Not long ago, the phrase "Lamborghini quality" was as laughable as the phrase "monogamous Berlusconi."
The Italian automaker founded in 1963 by feisty Ferrari hater Ferruccio Lamborghini built a long line of swoopy exotics that demanded passionate, dedicated drivers - with an equally passionate and dedicated mechanic on speed dial. Several ownership changes over the years, including an ill-fated union with Chrysler in the 1980s didn't help the cause. Lamborghinis inspired lust, but consistency of build and reliability proved elusive.
Until the Germans got involved.
Audi's takeover of the company in 1998 instigated dramatic changes in how the famed cars from Sant'Agata Bolognese were conceived, developed and constructed. Eager to retain the brand's "Italianness," the Germans kept company headquarters in Sant'Agata, much like how Bugatti remained stationed in Molsheim, France, and Bentley didn't stray from Crewe, England, once Volkswagen took over.
The German influence not only resulted in shared platforms (like the Audi R8/Lamborghini Gallardo aluminum spaceframe), it also brought a sea change in how emerging technologies are researched, developed and incorporated into the ever-evolving world of supercars.
Lamborghini hit a landmark when it sold its 10,000th Gallardo in 2010, a figure that represents more than all other models produced since the company's founding. As a replacement for the mighty Murcielago approached the zenith of its three-year development, camouflaged mules were spotted darting through Italian countrysides and along the famed Nürburgring Nordschliefe, and the 691-horsepower flagship was being "fine optimized" in preparation for production.
Above: A Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 nears the final inspection stage. All photos courtesy Lamborghini unless otherwise noted
From its carbon fiber monocoque to its pushrod suspension and proprietary 7-speed sequential gearbox, the Lamborghini Aventador 700-4 is a textbook example of what comes forth when nothing but the most radically aggressive design will do.
At the embryonic stage of any car, an irreconcilable disconnect can form between the creative spark of an inspired design and the real-world demands of its implementation. As a result, the Centro Stile (Style Center) at Lamborghini headquarters enabled CAD files of the Aventador to be shared between the artists (i.e., the designers) and the geeks (i.e., the engineers), ensuring the technical department could stop a design if its proportions were too wide, low or outlandish for reality.
Three-dimensional renderings were altered for different colors and lighting environments, and scale models "printed" from those files using a device that uses lasers to cut plastic. Computational fluid-dynamic calculations were enacted to finesse aerodynamics and engine cooling, and the whole car was essentially assembled on a virtual level before it took physical form.
Above: A robot "feels out" a fine optimization mockup of an Aventador, in order to measure fitment of various parts and create a virtual model of the physical structure.
This mockup of an Aventador LP700-4 is used for "fine optimization," a process in which pre-production parts are checked against each other to ensure a perfect fit before they go into production.
Interior material choices had to be rooted in reality. Although Lamborghini cabins are edgier than anything you'll find at, say, BMW, its fabrics and plastics must be just as durable as those in your Chevrolet. No one wants leather that snags on the rivets of your Levi's, and you can't have your lime-green seats fading under the brutal UV rays of summer in Dubai.
And then there's the customization X-factor, where customer wishes must be managed. Although those wealthy enough to order an Aventador can choose from a dizzying array of colors, R&D boss Maurizio Reggiani explains that, for the sake of maintaining brand sanctity, the customer is not always right.
"You can't ask for a green car with a pink interior and yellow stitching," he says.
Above: A laser traces a cut line for a sheet of carbon fiber.
Aesthetics aside, conceptualizing new construction techniques requires synergistic relationships that might seem counter-intuitive. For Lamborghini chassis development, collaboration with golf-club manufacturer Callaway helped innovate a forged composite material that allowed the carbon-fiber tub in the Sesto Elemento concept car to be assembled in only 10 hours.
The Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures laboratory also teamed up with Boeing to help develop the monocoque that enables the Aventador LP700-4 to achieve remarkable torsional rigidity while retaining high levels of crashworthiness.
And while the intricate carbon and carbon-fiber reinforced polymer work could have easily been outsourced, Lamborghini chose instead to construct the tubs in-house.
Above: Carbon-fiber weave is painstakingly cut and laid into a chassis.
Cutting carbon fiber.
Building a 217-mph supercar requires equal doses of bold design and race-inspired performance, but it also involves the logistical challenge of wrangling hundreds of outside suppliers. There are about 2,000 parts in an Aventador, and most of those components are sourced from 500 or so companies scattered across 30 countries.
The modernist headlamps, for instance, use 84 components from 14 different suppliers, all of which must fit together with a tolerance of just 1 millimeter if they are to form a focused beam of light. The 20 black-plastic soft-touch components found in the interior are sourced from five suppliers, and they must match perfectly.
