Each generation of top-dog Lamborghini has left its legacy, a lasting timestamp for each new round of youthful car geeks. If you grew up in the 1980s, you'll probably reference the Countach poster on your bedroom wall. Kids of the ‘90s - my people - will remember racing the Diablo to its then-incomprehensible top speed of 202 mph in the original Need for Speed video games. And now it's almost time for the Murcielago to ride off into that sunset — who knows, maybe today's kids will remember the late-run LP670-4. With Murcielago production set to wind down soon, we decided to take a look back at one of the company's most iconic models: the Diablo VT 6.0 SE.
The VT 6.0 SE not only marked the end of the line for the Diablo, it represented the beginning of a new era as well. Owned by Chrysler in the late Eighties and early Nineties, then sold to the son of Indonesia's president after that, Lamborghini spent the tail end of the last century changing hands more than producing new models. Audi bought the company in 1998, and the Germans seem intent on long-term ownership rather than dumping the brand back on shaky ground. (Meanwhile, Chrysler is now product-starved and owned by Italians. Go figure.) Knowing that a successor to the Diablo would take time to develop, Audi put its design staff — the first time in decades someone not named Marcello Gandini would shape a Lamborghini — to work updating the car for a few more years of service. The pop-up headlights were eliminated, a few new cuts and twists were added, and before long, the Diablo was new again. The car that resulted, the VT 6.0 SE, sent pretty clear signals as to which way Audi would take company.
The first two characters in the final Diabo's name are perhaps the most significant — they stand for Viscous Traction. In Lambo-nese, that means a viscous-coupling all-wheel-drive system, a hallmark of Sant'Agata's parent company, which is best known for giving the world quattro. The "6.0" signifies that Audi's engineers reworked the old Diablo's V12 from 5.7 to 6.0 liters. The engine received updated programming, reworked variable valve timing, and cutting-edge materials like titanium and magnesium. Power rose from 530 hp (the earliest Diablos possessed just 480 horses) to 550, raising top speed to 205 mph and dropping the claimed 0-60 mph time below four seconds. The SE moniker stood for "Special Edition."
Revealed at the Geneva show in 2001, the Special Edition cars were to be the last of the Diablos to leave Sant'Agata before the Murcielago began production. Just 40 cars were built, split evenly between two colors: Oro Elios, a gold metallic, was meant to symbolize a sunrise, while Marrone Eklipsis, a brown metallic, was inspired by sunset. Both, it seems, were inspired by marketing, while a gorgeous dark chocolate brown leather interior just screamed "Audi." The gearshift and instrument bezels were made of titanium, a connection to the high-tech materials that had just found their way into the engine bay.
That bay was finished in unpainted carbon fiber, a stunning display of the material that makes up much of the SE's body. Atop the engine sat magnesium intake manifolds and valve covers that look so cool they make you wonder why the car wasn't gifted with a transparent engine cover. There was also bare carbon fiber along the bottom of the body, inside the door sills, and over a good portion of the interior, where small, indifferently located screws offered proof that Audi hadn't yet eliminated Lamborghini's classically Italian build quality. For the SE, the carbon fiber was interwoven with bits of titanium, offering an interesting metallic shimmer when the light fell just right.
The Oro Elios example you see here, one of just ten in the country, was bought new its current owner and has seen just 6000 miles on the original tires since. The paint color seems almost subtle in some pictures, but once a dash of sunlight hits the metallic flakes, it's as loud as any stereotype about all things Italian might suggest. We understand the sunrise reference now, because once this paint comes over the figurative horizon, one shouldn't look directly at it.
The craziest thing about the Diablo is its proportions, and the special color seems to exaggerate them. It is four inches wider than a new BMW 7-series. Its low stance makes it look even wider, and its stubby front and sharp-sloping greenhouse focus the eye on the rear fenders; the car looks to be all engine, with a driver's seat squeezed in out of necessity. The taillights appear to sit higher than the driver's head. It looks like a normal sports car might, if seen through a funhouse mirror.
Each of the two scissor doors swings up to reveal the rich brown leather and carbon-weave cabin, which doesn't look as dated as it probably should. Sure, the shape of the dash is bulbous, as most were in the 1990s, but the layout is straightforward and upscale. It isn't much of a step back from the Murcielago, though neither is as modern as the more Audi-inspired Gallardo. The seats are comfortable but require a sort of fainting motion to fall into, considering their bottoms sit just inches from the ground and behind a large sill.
Fury is what we expect when the engine cranks over, but we don't get it. A roaring tiger at full tilt, the big V12 is more of a purring housecat at anything under 3000 rpm. While the motor warms up for the first few minutes, the management computers systematically shut down each cylinder, one at a time, to check for faults. The process announces itself with a rhythmic change in exhaust note, along with a puff of smoke each time a cylinder kicks back on. It's an odd but intriguing process.
The SE's gearing is a touch shorter than any other Diablo VT 6.0, so it launches harder than any of its predecessors and hits 60 mph in closer to 3.5 seconds than 4.0. Behind the revolver-look wheels, the Diablo's Brembo brake calipers wear a Lamborghini logo instead of the brake company's, also a feature unique to the SE. Regardless of the paint job, they bite down with serious, tongue-against-the-teeth force.
Much of the Diablo feels like the Murcielago, but engine noise is where the two cars depart. Lambo's engineers wanted to make the Diablo a livable supercar, and with the sole exception of suspension travel, the car succeeds. But the engine, as a result, is too subdued. The good sounds don't happen until higher in the rev range, and when the car hits 70 mph (in first gear, natch), it's tough to thoroughly explore the V12's sonorous side. The sound is kind of truckish, and in a barking match with a Murcielago, the Diablo wouldn't stand a chance.
Among the kilometer staff we have a pretty even mix of the Countach-on-the-wall guys and Need For Speed Diablo guys. The Countach-era enthusiasts among us who have met that legend first-hand will admit that it's entirely disappointing. This writer, however, is of the younger group, and meeting the Diablo was a special moment. It has the speed, the wild proportions, and a wonderfully rare coachbuilt feel. But as a road machine, there's no denying that the Diablo's replacement is angrier, more psychotic, and absolutely bursting with emotion.
In a decade or so, when we'll no doubt have a new young writer reminiscing about Murcielagos on the ol' YouTube, it's hard to predict what he'll say about how his childhood icon compares to its replacement, which should show up in 2012 and is rumored to be named "Jota." Between Countach and Diablo, Lamborghini added drivability and power. Between Diablo and Murcielago, the story was emotion and proportion. Going forward, we think it's time for serious interior improvement, with a banishment of complicated aftermarket stereo head units and rock-hard, misaligned seats. Some added lightness would be good as well, and of course, more power. Always more power.
Kilometer Magazine focuses on the great cars - past, present and future - from Germany, Italy, England and Sweden, and even the occasional machine from France or Spain. They produce nice stuff, and we like them a lot.
This story originally appeared on Kilometer on July 1, 2010.