x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

2010 Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni

A special edition throwback may sound great but, as Noel Ebdon reports, it may be just a bit too difficult to live with.

Valentino Balboni, Lamborghini's test driver for more than four decades, prefers his cars a little less complicated than modern ones. He likes stripes on the bonnet too.
Valentino Balboni, Lamborghini's test driver for more than four decades, prefers his cars a little less complicated than modern ones. He likes stripes on the bonnet too.

I'm constantly being told in life that more is always better. Many hands make light work and two heads are better than one. I've personally witnessed a Ferrari with half the power leave an American muscle car for dead in a straight sprint. If you can't get the power onto the road, you'll make a lot of noise, but not actually go very far.

All this applies to the new special-edition Lamborghini Gallardo, aptly named after the Sant'Agata Bolognese car maker's erstwhile test driver, Valentino Balboni. Signor Balboni, who was featured in November in The National, recently retired. And after more than 40 years of performing the no doubt difficult job of developing each and every car produced at the factory, the company decided to name a Gallardo after him.

Now anyone who understands their Lamborghinis will know that all current Raging Bulls come with all-wheel drive, especially with Audi holding the reins of the famous brand. But the still sprightly Valentino prefers two-wheel drive to four, so out came a pair of driveshafts, some electronics and a few other bits of machinery, leaving the rather nice two-wheel-drive special edition. The car also gets a two-tone stripe over the top of the car and a signed plaque by the driver's door to let everyone know it's a little different from the normal model.

Personally, the stripe reminds me of a customised Ford Mustang or a pimply teenager's car in the local supermarket car park. I know this sort of thing is very popular at the moment and even Lamborghini's local rivals Ferrari are at it with the equally badly striped Scuderia, but I just think it's overkill on a thoroughbred like this. When it comes to stripes and stickers, I'm very much a less-is-more fan.

Under the striped body, the engine is essentially the same as the standard Gallardo. Interestingly the Balboni's 0-to-100kph time is fractionally slower than on the normal Gallardo, due to its lesser grip from a standing start. Imagine Usain Bolt in slippery brogues and you'll get the idea. The car is also slightly slower at the top end and braking distance isn't as strong as the limpet-like four-wheel drive model.

On the road, the limited edition doesn't feel as stable as the standard car. As you'd expect, it jiggles around more and doesn't inspire as much confidence in the corners. Like a hyperactive Hollywood diva, the Balboni needs your constant attention. Switch off the traction control and it still takes some effort to get the back moving, mostly due to the huge chewing gum rear tyres hanging onto the tarmac for all they're worth. At more sensible speeds, the back end feels a little too loose for my liking and the brakes don't give you as much confidence, as the car seems less planted than its extra-driven sister.

Everything else is all very Lamborghini, including the awesome soundtrack wailing out the pert rear. It just never gets boring getting the engine on cam, blasting down the road and grinning like a Cheshire cat. The lovely interior, which is festooned with carbon-fibre trim, is again remarkably similar to the standard model. Where the two differ is in the gearbox department, as Lamborghini expect to sell far more manual Balbonis than sequential manuals worldwide. The Middle East will, however, certainly opt almost exclusively for the "E-gear" sequential option.

Surprisingly, given the choice, I would take the four-wheel-drive model over the Balboni. Normally I am a huge fan of two-wheel drive, but in this age of computer controlled hyper cars I really think the extra grip and stability makes it far more comfortable to drive on a day-to-day basis. Yes, it's more fun with the rear end sliding around, but in reality how often do you really drive like that?

I love the fact that you can jump in a Gallardo and drive it to the shops like a family saloon. With the Balboni it's a little too twitchy and not as composed as the standard car. For me, who would probably be using it a little more than the average driver, I'd settle for the predictable nature of the other car. I really wanted to love the Balboni far more than I did, but all it managed to do was remind me just how good the standard model actually is. So getting back to the pithy sayings, I guess when it comes to two or four driven wheels, as well as grip and stability, you can never have too much of a good thing.

motoring@thenational.ae