff back on requires the efforts and considerable patience of two people. Just ask Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni, who taught us plenty of new Italian vocabulary while spending more than fifteen minutes trying to pitch this incredibly stubborn tent.

The best thing about the LP640 roadster is that it removes all the barriers that separate you from the sounds of the wonderfully melodious engine. Even with the windows up, the turbulence above 70 mph will flatten your nose, fold back your ears, and push dimples into your cheeks. At the same time, the unfiltered 6.5-liter V-12 assaults your hearing organs. Full throttle through the gears is an incredibly physical experience: 4000 rpm sounds deafening, 6000 rpm hurts, and 8000 rpm threatens a momentary coma. In sync with what's going on inside the auditory canals, this car attacks your sense of balance by applying what feels like the longitudinal g-force of a Formula 1 racing car. Lamborghini claims that the two-seater can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds, a 0.4-second gain over the previous version. A Bugatti Veyron is almost four times more expensive but only 0.9 second quicker.

Like the LP640 coupe that went on sale last spring, the LP640 roadster offers optional ceramic brakes, a navigation system, restyled eighteen-inch wheels, resculpted door mirrors, a bigger oil cooler, stronger driveshafts, and a beefed-up rear differential. Although the power- train chips have been reprogrammed, the optional automated-manual e-gear transmission still suffers from occasional takeoff hiccups.

Amazingly enough, the Murcilago has traction control but no stability aids, so the tail end needs to be treated with care on slippery surfaces. Thanks to all-wheel drive, grip is never an issue, and the brakes squash energy with amazing efficiency. The Sport button has a whiplash effect on the transmission but not on the dampers, which are already tuned for speed rather than for comfort. The steering is quick, precise, and neatly weighted, but the turning radius measures an excessive 41.2 feet.

For $361,700 (with e-gear), you certainly can buy a more practical sports car, but you can't buy a more outlandish one. With an amazing engine and a wild ride that can take you past 200 mph, the topless LP640 fears no rivals in terms of its wow factor.

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