How do you follow a tale? As the 1990s were about to flourish, Automobili Lamborghini faced that question on two fronts. It was forced to meet head-on the problem of replacing both a legendary leader and a legendary car. Either topic would be difficult enough, but both at one time? Some might call the job impossible.
Its spiritual leader and founder, Ferruccio Lamborghini, had long since sold his brainchild and moved on to less stressful ventures, including his death (eventually). Absent from the company for more than a decade, Lamborghini’s long shadow still stretched over the company that carried his name. The Countach, the final car that he inspired, was not only in production nearly twenty years after Lamborghini had signed the final sales agreement, it was still regarded by many as the epitome of “supercardom.” The company contemplated: How to follow a cover girl crowd-pleaser similar to the Countach?
Looking into this void, the faceless Swiss investors who had taken control of Automobili Lamborghini from its founder in the Seventies decided to cash in and look for fresh investments. After all, it is one thing to maintain the production of an established car; it is quite another to find the inspiration for an entirely new car. The Swiss saw a willing taker in the unlikely form of the Chrysler Corporation.
By the mid-Eighties, Chrysler had bounced back from a brush with bankruptcy, invented the minivan and suddenly become, against all odds, flush with success. In those heady times, Chrysler thought it finally had the keys to the kingdom. And such success breeds a natural inclination to purchase some expensive toys. For Chrysler Corporation, one of its expensive toys was American Motors and its Jeep brand; others were Automobili Lamborghini and Maserati.
So it came to pass that American corporate managers and an Italian-led contingent of engineers and designers were given the great task to produce a car that would succeed the Countach. In the absence of one single guiding force, the committee that built the Diablo made it so it would do and be everything the Countach did and was, but more so. And though, Chrysler Corporation has long since been out of the picture (in 1994 it peddled its stake in the legendary firm to somewhat unlikely suitors from Indonesia), the car is one of the most fearsome Italian-American combinations. The car’s Italian-American heritage has survived the comparatively recent acquisition of Automobili Lamborghini by yet another big, flush car company, Volkswagen-Audi. Time will tell if VW will succeed where Chrysler ultimately had to bail.
So much for the mixed parentage of the super car, what about the Diablo itself? Well, though it might lack the staying power of its predecessor, which reigned at the top of the exoticar heap for a period of close to two decades, the at-first-dismissed Diablo has demonstrated an outstanding and staying power of its own. Further, it seems to be the last of its class of “styling first, function last” exotic GT cars. After all, Ferrari (Ferrari!) has decided to make its cars easier to live with, easier to drive, and even easier to get in and out of. While that might be laudable to those of us who are having a more and more hard time bending at various joints, wouldn’t you rather see a sinuous supermodel come out from an exotic foreign car than a creaky octogenarian?
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Since it hardly comes up to the average person’s waist, the Diablo is (to its credit) a challenge to get into. With its radical swing-up doors and let-it-all-hang-out styling, it is also the contemporary auto that has the biggest presence, kind of a Madonna for the road.
Outrageous speed and power
In many ways, just like the singer-actress, the Diablo revels in being outrageous and uses that as its major marketing tool. Just peer at the six-liter all-alloy V-12 engine. With 32-bit computerized engine controls and titanium connecting rods (hey, those VW guys are good for something), a representative late-model Diablo has 543 horsepower on tap (at a busy 7100 rpm.) The peak torque number is a stupendous 457 pound-feet at 5800 rpm.
With all this prowess perched very close to your right ear, the Diablo is automotivedom’s grandest thrill ride. If it were to be offered to Disneyland fanatics, even the SpeedPass line would be hours long.
Now, can it go off-road?
To deal with the terrible amount of power (and the potentially ham-handed drivers who get to use it), Lamborghini decided to equip the Diablo with all-wheel-drive. While big and bigger tires used to be the answer, Pirelli simply can’t create tires that are wide enough to cope with all the torque. Instead, like an oversize quattro, the Diablo employs a viscous coupling-governed drive system that slides some of the torque to the front wheels if the rears start to slip. Don’t arrange any off-road expeditions when you buy your Diablo, though. Not only is ground clearance a bare 5 1/2 inches (as it should be), the 4-wheel-drive system also channels a maximum of 28 percent of torque to the front wheels, no matter what. This means the Diablo still feels like a rear-drive vehicle, while being able to launch like a Saturn rocket.
Speaking of launch, a present Diablo in a decent state of tune can flash from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds or so, making it the quickest production car you can purchase for your 300-large. Maximum speed, according to those very precise folks at Automobili Lamborghini, is reported to be 208 mph.
And that is the exact point. These days, even Lamborghini is marketing its stereo system, creature comforts, and automatic climate control. But if that’s what you want, just remain in your La-Z-Boy and take a nap. We would rather blow a few mental carbon out on a long-fast drive. And the Lamborghini Diablo is certainly the perfect tool for that job.
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