To ensure that these myriad parts will "play nicely together," a full-scale Aventador model is mocked up and its tolerances measured by an ultra-precise robotic arm. It creates a digital rendering by methodically touching every last nook and cranny with a pen-like sensor, a process called fine optimization.
Once the components, tolerances, suppliers and construction techniques were finalized, the Aventador finally become ready for production in the space where Murcielagos were once built, alongside the soon-to-be updated Gallardo.
Above: Though many aspects of the carbon-fiber monocoque-assembly process requires a personal touch, robots also play a part in construction.
Giant autoclaves are used to cure carbon-fiber components at Lamborghini headquarters.
Using the same philosophy of lean manufacturing that Toyota perfected in the 1960s, workers spend approximately two hours per station lavishing attention on the myriad components that constitute an Aventador. Wiring harnesses are clicked into place, connecting rods and pistons slide into cylinder sleeves, huge leather hides and rolls of Alcantara are cut into patterns which eventually form seating surfaces, transmission tunnels and headliners, all at a pace that is even-keeled and decidedly civilized.
Robots are notably absent from the process. At nearly every stage of assembly, human eyes and hands play a crucial role in how a Lamborghini comes together. They are aided by touchscreens that manage real-time production information while offering exploded views of how everything fits together. It's incredibly labor intensive, which explains why the factory builds just 3.5 Aventadors each day.
Above: Fit is crucial on nearly every aspect of the carbon-fiber tub, as it will need to mate perfectly to subframes which constitute the vehicle's extremities.
Carbon-fiber monocoques are constructed on site, but bodywork gets shipped to a paint facility a few miles away for the final finish, before returning to Lamborghini for assembly.
Though every Lamborghini is run on an indoor dynamometer to ensure subsystems like stability control, brakes and transmission are working harmoniously at simulated speeds up to 90 mph, the final test is done on a far more realistic, and hazardous environment: Public roads.
Each Aventador is sheathed in a protective layer of plastic to protect its body from pebbles and road debris. Its cabin is almost entirely swathed in tissue to ensure it remains utterly virginal before meeting its suitor.
My test driver, a young Italian by the name of Pierluigi Veronesi, drives the new cars between 12 and 20 miles before they're sent off to buyers who might live anywhere from Abu Dhabi to Shanghai to Beverly Hills.
Veronesi, wearing tortoiseshell Persol sunglasses, tells me he's looking out for 200 potential irregularities: Air leaks, warning lights, rough shifts, driving-mode settings that don't engage properly - the list goes on. He carries a small digital voice recorder to log any observations as he maneuvers narrow rural roads with the quiet confidence of a seasoned racer - which he is.
As our Italian supercar downshifts, lurches forward and parts the thick country air, it comes full circle from the conceptual sketches and terabytes of theoretical CAD files, and one step closer to fulfilling the automotive fantasy of another lucky Lamborghini owner.
Above: Naturally occurring defects are marked on leather hides using a wax pencil, before a computer scans the markings and determines the most efficient way to cut the leather into pattern shapes for seats and interior upholstery trim.
Preparing the interior.
Every Lamborghini engine is assembled in Sant'Agata Bolognese, including this Aventador V-12 powerplant. Photos: Basem Wasef
Each Lamborghini engine is bench-tested before it's installed into a vehicle and dynamometer tested, as seen here. The dyno checks braking systems, stability control, and brakes at simulated wheel speeds up to 90 mph.
A factory worker assembles a Gallardo Spyder. Photo: Basem Wasef
An Aventador rolls down the assembly line, its body clad in a protective plastic shells in order to avoid paint scuffs. Photo: Basem Wasef
A suspension assembly is put together by hand; Lamborghini relies on few robots at their factory.
Ergonomic strain on assembly line workers is reduced by maneuvering chassis on massive rotisseries.
Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4s roll down the assembly line, their bodies clad in protective plastic sleeves in order to prevent accidental scratching. The car spends about two hours at each assembly station. Photo: Basem Wasef
Installing a rear grille, which aids in venting heat from the engine, on an Aventador.
The wheel well of a matte-black Aventador is scrutinized by a worker as part of the final inspection process. Photo: Basem Wasef
Every Lamborghini is subjected to a road test at the hands of a professional driver. Photo: Basem Wasef
Everything is wrapped in protective tissue and plastic before the test drive. The last thing the driver wants to do is mar someone's new toy before it even leaves the factory. Photo: Basem Wasef
The finished product, out in the wild.
This story originally appeared on Wired.com's Autopia on Aug. 4, 2011, and was republished with permission.
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