Every year before the big summer holidays, I organize at least four supercars for track time and lots of road time in northern Italy. What I end up with always depends.

I really wanted the Koenigsegg CCR, but the car was deep into testing in Sweden and they only have one CCR for guys like me. Lamborghini had already committed the one available Murcielago coupe to something criminal in Moscow, but the Roadster was there if I wanted it. (I did, and I actually prefer it to the hardtop.) Ford GTs are seemingly non-existent for use in Italy and a Saleen S7 is even moreso when there's the chance that it might be compared to other mid-rear-engine supercars. And I love the Enzo, but I wanted the MC12. Maserati got me an MC12 Stradale and not with ease, because the only available press car had been crashed in Switzerland by some Swiss loafer. Pagani is fantastic about these things and their only Zonda F prototype was there for me. Likewise, Porsche came through with a black Carrera GT without any hesitation. The Murcielago Roadster-easily one of the most beautiful Italian supercars ever created-ended up working out brilliantly since I was able to remove the roof on it and also on the Porsche (they prefer calling it a roadster top) and the Maserati (they prefer the term "spyder") to keep the Lambo from feeling lonely.

Over two perfect sun-filled days just southwest of Parma, a few colleagues and I drove these four wondercars almost 300 miles, including two hours of track time at the circuit near Varano de' Melegari.

What is art?

In this ultra-chic segment of the market, it's very difficult to find any car that isn't mostly beautiful and a spectacular driver. That's why getting these four together in particular ended up being so interesting: I was able to make comparisons between cars which on any given day by themselves I'd automatically give a 10 out of 10.

Just briefly, the MC12 Stradale has awesome power delivery and belongs on the track. The Murcielago Roadster is the most comfortable every day for the most people and can cruise through gentle curves forever. Pagani's Zonda F wins on creativity and distinction, and it favors track time over road time though it handles both well. Finally, Porsche has created the shape that seems to appeal aesthetically to the most people, especially from the side profile, and it has the greatest amount of natural balance while driving at the limit in curves.

Seen from above, the Pagani Zonda F is absolutely the sexiest, with the MC12 in second place. Pagani's hourglass shape brings to mind a young Sophia Loren. From the front, I give it to the Porsche Carrera GT whose facial proportions may be perfect. Looking at the rear ends, the MC12 and Zonda F put on an amazing show, but the Murcielago Roadster captures the ideal edgy supercar image. From the side? That's a tough choice even after spending two days in perfect weather with all of them. I guess I might make it a tie between the Porsche and Maserati.

And how often will you see any of these on your local roads anyway? The Carrera GT and Murcielago Roadster probably come closest in that regard, but there will only be 1,500 of the first one worldwide and probably just a few less of the second. (Porsche recently announced that it will only plan for 1,250 Carrera GTs due to new United States airbag rules for 2006, but they now intend to sell those remaining 250 cars in other markets.)

I prefer the Murcielago Roadster to the coupe because, without the roof, the dynamic design of the rear end becomes a focal point. However, the cloth roof assembly that is included is the worst in the car business-if you buy one, take the roof into an onion field and burn it. Maserati should have left the roof of the MC12 Stradale intact instead of allowing it to be removed to create the spyder look. This design just doesn't look right without the roof. Meantime, Porsche has managed to design the Carrera GT to look good with or without the two roof panels attached. And then with the Zonda F, Pagani ought to as soon as possible design a removable roof solution for the F similar to that on the Pagani Roadster, easily the best removable supercar top in history.

Aside from the overall design, there are individual works of art easily found on each car. On the Murcielago, the one-piece forged 13x18-inch rear wheel created by Full Metal is the finest supercar wheel in the world. If I had to pick one item on the Zonda F, it would be the wood-accented steering wheel created for Pagani by Nardi. Maserati Corse has given the MC12 Stradale the most impressive pair of long hood air intakes I've ever seen; those three ultra-thin aerodynamic runners on each intake are fascinating. On the Carrera GT, I'd single out the two spectacular large lattice-work silver screens over the engine in back. What makes each of these details more artful still is that they wouldn't look right on any of the other three cars.


2005 LAMBORGHINI MURCIELAGO ROADSTER

Last opinion:Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster

Designed by a non-Italian for German bosses, the Murcielago is still the best wedge-shaped Italian supercar design I know. And as a roadster it's even better because the beautiful rear end becomes a showpiece. Overall, I want a harder ride with less three-lettered drive technology involved. I like the all-wheel-drive idea, but now the 3,670-pound dry weight is about 400 pounds too much. Simplify the suspension engineering and lose some weight, and this could be the most perfect Italian exotic of all time. Adding power and making ceramic rotors available, as will happen with the new version for 2006, will help.

Drivetrain

Longitudinal mid-rear engine,
all-wheel-drive with TCS

Engine

6.2-liter (6,192cc) 60 V12, dohc, four valves percylinder, three modes for VVT on intake and exhaust cams

Transmission

Six-speed manual, viscous coupling to fore-aft limited-slip differentials

Suspension

Independent double wishbones;anti-roll bars; anti-dive and anti-squat; electronic shock absorbers with manual and automatic control (Koni FSD frequencyselecting dampers)

Brakes

Ventilated rotors, augmented brake booster Power Assist, ABS, EBD

Dimensions

Length x Width x Height (in.):180 x 81 x 42
Wheelbase: 105 in.
Curb Weight: 3,671 lb

Performance

Peak Power: 589 bhp@ 7500 rpm (DIN)
Peak Torque: 470 lb-ft @ 5400 rpm
0-60 mph: 3.8 sec.
0-100 mph: 9.4 sec.
0-150 mph: 21.3 sec.
Top Speed: 205 mph

Production

Location: Sant'Agata Bolognese, Italy
Run: 250 per year
Build Time: 10 work days
Base Price: $319,250

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