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Itís a tough job....

October 19, 2006, by Bill Cawthon

Being a writer has its drawbacks; the hours spent on research, composition, editing and rewriting can be very long and for most of those in the field, the pay is, shall we say, unspectacular, though it really is possible to make a living as a journalist.

On the other hand, it does have some nice perks, especially if you work in a field you love anyway.

I got to enjoy one of those perks last Thursday, when I was invited to attend the grand opening of Lamborghini Houston and the unveiling of the new Lamborghini Murciťlago LP640. Being invited to spend an evening sipping champagne and sampling hors díoeuvres with some of Houstonís elite is not an everyday event for me. Come to think of it, invitations to do anything with any of Houstonís elite havenít exactly crowded my social calendar. What made my invitation special was the fact it included the opportunity to drive the new Murciťlago and its budget-priced sibling, the Gallardo Spyder roadster.

My Lamborghinis: the upper picture is the Murciťlago LP640 I drove during my visit to Lamborghini Houston. The lower picture is the Gallardo that was just a size too small. Itís still a beautiful car, though.

The Murciťlago was introduced as Lamborghiniís new flagship at the Frankfurt International Auto Show in 2001 and has been a very successful car; over two thousand have been sold since its debut. But Gabriele Gabrielli and his team of engineers at the factory in Santí Agata Bolgnese always have a desire to push the envelope just a little bit more.

The LP640 is a performance upgrade of the standard Murciťlago. Lamborghini enlarged the V12 engine from 6.2 liters to 6.5 liters and raised the horsepower from what would seem to be an ample 580 to an awesome 640 with 487 foot-pounds of torque at 6,000 rpm. From a standing start, the new engine launches the LP640 to sixty in 3.4 seconds, about a half-second faster than the standard Murciťlago, and doesnít run out of steam until you reach 211 miles per hour making the LP640 second only to the Bugatti Veyron in top speed for a production car. Brakes, suspension and transmission were also reworked and the exterior sports improved aerodynamics and a single exhaust pipe that would look at home on a jet. From any angle, the LP640 looks ready to tear up the pavement even when itís standing still.

Of course, the price has been upgraded, too. By the time you add tax, title and license, a well-equipped LP640 will involve the best part of $340,000 changing hands. Then there will be that little chat with your insurance company.

Thursday in Houston was the warm, on-and-off rain that typifies fall in Southeast Texas. Bands of heavy rain alternated with bright sunshine. As a result the Spyder was replaced by the Gallardo coupe, which presented a problem.

Though I am a bit over six feet tall and anything but petite, I had no trouble getting into the Gallardo Spyder when I was at the Houston Auto Show. The coupe was another story entirely: I actually had to settle for a ride; it was too small for me to drive. Fortunately, Bill Pennel, one of Lamborghini Houstonís sales consultants, took the wheel while I folded myself into the best position I could achieve. Bill was a good, and enthusiastic, driver and the ride was enjoyable, all things considered. I hope someday to have a chance to pilot the Spyder.

This classic Lamborghini Miura was on display during the grand opening. When it was introduced forty years ago, the Miura took the automotive world by storm and firmly established Lamborghini as a manufacturer of exotic supercars.

After my experience with the Gallardo coupe, I approached the LP640 with some trepidation. The Murciťlago is a larger car but it is 1.2 inches lower than the Gallardo and headroom was my problem with the small Lamborghini. To my relief the Murciťlago was a real pleasure. I managed to get in the car without looking more undignified than usual and once inside, I was quite comfortable.

For the first foray onto Houstonís city streets, Brad Knollenberg, another of Lamborghini Houstonís sales consultants, took the wheel. Once we were buckled in, Brad fired up the LP640. I wonder why anyone would bother putting a sound system in a car like this. If the sound of a V12 in full song isnít music enough, youíre in the wrong car. We ventured out onto the frontage road that parallels Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston. Even doing the posted speed limit, the car was exciting. We did a U-Turn and got on the main highway headed north. Brad took this opportunity to punch the throttle and the LP640 instantly became a force of nature. As youíd expect, merging with traffic is no problem except for the other motorists who break their necks looking at the Lamborghini and then decide to race it. Brad kept the speed down to an only slightly illegal pace while I enjoyed the ride and the sound of the mighty V12 and wished we had a clear highway to Dallas.

Bob Cann, one of the owners of Lamborghini Houston took a moment to pose with the Murciťlago.

Barring the enthusiastic intervention of every law enforcement agency between the two cities, the LP640 would have no trouble covering the 250 miles separating Houston and Dallas in perhaps an hour and a half or so. Thereís some construction and bad road that would slow the car down in places and there would have to be a pit stop for fuel. A Hummer gets more miles from a gallon of gasoline than the LP640, which will probably get about eight or nine miles per gallon in city driving and perhaps thirteen mpg in highway driving. But if you can afford the car, keeping the tank topped off isnít going to present a problem.

