It's a little disquieting to think there are people out there in the community at large who feel that the 6.2-liter Lamborghini Murciélago is a little under-endowed with a mere 570 horsepower at its disposal. Still, it's a fact that upstarts like the Koenigsegg CC8S can deliver more punch, not to mention hypercars like the Porsche Carrera GT, the Ferrari Enzo and the outlandish Bugatti Veyron. Lamborghini, once the exemplar of automotive extremity, found its flagship out-muscled by some prêt-a-porter Mercedes-Benz models. Corrective action was required and the 640-hp 2006 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 is the result.
Don't bother fronting up at a Lamborghini dealer with a billfold the size of a wrestler's neck. Every LP640 produced has already been snapped up, but Sant'Agata didn't invest millions in a car that would only be enjoyed by a privileged few. Virtually every aspect of this car will filter down into the 2007 model-year Murciélago. The 6.5-liter V12, the carbon-ceramic brakes and the Enzo-humbling acceleration courtesy of Lamborghini's "Thrust" launch control will make next year's Murci that rarest of things — a supercar bargain.
Symphony for the devil Figuring that it would represent a slightly easier baptism on Tuscany's Mugello race circuit, I opted for an LP640 with the six-speed e-gear sequential manual (paddle-shift) transmission. One of Lamborghini's senior suits reckoned only around 30 percent of customers opted for e-gear, a figure no doubt helped by the system's reputed appetite for clutch plates. Stephen Winkelmann, president and CEO of Lamborghini, sits alongside. I ponder my place in Lamborghini folklore if I wrap the car around the Armco with Lambo's head as my co-pilot.
The Murciélago's trucklike amble at low revs gives little clue as to the apocalyptic power delivery that awaits. Snick 3rd with a small lift of the long-travel accelerator and reacquaint it with the bulkhead, however, and there's a properly quick surge at 3,000 rpm, which gathers at 4,500 as the exhaust clears its throat followed by the all-wheel-drive system shuttling torque to the rear and the most magnificent feral yowl up to redline that's now pegged at 8,000 rpm. Grab for the next gear and you can feel the accelerative Gs weighting your very fingertips, the scenery exploding through the widescreen windshield. No lift this time. Winkelmann grins.
The first corner of Mugello approaches, and with a glorious brap-brap we drop two gears while giving the ceramic brakes something to consider. With substantial 15-inch-diameter discs at the front, it takes awhile to tune your braking efforts in; the first few corners seeing the Murciélago pull up with yards in hand. Getting back on the gate after trail braking brings the massive slug of V12 aluminum behind your right shoulder back to life. With no stability control system, it's down to you to keep it tidy. After two laps, I'm utterly wrung out, my eyeballs gritty, prickly heat rising up my back, and a massive surge of adrenaline leaving me a little juiced and shaky. This thing is Colonel Kurtz-made metal.
Got Götterdämmerung? The Audi influence is never that far from the latest Murciélago. Nothing falls off and the "dynamic press launch" is run with Teutonic efficiency. The days of turning up at Sant'Agata to be kept waiting for hours for a car in a nicotine-stained waiting room while apologetic secretaries mother you with endless thimblefuls of syrupy espresso are long gone. The LP640 interior is treated to quality switchgear and cowhide with lozenge-shaped stitching, and a hefty Kenwood stereo/sat-nav screen. Carbon-fiber detailing is an expensive option.
A single exhaust so large you'd need to check it for bums in the morning is the most arresting exterior change, but there are also new Hermera alloy wheels that resemble shurikens, a sharper and more Gallardo front spoiler, and taillamps that glow like incandescent biohazard signals. The flanks are now asymmetrical, with a vented slash on the right-hand side and a dark maw hiding the oil cooler on the left. Underneath, there are uprated springs, stabilizers and shocks.
One of the most difficult jobs at Lamborghini must be deciding when aspects of the cars become clichés or parodies of themselves. The scissor doors remain and the firing order of the 12 cylinders is still etched into the cam cover. Originality buys a lot of goodwill and Lamborghini gets away with features that come off as hokey when others imitate. The numbers (1-7-4-10-2-8-6-12-3-9-5-11) are now a little more prominent, housed under a clear glass engine louver.
That wrecking ball of a V12 likes to give off a traditionally agricultural vibe, but in truth it's now an unremitting tech fest. Fully 90 percent of this power plant has been revised from the cylinder head and intake system to the crankshaft, camshafts and exhaust. In uprating the 6.2-liter engine, torque and driveability were key targets for improvement, and a continuously variable timing system on both the intake and exhaust sides coupled with a drive-by-wire engine-management system softens the initial throttle tip-in, but then deals a better hand every time, the redline rising by 500 crushingly exploitable rpm.
The hot seat Fifteen laps in and the groove is forming. Mugello is no longer a staccato lunge toward the next forbidding crest and an embarrassed tiptoe over. Each corner now offers flow and possibilities to explore the 2006 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640's playful side. Get a handle on the sheer physics of this thing and the LP640 is, on occasion, fairly benign, the almost pornographic girth getting lost when the leviathan Pirelli P Zero Rossos are bested by 487 pound-feet of torque and skim into those fleeting moments of neutrality. I return to pit lane wearing a grin wide enough to swallow a wok.