LAMBORGHINI LUXURY Thrills and chills behind the wheel of one fabulously fast and fancy car


This is the story of how a certain reporter came to test-drive and scratch a $250,000, fire-engine-red Lamborghini Diablo VT, which is pretty funny now, sure, but at the time, the only thought running through the reporter's head was: My life is over.

Looking back on it now, the assignment for Distinction seemed incredibly cool: Find the fastest and most expensive car in the area and write about it. With the acceleration of an F-10 Tomcat, a top speed of 210 mph and a price tag of a quarter mil, the Diablo VT was certainly the right car, according to a battery of car buffs we consulted.

And who better to put that baby through its paces than a lumpy, 40-ish suburbanite whose current "hot car" is an '87 Subaru station wagon that wouldn't do 70 if you pushed it over a cliff?

(By the way, did I mention that the reporter also dinged a wheel cover on the Lamborghini? I should mention that.)

In any event, on a windy, overcast spring morning, Sun photographer Gene Sweeney Jr. and the reporter (yes, yes, this reporter) visited Antwerpen Exotics in Reisterstown, where nice-guy sales manager Andy Katz had agreed -- possibly during a moment when he could have been declared clinically insane -- to let us take a 1995 Diablo VT out for a spin.

The car was gleaming in a corner of the showroom floor when we arrived. With its sleek, low-slung frame, futuristic swing-up doors and front and rear spoilers, it looked like something out of a

James Bond movie.

The only thing missing was crotchety old Q pointing out the 50-caliber machine guns in the grille and the dashboard switch for converting to submarine mode.

According to the Lamborghini literature, only 1,300 Diablos have been built worldwide. And only about 100 are sold in the United States each year; this is not the sort of car you'd use to haul a bag of peat moss or take the kids out for snowballs.

"Serious buyers don't even come here to test-drive this car," Katz told us. "Serious buyers come here to buy it."

Well. As shop foreman Tim Profilio, 34, carefully nosed the Diablo through the showroom doors, Sweeney and I drank in its beauty and craftsmanship: 5.7-liter, 12-cylinder engine. Five-speed 1b manual transmission. Cast alloy wheels with wide Pirelli P-Zero tires. Hand-stitched, champagne-colored leather interior.

Optional equipment includes a compact disc player, $965, and the rear wing spoiler, which goes for a cool $5,000. Floor mats are also optional, if you can believe it; for this baby, plan on dropping $900.

Let me run that by you again: nine hundred bucks for floor mats.

"It's not a car," whispered Sweeney. "It's a work of art."

Soon it was time for my test-drive. First Profilio drove to a deserted stretch of parking lot at a nearby mall, where I got behind the wheel and familiarized myself with the gear-shifting, which was smooth and uncomplicated.

Then the two of us headed up Liberty Road, with Sweeney following in his car. With its heavy midmorning traffic, potholes and lunatic pedestrians with apparent death wishes, Liberty Road is not exactly ideal for test-driving a fast automobile. This is no Bonneville Salt Flats.

Nevertheless, I decided to give it a little gas. Actually, I gave it a lot of gas and we were quickly up to 60 mph. The force of the acceleration pinned me back in my seat. I looked over at Profilio to see if the blood had drained from his face, but he was smiling.

Earlier he had told me: "This car is a race car. A street-legal race car. I've driven a lot of cars: Lamborghinis, Porsches, Ferraris. This is the best one I've ever driven. This car is steps above all the other cars."

Now all he said was: "This car likes to run."

This is what is known as masterful understatement. According to the Diablo spec sheet, first gear winds out at 60 mph. Third gear winds out at 124 mph and fifth gear at 201, which is some 20 mph faster than a Boeing 727 at liftoff.

As we rocketed up Liberty Road, Profilio told me about the Pennsylvania businessman who bought a Diablo VT from Antwerpen two years ago. Although most Diablo owners drive the car sparingly, preferring to keep it mainly as a showpiece, this man planned to drive his Diablo across the country with his wife.

But before the trip, Profilio explained, the man noticed a vibration one tire "every time he went over 100 mph."

Every time he went over 100?

"So he wanted me to fix it and then drive it over 100 to make sure the vibration was gone," Profilio continued.

So Profilio fixed it. Then he test-drove it on a certain stretch of area road that will remain nameless. Did he get it up to 100?

"Got it up pretty close," Profilio said.

Anyway, we are now coming to the part in the story where I scratched the car, which still causes my palms to moisten every time I think about it.

After a quick run up Liberty Road, we pulled into a McDonald's. Sweeney wanted to take a couple of gag shots: a $250,000 Lamborghini pulling up to the drive-through window for a Diet Coke, that sort of thing.

Anyway, the restaurant emptied as soon as we pulled in. It's not every day you tear into your Big Mac and see a flaming-red Lamborghini next to you, and pretty soon we had a good-sized crowd oohing and aahing around us.

Naturally, I played this scene for all it was worth, telling several bystanders that, yes, this was my car -- well, one of my cars, and that I'd be happy to sign autographs later, providing they keep their grimy hands off the paint job.

Then, after Sweeney took some shots of the car parked under the golden arches, it was time to leave. I started backing up slowly, slowly -- it was lunchtime and McDonald's was getting busy.

And then I heard it.

Thirty years from now, if I live that long (and I won't, if stuff like this keeps happening), I will remember the sound. It was the sound an ice scraper makes on a windshield, only softer and more ominous.

Whipping around to Profilio, I said (and this is cleaned up considerably for publication): "What the heck was that?!"

"You brushed the sidewalk," Profilio said.

At least, that's what I thought he said. But I couldn't be sure, since the blood was now rushing to my head and I could no longer feel my heart, or any other part of me, for that matter.

We leaped out of the car and checked the damage. Thankfully, it was only a narrow 5-inch scratch at the base of the car, near the left rear wheel. Profilio assured me could be taken care of without too many problems.

There was also a ding the size of a dime on the left rear wheel cover. By the time this was pointed out, I had slipped into a catatonic trance and was standing frozen while staring at a poster of Ronald McDonald.

Back at the dealership, we pointed out the damage to Andy Katz, who was very understanding and said, "Accidents happen," instead of, "Get the hell out of my dealership and never return, or I'll call the police."

Which is what I would have said.

Badly shaken, I climbed back into my '87 Subaru station wagon and drove at exactly 55 mph all the way home.

It's a wonderful car, the Lamborghini Diablo.

If you don't have a heart attack driving it.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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