Upon our return to the dealership, the weather was still holding so we did some paperwork and it was my turn to drive.

So whatís it like to drive car that costs as much as a Silicon Valley bungalow and will show rapidly receding taillights to many police helicopters? In a word: awesome. There were some things I had to learn, especially when it came to shifting. The LP640 I drove had a manual transmission with a gated shifter. I had trouble shifting until Brad told me the car had some miles on it and the clutch didnít fully disengage until about the last inch or so of pedal travel. A small change in my footing took care of that and shortly I was shifting like I knew what I was doing.

While I had already encountered it as a passenger, the Murciťlagoís rocket-like acceleration was altogether different experience from the driverís seat as I stretched to keep my foot on the gas while my whole body was being pushed back in the seat. ďIntoxicatingĒ isnít far off the mark. Zero-to-ticket was effortless and came quickly. In what felt like no time at all, I was doing mumblety-mumble miles per hour on the frontage road.

You canít show fast cars without beautiful women. Elisa Prťvot is a Houston-area model who helped unveil the new LP640 during the grand opening ceremonies.

I wasnít anywhere close to testing the carís limits so it was completely controllable and precise. Any response, whether it was acceleration, steering or braking, was almost instantaneous and there was a sensation of almost infinite power in reserve. It reminded me of the BMW M3 I drove a while back. But where the BMW challenges you, the Lamborghini dares you: it has far more power than most drivers have the skill to handle. Driverís Ed just doesnít cover this kind of car. On a closed track, with a few practice laps, it would be fun to see a bit more of what the LP640 could do. On a public road, that same fun would border on insanity.

The LP640 is a supercar, not a boulevard cruiser. Its ride is firm and you wouldnít want to drive it on a poorly maintained road, but the car feels solid and well-built with no shakes or rattles.

Once back at the dealership, I had a chance to look around. I met Bob Cann of MotorCars International, one of the owners of Lamborghini Houston, and checked out some of the other cars on the lot. Among these was a classic Lamborghini Miura, the car that really put Lamborghini on the map as a serious competitor to Ferrari. There were also two Diablos, one of which was a gorgeous white SV, in my opinion one of the most beautiful Lamborghinis ever built. Inside the showroom was a bright yellow Saleen S7, Americaís premier entry in the supercar race.

Another natural combination. Actually, the Lamborghini was on display and the Ford belonged to the Harris County Precinct One Constableís Department, which handled security for the event.

By that time, the real guests were beginning to arrive and the rain was moving in again. By real guests, I mean the people who were invited because they were among the elite I mentioned earlier; the folks who could be customers for Lamborghini Houston. I had the pleasure of chatting with a few and doing some people-watching while a jazz trio played and servers circulated with trays of drinks and snacks.

The high point of the evening was the official opening of Lamborghini Houston. Stephan Winkelmann, the president and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, presented Bob Cann with a special model of a Lamborghini and, in a well-choreographed presentation, directed a group of beautiful women as they unveiled another LP640, this one in the incomparable yellow that is almost a Lamborghini trademark.

Afterwards, everyone went back inside for small glasses of Amaretto and ice cream and biscotti. For me, it was time to re-enter the real world, go home and tell my own beautiful woman about my working day. Like I said, itís a tough job, but somebodyís got to do it. And this is one of those times I am glad that somebody is me.

After an evening of exotic cars and mingling with the well-to-do, our Mercury Villager was a welcome reminder of the real world. Supercars are wonderful, but thereís nothing like a comfortable seat and cruise control at the end of a long day.

A lot of people put a lot of effort into making the event possible. I got to meet a number of them and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for letting me participate. Special thanks to Troy Scheer of Trance Marketing for the invitation, Bill Pennel and Brad Knolienberg of Lamborghini Houston for some outstanding rides, and Bob Cann and his staff at Lamborghini Houston for a memorable evening. You can visit them online at www.lamborghinihouston.com.

Another treat came the following day when I received Herpaís promotional model of the new Audi R8 sports car. The R8 is the production version of the stunning LeMans show car and I have wanted a model of the car since it appeared. The R8 shares some components, including an engine, with the Lamborghini Gallardo. In case you didnít know, Lamborghini is owned by Audi. For now, the model is available only through Audi dealers in Europe and I am happy that my friend Marc Schmidt is able to obtain the promotional models in Germany. Itís just like getting a sneak peek at some of the models that will appear next year at Promotex Online.

The R8 was just one of the new models in Marcís package, so I will talk about all of them in the next column.

See you next time!

- Bill Cawthon

 

Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.

In real life, Bill is the managing editor of Model Railroad News and a marketing and public relations consultant working with the hobby and information technology industries. He also writes about real cars and has a monthly column covering the U.S. light vehicle industry. He is a member of the 1/87 Vehicle Club and the Texas Auto Writers Association.

He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.

Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.

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published by Cadabra Corp. This page was lasted updated: October 30, 2006