Lost in a Lamborghini daydream

E-mails unanswered, the desk scattered with paper, my mind wanders to a perfect Sunday afternoon, twisting through mountain roads in a convertible. A Lamborghini convertible.

The car is orange, because exotic rides should be outrageous, and the road is in northern Italy, near the Dolomites, the kind of two-lane, cork-screwing routes where Lamborghini engineers at Sant'Agata Bolognese might have enjoyed during testing.

A closer look at my auto shows it to be the Gallardo LP570- 4 Spyder Performante, the lightest roadster the company offers. Perfect.

The standard Gallardo convertible has a mid-mounted V-10 engine which produces 552 horsepower. By comparison, the Performante gets an espresso doppio of extra power (562 hp) and is 143 pounds lighter, due to materials like carbon fiber and polycarbonate windows.

Before gas and oil are pumped into its frame, the Spyder Performante weighs 3,274 pounds - lightweight for a modern car. That means it's quicker than other fantasy Gallardos, particularly when churning out of corners. All guts, all glory.

There's a premium, clearly. Prices start at around $250,000. That's okay, because fantasy cars are always paid for in cash and daydreams never include insurance premiums.

This thing never had a foot in reality anyhow. The proportions scream supercar, very wide and low. So wide that it will crowd a regular-sized lane. You'll want to stay off side roads in crowded Italian cities; you simply won't fit.

And so low that the twin intakes on either side of the front snout hover just above the road like a snuffling ant eater, ready to hoover up asphalt.

The cabin is located far forward, and the hood is quite short. That means the rear deck of the Performante is long and parallel to the ground, like a throwing dart. An optional, $6,500 carbon-fiber wing rises off the extreme back.

The roofline looks sleek even when the canvas hood is up. The windshield is raked at an impossibly sharp angle, and the low, black cap continues backward in an unbroken swooping arc.

Who wants to drive with the top up? Hold down a button and the entire back panel of the Lamborghini slides back, briefly exposing the naked engine as the canvas folds and then tucks into the rear compartment. (There is no trunk.)

It's a move worthy of the Transformers Optimus Prime, but it takes an irritatingly long time and the car must be stationary, with handbrake applied. (A lot of modern convertibles allow you to put their tops up or down while moving at 10-plus miles per hour.)

Back to the fantasy. It's warm out, but the air is mountain crisp. I'm gliding through quiet villages with musical names like Pezzini and Fontanelle, and the road is steadily gaining elevation.

There aren't that many other cars, but loads of spandex- clad cyclists, slowly pumping up the steep hills. They glance at me and nod their helmeted heads, unable to ignore the orange missile making all that rumbling, animalistic noise. The Lamborghini is not a car for shrinking violets.

Even so, the Italians love the car and, by extension, me. People wave, smile and make churning moves with their arms - international sign language for "Rev it!" and "Go go go!"

I oblige.

Because, truly, the Spyder Performante exists purely to thrill. It's one of the most impractical cars in the universe. And that's a compliment.

A tight switchback up ahead. No other traffic. Downshift twice using the steering-wheel paddle - click, click. The engine roars encouragingly. I brake hard just before the turn. Swing in and get back on gas early; the rear slides out just a touch. Pounce back on gas and the Performante lunges forward.

Up to the next switchback, repeat.

Reaching my destination, I park the car in a village square, in search of a lunch of fresh cheese and cured meats. This far north you'll find a heavy Austrian influence; many of the houses look more like A-frame chalets and goulash shares space on the menu with pasta.

When I get back to the car, a small crowd has gathered. After five minutes of attempting to communicate in broken English and Italian (lots of "molto bene" and "bella macchina,") I'm off again.

It had rained while I lunched leaving the roads shining wet, the smell of green very heavy in the air. Spiraling back down the roads which I just climbed, I use the big brakes judiciously and appreciate the fact that the Lamborghini is all- wheel drive.

The wet bicyclists are miserable and I imagine a look of envy as I drive by. Who can blame them when I'm living my perfect fantasy?


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