The edge of reason

The angular new body and quadrupled price of Lamborghini’s amazing Reventón barely make sense – yet all 20 are already sold
By Andrew Frankel

What you are looking at here, and for reasons I shall explain shortly, is in many ways simply a ridiculous car. It is surely coincidence that if you write ‘Reventón’ backwards it spells ‘Not Never’, but that would perhaps be a more apposite title for a car costing £840,000 of which there will be just 20, every one of which was sold before an owner ever flipped up one of its carbon-fibre scissor doors, flopped down into its cramped cabin, spotted the intergalactic instrument display and wondered what on earth to do next.

Then again, if Lamborghini can’t produce a car like this, who can? The one constant in the life of every car enthusiast for the past 40 years is that in a small factory in a little town on the outskirts of Modena called Sant’Agata Bolognese, a small collection of charmingly unhinged Italians have pondered just how far they can push the limit of supercar design before descending into self-parody.

We’ve seen a few. While Ferrari conspired with Pininfarina to ensure that many of the most beautiful things man made in the late 20th century were cars, Lamborghini on the other hand, through the likes of Nuccio Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and, most notably, Marcello Gandini, was able to think more freely. So while your reaction to catching your first glimpse of a Dino, Daytona or Boxer was simply to stare at their sheer pulchritude, the first sight of an Espada, Silhouette or Countach was more likely to make you blink, shake your head and look again. Of all the cars ever to wear the raging bull, I’d argue the Miura was the only true beauty among them.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t need a Lamborghini to be beautiful, all I require is that, in this age of legislation-constricted, risk-averse car design, it possesses the ability to make pedestrians walk into street furniture. And that the Reventón does better than any other Lamborghini I’ve known.

There are certain cars – a new Jaguar XK coupé, most vintage Bentleys and a BMW 507 to name just three – that only look right when you see them moving in real life. Imprisoned on a motorshow stand or a magazine page, they can look unremarkable, awkward even. The Reventón is one of these. Look at its image here and it will appear as a slightly more stealthy Murciélago, but actually watch from another car as it moves around you at speed and it seems not of this earth.

Sit inside, drive it yourself and you can see the reactions of others for yourself. The usual broad grins and upwardly mobile thumbs that you spot when driving some other slice of Italian exotica through the home town of the supercar are nowhere. Instead they grab furtive glances, keen not to let you see them gazing at your wheels. If the look of a car reflected the character of its driver, you’d forgive them for thinking there was a serial killer at the helm.

There is only one answer to give anyone who asks why Lamborghini built the Reventón, and that is simply because it could; on paper it makes no sense at all.

It is true that while the bodywork recalls the basic geography of the Murciélago, every last carbon-fibre panel of it is unique. Lamborghini cites Lockheed-Martin’s F22 ‘Raptor’ fighter as its inspiration, and amid its crazy confusion of lines and angles you can almost see the influence. The miracle is that they all converge to create a cohesive, magnetically interesting whole. No one could call this car beautiful, but in its matt paint and for sheer get-out-of-the-way presence, I’m not sure it has an equal.

But look beyond that shape and you’ll see the rest of it is really pure Murciélago with the occasional twist. Sit in the cockpit and you’ll get the same sense of a cabin wider by far than it is long. There’s pathetically little leg-room in here, not much headroom, yet your passenger seems in the next province.

Ahead you’ll find the obligatory E-gear gearshift paddles (which operate in a manner at least two generations behind Ferrari’s equivalent) but you’ll squint when you look at the instrument dial which, at first, appears to have nothing whatever to do with monitoring the vital operating systems of a road car. The screen uses the latest TFT-technology to bring readouts similar in appearance and operation to those of a military jet. It takes a while to realise that the two mirror-image graph lines that rise and fall in sympathy like the beating of a bird’s wings are, in fact, tachometers. Plural. No, the Reventón does not have two engines; they’re there simply to look cool. Or contrived, depending on your point of view.

Behind you lurks a 6.5-litre 48-valve V12 which can reputedly trace its lineage straight back to the 3.5-litre, 24-valve V12 designed by Giotto Bizzarrini to power the very first Lamborghini, the 350GT, back in 1963. Then it was said to produce a probably highly optimistic 280bhp. In 2007, you can be sure every last one of its 650bhp are certified and accounted for.

It is, of course, magnificently fast. There are any number of ways of achieving Reventón-grade performance using small-displacement, high-output engines, but there’s still no matching the sense of occasion imparted by having a colossal quad-cam V12 doing the talking just inches behind your right ear. The sound and the throttle response are so similar to those that have wowed two generations of Lamborghini owners and lucky motoring journalists, all that’s changed is the accompanying thrust, which now fills the space between explosive and apocalyptic depending on which one of its six gears you decide to let it run with.

The problem – and it’s a serious one – is that you can have exactly the same engine in a Murciélago which also has a carbon-fibre body, not to mention the same chassis, suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes. Which means that despite Lamborghini claiming an extra 10bhp for the Reventón (you feel it had to make some distinction), it is absolutely no lighter than a Murciélago and apparently no faster either.

It is, of course, simply magnificent cannoning away from a third-gear curve, the engine’s glut of torque directed to all four wheels so that there’s no suggestion of a loss of traction – but you can say the same of a Murciélago. Indeed it is more unkind than unfair to call the Reventón a Murciélago in fancy dress, for that is precisely what it is. And the premium for this is over £600,000. Or was. As previously mentioned, they’re all sold.

It’s a purchase that I struggle to understand. It costs over four times as much as a Murciélago when, for five times as much, you could have a Bugatti Veyron. And while the world’s fastest, most powerful production car has faced fair criticism for its weight and profligacy, no one can claim it’s a thinly disguised version of an existing and wildly cheaper product. The Veyron is unique and one of the most extraordinary feats of automotive engineering since the birth of the car. The Lamborghini Reventón is a Murciélago on its way to a Star Wars convention.

Then again, Lamborghini weren’t thinking of me when they gave the Reventón the green light: there are 6.5 billion people on this planet, and Lamborghini identified just 20 of them as being both of a mind and in a position to buy a Reventón. Each would have been called and offered the honour of spending a million euros plus local taxes to have a Reventón built for them.

Its value bears no relation to the material cost of its components, nor how much it cost Lamborghini to turn them into a car: to those 20 people, its worth is that you’ll never see another on the road, never meet a person who has one too. You will have something they can never have, however wealthy they are. It is haute couture on wheels.

The result is a vanity project, designed to fill the coffers of Lamborghini as it puffs the pride of its owners. But I’m not going to condemn here, even if nothing makes it seem more ludicrous than the simple thought of a Murciélago plus the change. The fact is we should be happy that, in this era of Audi-ownership, Lamborghini is not only still producing entirely mad cars, something it has done with unconcealed glee all its life, but is also making money out of them, a trick it has proven less adept at in the past. For it means that with any luck, the small collection of charmingly unhinged Italians at Sant’Agata Bolognese will be encouraged to go on doing it for a while yet. And who among us could argue with that?

Lamborghini Reventón
Engine: V12 petrol, 6496cc
Power/Torque: 650bhp at 8000rpm, 487lb ft at 6000rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Tyres: 245/35 ZR 18 (f), 335/30 ZR 18 (r)
Fuel/CO2: 13.7mpg, 495g/km
Acceleration: 0-62mph: 3.4sec
Suspension: four-wheel independent quadrilateral system, hydraulic shock absorbers and coaxial coil springs
Brakes: four ventilated discs, dual independent hydraulic circuits, one for each axle, with vacuum servo, ABS and DRP
Price: £840,000 approx
Top speed: 211mph