Lamborghinis and more wet dreams on wheels

Lamborghinis and more wet dreams on wheels
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First Published: Sat, Aug 08 2009. 01 15 AM IST

Beauty: A Maserati at Auto Shanghai 2009. AFP
Beauty: A Maserati at Auto Shanghai 2009. AFP
Updated: Wed, Aug 12 2009. 01 42 PM IST
I was waiting till I got behind the wheels of a Maserati GranTurismo before writing a car column. But a reader who read my discourse (or diatribe, depending on your point of view) on watches suggested that I write about a topic that can charitably be called my wet dream: fast cars.
Beauty: A Maserati at Auto Shanghai 2009. AFP
For the record, I have never driven a Lamborghini or Maserati, the two brands that I care about. I have driven tamer models: Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and other European and Japanese brands. James Bond notwithstanding, I don’t like BMWs. They have become too common. Every MBA wants a Beemer with his first bonus. Mercedes are for old ladies and nouveau riche Indians. Both brands are aspirational, which is a death knell for those who aspire to be cool without trying too hard. Ergo, I don’t mind being caught dead in a Merc or Beamer, but I will never own one.
The problem with these heavy European sedans, such as the aforementioned two brands and others like Audi (excluding the Saab 900), is that they attempt an inherent contradiction: cossetting interiors with a coruscating engine. Doesn’t work. You might as well give it all up and drive a Volvo or a mini-van, like I do. In fast cars, as with love, you have to choose one or the other. Do you want danger and speed or comfort and engineering? The twain can never meet; and indeed, they shouldn’t. The Maserati Quattroporte comes close to marrying speed with comfort, but even hard-core Maserati enthusiasts will agree that the Quattroporte doesn’t have the elan of the two-door models.
So I have a plan. For my next milestone birthday, I plan to rent a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder and gun it down the German autobahn. It costs €1,000 (around Rs69,000) a day to rent, but I am pretty confident that I will have won the lottery by then. So I’ve bought road maps and charted itineraries. I will start in Stuttgart, make a wide upward circle to Strasbourg, one of the prettiest French towns. Then I will drive down through the Black Forest region, drinking local microbrewed beers along the way. Stop a night and take in a spa treatment at Baden-Baden. From then, it is a straight drive all the way down to Geneva or Basel for dinner the following day.
Germany has given the world many things, which I broadly break down into cars, composers and philosophers. Think about it. Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schumann, Wagner—all German. As were Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche and Marx. My favourite German is Walter Gropius, who gave the world the Bauhaus style; and Steffi Graf, the tennis superstar with a normal after-tennis life.
With respect to cars, I have a slightly different take on German supremacy. Although I love meticulous German cars, there is not a single brand that I salivate over. The Porsche and the Volkswagen fall into my list of desirable cars but only grudgingly and only in the last quartile.
I like the Italians—Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bandini and the Lancia LC1. The pleasure of a racing car comes not from exact engineering, although these are essential for driver survival. Race cars are all about power: the gravid rumbling of the engines before the neck-breaking surge forward; going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds; achieving optimum speeds that can seem like rocket take-offs into another galaxy. And that sound: the ululating scream of a raw seething machine. Not to mention the superb responsiveness of every control. You touch the accelerator and the car dances. Like a bull in a ring; like a wild horse galloping through the plains of Tibet; like an Argentinean lass dancing the tango; like a Stradivarius in Stravinsky’s hands—and yes, I know Stravinsky was a pianist-composer but you get my drift, right? The pleasures of a racing car, however, are very different from listening to music, however wonderful. One is about adrenalin, the other about oxytocin. One is all about testosterone, the other about estrogen. Both are about peak levels of performance.
I am an environmentalist but with respect to sports cars, I was of the view that it would be a shame to mix genres. Hybrids are all very well but they can rarely, if ever, equal the thrust that petrol gives. Plus, batteries don’t roar and part of the high that comes from driving a Ferrari down Highway 1 in California is the violent thrum?of the engine;?the sheer noise power that causes heads to turn and jaws to drop. For auto enthusiasts, the vroom-vroom when the loudspeaker booms, “Gentlemen, start your engines”, is as much a part of the Formula One racing experience as the grind of eight cylinders. We may marginally care that the machine has a torque of 490 Nm at 4,750 rpm. We vaguely comprehend the overhead camshafts, hydraulic tappets, wet sump engines and continuous phase variators that thrive on low pressure. But when it comes right down to it, racing cars for the average driver are about two things and two things only: the vroom of the engine and the accelerator’s responsiveness.
Until now, I thought that those of us who loved spewing petrol fumes from cars were doomed only to the Lexus hybrid or the Toyota Prius when it comes to sustainability—nice enough cars, but totally not sexy. The car that gives me hope is the Velozzi Supercar. Powered by an electric motor, this beauty can go from 0 to 60 in—get this—3 seconds. The company is based in California and so it would be the perfect model to rent or buy for that drive from San Francisco to Big Sur.
As for me, I cannot say that my Mahindra Scorpio handles like a race car but I do my best to drive it as one.
Among Grand Prix drivers, Shoba Narayan admires Lella Lombardi and Ayrton Senna. Juan Manuel Fangio ain’t bad either. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Aug 08 2009. 01 15 AM IST