- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000


For an automotive writer no trip to Italy can be complete without a visit to one of Italy's famous auto manufacturers. Arrangements for a side trip to visit the Lamborghini facility were a necessity.
When our long-planned vacation stay in Tuscany approached, one day was set aside for our pilgrimage to Lamborghini, manufacturers of the world's fastest production car, the Diablo. The Lamborghini factory is located in a farming region between Bologna and Modena, just a few miles from the home of Italy's most famous car: Ferrari.
(Mr. Lamborghini started producing cars himself after being unsatisfied with Ferraris he'd owned.)
The Lamborghini Diablo is built in an intimate surrounding at the factory, with spacious work areas in which various phases of construction are competed. Everything is built there, including Lamborghini's beautiful 6-liter, 12-cylinder, 550-horsepower engine.
Since the company produces only about 170 cars each year the workers have the luxury of time to test each component. Every engine is assembled and dyno tested for perfect operation not to mention maximum output before being mated to its transmission (also fully tested) and installed into a chassis.
When finished, each car is tested on the local country roads by Lamborghini's chief test driver, Valentino Balboni. Mr. Balboni is a slight, unassuming man in his middle fifties. He has the characteristic heavy razor stubble of his fellow Bolognese and looks much like the sort of man who might cut your Parmesano Reggiano cheese at the village meat shop.
Mr. Balboni is a self-educated engineer, having never gone beyond the Italian equivalent of high school, and over the years he has taken it upon himself to become fluent in four other languages. When you meet him there is nothing to indicate that you are shaking hands with one of the most skilled drivers in Europe.
For nearly 30 years Mr. Balboni has been the chief test driver for Lamborghini, having driven every single car the company has produced since 1972. No car can be released to its owner until Mr. Balboni says it's meeting specifications.
He is particularly fond of the new Diablo. Upon introduction to Mr. Balboni, he explains that first we will take a 10- to 15-minute drive to familiarize me with the car's handling and performance characteristics.
Next step: get in. The Diablo's flip-up doors look every bit as exotic as the rest of the car, a fitting accent to something so aggressively expensive. Entry into the Diablo is easier than it might appear to be, but one must realize at all times how low the car is to the ground.
Once in, the seating is very comfortable and there is a sense of roominess, although the cabin is small. The dash is a combination of beauty and functionality, as is the gated shifter mounted on the carbon fiber central console.
The Lamborghini Diablo is a most appropriately named car. Weighing just 3,200 pounds and powered by its 12-cylinder, 550-horsepower engine, the all-wheel-drive Diablo (Devil) is unquestionably the fastest production car in the world. It can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds, pressing the occupants firmly into the seats until it is racing at more than 205 miles per hour. Its suspension, tires and braking system are fitted with massive components to help keep the machine under control.
The Diablo is the automotive equivalent of a Bengal tiger: beautiful, fast and extremely dangerous.
In the wrong hands either can result in death, but in the right hands either can be made to obey. Mr. Balboni not only has the right hands, he plays the Diablo like a musical instrument, coaxing its maximum potential. When he is at the wheel the car seems to know its master.
The engine starts effortlessly and its mechanical harmonies change with revs, at all times letting you know there is vast power mounted just behind your head. Mr. Balboni snicks the gear lever into first and from that moment on you are aware that a master is behind the controls. Every movement he makes is smooth and the Diablo seems willing to obey his commands.
We drive at incredible speeds (more than 150 miles per hour) on local farm roads that had speed limits well under our velocity, taking turns that would severely challenge the handling abilities of the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Corvette. He drives these roads every day and the local inhabitants seem to enjoy such displays.
Mr. Balboni turned over the controls to me for a brief drive. By that point, I was most humbled.
Driving the car is pure pleasure. Everything feels custom fitted to the hands and feet. The smells, sounds and sensations of acceleration, deceleration and cornering forces are enough to make you want to shell out more than a quarter million dollars for one.
The Diablo is nothing short of fantastic. It's hard to believe one can travel at speeds in excess of 200 mph in a stable, smooth, air conditioned vehicle, knowing its suspension is more than up to the task and its braking system can bring it down to more pedestrian speeds in impossibly short distances.
The Diablo is the most sure-footed vehicle I've ever driven.

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