One final hurrah

The Lamborghini Murciélago SV is the last supercar of its kind. We can only hope that its successor retains at least some of the madness
By Andrew Frankel

Were this SV model just another iteration of the Lamborghini Murciélago, you’d probably not be reading about it here. While I might drive upwards of 100 new cars each year, there are but 12 issues of Motor Sport, so to say we need to be picky is putting it mildly.

It makes the cut for two reasons. Firstly, it’s just the third Lamborghini in nearly 40 years to earn an SV badge and the other two, the Miura and Diablo, were not only the best but also the most desirable of their breeds, which is not always the same thing. Interestingly, the much-vaunted Countach never had an SV version bestowed upon it, which is no worse a fate than this most overrated Lamborghini deserved.

The other reason is that the birth of this new SV comes also as a precursor to the death of what remains of the old Lamborghini. The SV is not only the most recent Murciélago but also the last, and once 350 of them have been built, traditions that have existed ever since Ferruccio Lamborghini got off his tractor and decided to build a better Ferrari will come to an end.

In that time this most enigmatic of supercar marques has had its fair share of proprietors, but since 1998 has been owned by Volkswagen and operated by the steady hand of Audi.

I bow to no one in my admiration for the efforts made by the Germans to understand the brand, to exploit its manifest strengths and expunge its myriad weaknesses, but the fact remains that however fast and fun is the Murciélago’s replacement, it will be a very different car indeed.

For a start, I doubt it will have a tubular steel chassis. It may surprise to learn that the Murciélago does, but that’s because it’s actually a reskinned Diablo whose design dates back 20 years: at the time Lamborghini was too potless and making far too few cars to invest in anything as expensive as an aluminium spaceframe, let alone a carbon-fibre monocoque.

But, at least for the sentimental old fools among us, the more significant change will come under the engine cover. The next Murciélago may well have 12 cylinders, go like hell and sound like fury, but I understand it will have nothing to do with the V12 used by the SV. This matters only because the extant engine, despite endless changes in capacity and specification, can draw a direct and unbroken line back to the V12 designed by Giotto Bizzarrini for the 350GT 46 years ago. If you exclude the GM small-block V8 on the grounds that it is now no longer anything more than inspired by the original, Bentley’s V8 is the only engine still in production to boast a longer lifespan.

As for the SV itself, like all traditional Lamborghinis – which excludes the thoroughly modern and easy-going Gallardo – it is a very particular thing. It is hard to get into, difficult to see out of, truculent in traffic and terrifyingly easy to damage even driving it slowly. Environments in which its performance can be safely enjoyed include wide-open race tracks, deserted autobahnen and very little else. It is astonishingly loud, quite uncomfortable, utterly impractical and, at £265,937, prohibitively expensive. Truth be told, it is a fairly useless car.

Except for one small thing: no Ferrari made today comes with a sense of occasion like this. In fact, you’d need a Bugatti Veyron to beat the anticipation that comes as standard every time you approach the SV, and I’d still rather drive the Lambo. SV specification means a fabulously unnecessary hike in horsepower from 640 to 670bhp, coupled with a massive 100kg reduction in weight, courtesy of a whole-car approach that saw the chassis, body and powertrain contribute one third each of the total loss of mass.

Lamborghini says it will hit 62mph from rest in 3.2sec, which is as much as you’d ever achieve in a McLaren F1. But it’s not so much what the SV does, but the manner in which it does it that convinces me that Lamborghini has set itself one hell of an act to follow. Despite its colossal dimensions, the engine is actually quite peaky, flexible enough below 4000rpm but only prepared to give its all above 5000rpm. The ride from there to the red paint still makes me chuckle when I think of it, while the sound this old motor makes at full chat, all 6.5 litres of it spinning at 8000rpm, serves only to cement my long-held belief that God is, in fact, Italian.

Even so, perhaps the nicest and certainly biggest surprise of driving the SV really quickly is that so long as your surroundings are suited to the car’s size and shape (and if they’re not, you have no business going fast in an SV at all), it’s nothing like as scary as you might think, even when you really lean on it. I drove one briefly and carefully at Goodwood and, despite not using full throttle or maximum revs to avoid falling foul of track noise regulations, it circulated comfortably in the 1min 28sec bracket, a time you could knock three full seconds off if allowed to run unrestricted. That means it will lap comfortably above 100mph, a phenomenal time for a road car on road rubber.

If there is a flaw in the handling, it is perhaps that it’s a little too user-friendly, set up to ensure any loss of adhesion almost always occurs at the front as if in tacit acknowledgement that having that amount of engine waving around behind you is not the greatest of ideas. It makes the car more difficult to balance and can delay the reapplication of power beyond the apex. You could of course turn off the electronics, bury you foot in the floor at the exit of a third-gear corner and spin all the way to Accident & Emergency, but handled with a modicum of common sense and mechanical sympathy, the SV is as forgiving to drive as it is frightening to look at.

My greatest hope for whatever replaces the Murciélago in general, and the SV in particular, is that it feels as alive as this. I couldn’t care less if it were no faster so long as it’s at least as much fun. It’s sad enough that the engine must die with it; it would be worse still if the flagship Lambo gave way to understandable pressure to make it more practical, accessible and user-friendly. The Murciélago is the last of the supercar dinosaurs, an age Ferrari left behind when in 1995 it replaced the comically wide, hideously ugly but still charming Testarossa (or F512M as it had become known) with the more sensible and altogether better 550 Maranello, determining an approach that would culminate in today’s wonderful 599GTB. The last thing the Murciélago replacement needs to be is cut from this cloth. Ever since the Miura, the flagship Lamborghini has never allowed itself to be distracted by what’s going on around it, and this is how it must stay.

So, if the next Murciélago is not at least as awkward, impractical, intimidating and outrageous as the SV, I for one will be wanting to know why.