Fifty miles north lay the boundaries to Death Valley National Park and some of the most desolate country on Earth. It's here at last that we finally get to stretch the car's legs as Ferruccio Lamborghini would have wanted. I wish I could say it's my own secret driving spot, but the word's been out for quite a long time. Most major car manufacturers come here annually to test their new vehicles against some of the most brutal hot-weather conditions in the world.De-badged and fabric-shrouded automobiles of all sizes and shapes-not to mention spy photographers-are not an unusual sight in warmer weather, but in mid-December we've pretty much got the run of the place.
According to Lamborghini, the LP640 can reach 62 mph in just 3.4 seconds, four-tenths faster than the previous model. That feels just about right, and there aren't many cars that will get there quicker. Wind the V12 to 8000 rpm through all six forward gears and the car will attain a claimed top speed in the neighborhood of 205 mph. There are more expensive cars that claim to reach even loftier top ends, but for those of us who live in a happy place, 200 mph is all the fast we'll ever need.
The E-gear transmission is surprisingly docile at slow speeds, but becomes ever more urgent the further your right foot dips. At full throttle, upshifts are brutally deliberate and direct, each engagement hammering your back and sending a shockwave through your chest cavity, like piloting from the breach of a semi-automatic firearm. At full song, the Murcilago's mechanical snarl is more convincing than its little brother's comically raucous fanfare. It's the sound I reckon an ICBM reaching critical velocity might make.
Approaching triple digits, the hair-tousling breeze above the cockpit becomes a raging hurricane. With the V12 braying furiously, high-speed transit in the LP640 Roadster is not a tranquil event. But then neither is sitting in traffic, as the intakes behind your head constantly cycle to keep the high-strung powerplant cool. If needed, triangular scoops will actuate, pivoting upward to augment the breathing, depending on the engine's requirements.
Considering the impressive breadth and footprint-those are 335s wrapped around the rear wheels-grip is suitably tremendous. Permanent all-wheel drive splits power 30/70 front-to-rear by default. It will direct up to 100 percent drive to either axle in extreme situations. Beyond that, you're on your own-there are no electronic stability aids. Steering is precise and responsive, but with a wheelbase of 105 inches, the Murcilago is hardly a canyon carver; you're forever aware of its size, heft-and, of course, cost.
The Roadster has a folding soft top you must procure from the cramped front boot and assemble by hand. We couldn't figure the damn thing out, so we braved the 45-degree desert nightfall topless. You're not really supposed to use it anyway.
Parked in the middle of the road at the end of the day, the Lambo smolders in the sunset like the tip of a branding iron. We park it smack in the middle of the road for our parting beauty shots, and the road meanders, utterly devoid of traffic as far as the eye can see. Tonight, the car owns this stretch of pavement.
Interview: Stephan Winkelmann
The Smart Suit Behind LamborghiniAfter four decades, the tiny sports car maker from Sant'Agata, Bologna, has become a major player in the exotic car segment, stealing coveted market share from the likes of Ferrari in the process. During the international launch of the Lamborghini Murcilago LP640 Roadster at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Automobili Lamborghini President and CEO, Stephan Winkelmann. The charismatic exec talks of the company's recent success and how he intends to maintain steady growth without losing the prestige and exclusivity that customers expect.