Jet Taxi
The cabbies can't stop talking about it, but that's not a result of the familiar hue. Nope, the allure of the Lamborghini Gallardo is all about the 500 horses revving under the hood.
By John Tayman

(Business 2.0) – Should you want to parse the particulars of owning a Lamborghini, you'd need numbers rather than words. To wit: The average Lambo buyer--and there are 500 of them each year--has assets exceeding $12 million and annual income topping $2 million, owns a multigarage home within 90 minutes of an urban area in California, Florida, or New York, has 46 chromosomes including a Y, is 24 inches taller than the car he is about to buy, is in his 40s, has owned at least one Lamborghini, and in all probability lives in the zip code 90210. Which is how I found myself flying to Beverly Hills recently to test-drive a $175,000 Lamborghini Gallardo, also known as the company's entry-level vehicle. Its other model, called the Murcielago, costs $275K.

A Yellow cab dropped me at the door of the dealership, where my yellow Gallardo awaited. (For what it's worth, the Lamborghini was a slightly nicer shade, shimmery with a pearl-like undertone.) On the marble showroom floor, Lamborghinis shared space with Bentleys and Rolls-Royces; soft music wafted through the air, and a buffet of muffins and croissants and fresh orange juice had been laid, arranged around vases of cut flowers. As I waited, the manager completed a piece of delicate financing--a customer had only $100,000 for a down payment and hoped his creaky credit could cover the rest--then tossed me some keys and nodded toward the lot, where the Gallardo was being gussied up for its moment in the sun.

The first few glimpses of the car are deceiving. From 50 feet away, it looks impossibly low and long. Move nearer and you see that the Gallardo is in fact quite small--shorter than a Jetta or even a Porsche 911. Its blunt geometry is softened only by a sloping roofline, which flows forward and then suddenly falls, culminating in a sinister snout.

Legend has it that Ferruccio Lamborghini, who got rich scavenging engines from post-WWII army surplus and plunking them into tractors, began building supercars in 1963 mainly to spite his countryman Enzo Ferrari, whom he apparently detested. And indeed, Lamborghini's brutal designs can be read as a vehicular F-U to the sleeker Ferraris. As a business model, however, animus rarely succeeds. By the 1980s the company was in dire straits, and in 1994 it passed into the hands of an anonymous Indonesian concern called--ahem--Megatech. Rescued in 1998 by Volkswagen, the company was placed in the capable care of Audi; in 2002 a reborn Lamborghini released its new flagship, the V-12 Murcielago. Then, late last year, the Gallardo arrived. Like all Lamborghinis, the Gallardo is named for a type of bull.

As with most exotics, the mechanics of Lamborghini ownership can be challenging. I watched several well-heeled gentlemen of a certain age blunder their backsides into their Lambos as if descending into a too-low recliner. Perhaps a better method is to treat this bull like a horse: Grab the roof, throw a leg inside, swing aboard. Once safely settled, feel free to look around. Yes, those are Audi components in the dash, including the same audio and dual-zone climate control system as in the $35,000 A4. (Of course, the systems work brilliantly, so who's complaining.) Oversight by Audi lends the interior a certain competence--the Gallardo has coat hooks, amazingly enough--but, in general, personal comfort is not the highest priority. The seats are adequately padded and formed, the leather and suede finishes appealingly tactile, the visibility lousy, and the cockpit verydamntight.

No one buys a Lamborghini because it's comfy, however. The primary selling point lies beyond the cockpit, in the form of a 500-horsepower V-10 engine that can take the vehicle to 192 miles per hour more quickly than you need it to, and a suspension that can straighten whatever curve you put in its path. Much of this potential is wasted in traffic-girded Los Angeles, of course. But even so, there remains for the buyer his Gallardo's enormous aesthetic appeal. The car is cut like postmodern sculpture, and it gleams like Japanese manga (the three most popular colors being fluorescent lime green, soda-pop orange, and not-quite-taxicab yellow). Twist the key and the engine thunders musically. Once I got it playing, I tapped the hydraulic suspension, which allowed the low-hanging nose to clear the minuscule curb, and rolled into the streets of Beverly Hills. At almost every light, someone hurried to snap a cell-phone image of the car.

After a quick tour of the appropriate places--Rodeo Drive, the Beverly Hills Hotel, In-N-Out Burger--I made for the Pacific Coast Highway, intending to head north toward Malibu. This required jumping on the freeway for a moment, which required navigating an on-ramp, which required (naturally) that I click off the Gallardo's traction control, switch the six-speed sequential gearbox to sport mode, whomp the pedal, and hold on. The ramp ran upward for a quarter-mile, and the tires spun through first gear before the all-wheel-drive bit. As the engine passed 7,000 rpm, its timbre changed to howl, the speedometer cleared 100, and suddenly I was on the Santa Monica Freeway, which opened for a moment and then slammed shut, with barely enough time to stand on the brakes. It took 25 minutes to go the next two miles.

Six hours later I eased the Gallardo back into the dealer's lot. During that time, I had learned several things. A zip up Malibu Canyon Drive showed that the car is perfectly balanced, with beautiful road-feel. A tour down the PCH proved that potholes don't faze the Gallardo. I discovered that I could break the speed limit in first gear, that to attempt reverse in the thing is folly, and that taxi drivers really, really love this car. When my cabbie dropped me at LAX to catch my flight home, he kept yammering on about the Lambo, musing about what it must be like to mash the gas. Sadly, the best answer came to me only later, as the 737 thundered toward liftoff: It felt like this.