The problem with writing a column with the working title 'the problem with Lamborghini' just before a major motor show is that it doesn't account for the possibility that Lamborghini might unveil its best concept car since the Miura. But even post-Asterion unveil, I think Lamborghini has regressed into being a caricature of what it thinks the world wants it to be.
The genius of Lamborghinis in the past was that they justified the pornographic styling by being brilliant to drive – well, post Miura. But the Miura gets away with being a bit rubbish to drive because it's a stunner and it has a transverse V12. An idea so bat-shit it deserves the Nobel for just existing.
But the Countach is truly amazing. People forget that Walter Wolf got hold of that thing and made it a proper drivers' car. Mate of mine you might know called Harry Metcalfe has a four-valve version and it still feels fast enough to scare the crap out an unsuspecting passenger. But it kind of stops and the steering is pretty delicious at speed. Anything that looks like it should deliver the ultimate driving experience and then gets very, very close is a hero car.
I've had my problems with the boys and girls in Maranello over the years, but the cars have been spectacularly good for a very long time now.
And in period, a late Countach QV would laugh at a Testarossa. Because the Testarossa claimed to have 390hp, which was way down on the Countach's 455hp, but might have just about been enough pant-bulge to bring to the 1987 generic supercar shootout – if indeed those 390 horses were actually in attendance. Sadly, unless you were in dense fog by the ocean on an especially chilly morning, a Testarossa has never ran three ninety. It had more like three seventy. Or sixty.
These were the bad days of Ferrari. And I know this is supposed to be about Lamborghini, but bear with me because I want to suggest the beginnings of a conceit that links the two Italian supercar houses as their fortunes change over time.
Il Commendatore didn't really care about Ferrari street cars, and the Testarossa epitomized that thinking. It handled like a drunk lobster and it wasn't very fast – but it looked flipping awesome. Maranello had become a styling show by the mid '80s – the cars were poorly built, dynamically shabby but people bought them because they looked good and had a decent badge. They were entirely style over substance; at a time when Lamborghinis were the opposite. So much so that when Luca De Montezemolo arrived in 1992, he was shocked at how bad the cars were. He forced changes.
Lamborghini is now the purveyor of understeer
The first all-new LDM Ferrari was the 355. It was an instant classic, and it started undoubtedly the greatest unbroken lineage of great Ferrari road cars in the company's history. I've had my problems with the boys and girls in Maranello over the years, but the cars have been spectacularly good for a very long time now.
And after the Countach, Lamborghini continued to support the outer-limits of acceptable car styling with real power figures and great driving characteristics – oh, and scissor doors. You have to have silly doors. Even when Audi got involved it gave us the 6-litre Diablo which is still one of the best supercars I've ever driven. You could argue things improved even more with the Murcielago, and the final LP 640s, with a stick and three pedals, were perhaps the definitive analogue Italian supercars.
Then came the Aventador, and with it came some trouble. It looked, and it still looks, like it landed from Mars. It's the best looking supercar of them all, I think, and that's why it sells in such obscene numbers. This proves that styling and noise are everything in supercarland – because it's not very good to drive. The Aventador is the first Lamborghi I've driven that can't support its looks with adequate dynamics.
The Gallardo pictured above never had that problem, but then the Gallardo lived too long a life. Endless special editions, facelifts and tweaks during the period that Ferrari sold the 360, the 430 and the 458. Watching the Gallardo go all Gandalf made me think Lamborghini was in trouble; driving the Aventador on a track confirmed it. After three laps the brakes caught fire. But that didn't really matter because the understeer was contaminating the driving experience so much that I wanted to stop anyway. Only I couldn't because the brakes were shagged.
Then I drove another Aventador, and it understeered less, but its brakes were still combustible. And this worried me because there's only one thing worse than a car shaped like a spaceship that doesn't deliver the goods, and that's one which appears to be inconsistent from example to example. So I phoned mates who do the same as me for a living and they all said, yep, they'd never driven two Aventadors that handled the same. That's not a good thing.
Until then, Lamborghinis are the perfect cars for people who can't drive and want to be seen.
How many photos have you seen of the new Huracan fully-sideways? Of course that's a puerile way of assessing a car's dynamic attributes, but find me those images. They don't exist because Lamborghini is now the purveyor of understeer. They haven't let me drive one yet and this column probably won't alter that situation, but everyone I speak to whose opinion I trust says it just pushes. Lamborghinis should not push. And some honcho from Sant Agata was quoted on the launch event boasting about how the most impressive aspect of the new Huracan was it being easy to drive for the Chinese market.
And that statement is the one that links back to the mess Ferrari was in in the late 80s – Lamborghini has lost the plot. It has become the purveyor of jewelry. Its cars exist to be seen and heard; not driven. Style has superseded substance. Their natural habitat has now been reduced to revving when stationary on the King's Road in London – not Imola or the Futa pass or Valentino Balbone scorching the back- pistas of Modena, but with some mindless billionaire's offspring pushing the right pedal to get himself seen on some equally mindless YouTube channel. Never has a car brand skulked so far from the origins that defined its past greatness. Typing that makes me so sad.
So I really do think Lamborghini is in trouble. Even after all these years of German ownership it doesn't sit easily within the VW Group. The Huracan will have the new Audi R8 – effectively the same car – snapping at its heels and it can't (thankfully, some might say) expand into SUVs and big sedans because that's Porsche and Bentley's role. Of course, what Lambo should be doing is making million-dollar low volume specials, but when it does that we get the Veneno, which next to the LaFerrari and friends looked like a self-build by someone harboring severe penis-envy.
Can the Asterion stop the rot? I hope so. It's a brilliant concept and were it to make production it would be the perfect antibiotic to counter the germs of understeer, if indeed they can purge the thing of generic Lambo-understeer.
If they don't build it, then I think the future is bleak, at least until someone asserts themselves in a De Montezemolo-style intervention. Until then, Lamborghinis are the perfect cars for people who can't drive and want to be seen.
Illustration by Sam Wooley