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La Bella Figura
In England, we are obsessed with the class system. Our pre-occupation with our position within the society is something that ebbs and flows but never disappears.
The English preoccupation with class was perfectly demonstrated by the author Nancy Mitford’s "Noblesse Oblige" penned in 1956. She referred to “U” meaning upper-class and “non-U” as meaning non upper-class.
Some readers may argue that we are no longer obsessed with class in England. However, I would counter with elevated examples of high living such as an afternoon at Henley Regatta, a chukka at the Guard’s Polo Club or quaffing Champagne in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.
In Italy, it in not the obsession with class but “La Bella Figura”. The term is part of everyday parlance in the land of olives and sun. It means cutting a beautiful figure.
La Bella Figura means looking and acting to the best of your ability. It is about savoring fine wine, honest food, valuing your relationships with you friends and family, knowing how to behave appropriately but most of all it means understanding style.
The French often talk of the best food, haute couture and fine wine and I have certainly experienced this on the Champs Elysees and La Croisette, but is this excellence all pervading in La France? I don’t think so. However, in Italy, it is indelibly marked in the psyche of the nation. The obsession with food, wine, style and family is omnipresent.
La Bella Figura is perfectly exemplified by the waitress in the restaurant who has patiently painted her face as if she were Canaletto depicting a scene of Venice. Men do not eschew grooming, expending similar time finely honing their sartorial swagger.
A vision in white
A white Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 arrived at my home for a day of evaluation. The architecture of this supercar, bearing a badge on its bonnet depicting a gold coloured bull, could not be from any other country but Italy.
It is an amalgam of contours and lines, beautifully articulating the passion of a nation.
The design language is reminiscent of a Stealth bomber, with shapes sometimes interfacing at acute angles.
Black honeycomb shaped patterns punctuate the smooth white bodywork, breaking the lines at opportune moments. Each time judged perfectly. It is this interplay with colour and texture which provides intrigue and piques my interest. The Gallardo could never be accused of being bland or nondescript.
The originality and styling flair are not restricted merely to the exterior. Open the door and you are confronted with an automotive cabin more enticing than any occupied boudoir. Unsurpassed pleasure awaits your imminent delectation.
Italian style, with a touch of teutonic quality
Lamborghini are owned by Audi and this is no bad thing. Where some supercars have been owned by other large groups, mundane switchgear diminishes the quality feel of the interior. Not so, the Lamborghini.
I appreciated the familiarity of the Lamborghini multimedia system with similar systems I have used in the raft of Audis I have owned. This aided use and the tactility of the switchgear was excellent.
Look at the instruments and you are reminded of the Italian DNA. A trio of gauges located to the centre of the dashboard display oil pressure, oil temperature and battery charge all labelled with description in Italian.
The seats cosset the torso perfectly, holding you steadfast as you enthusiastically exploit the handling limits of this remarkable thoroughbred.
The upholstery is the softest, finest leather, detailed with contrasting grey stitching arranged in a diamond-like pattern. This is repeated on the doors and also on the headlining.
The instrumentation, switches and controls are all perfectly located with due reverence to ergonomics.
Turn the key
As you start the car, the engine bursts into life. A 5.2 litre, V10 powerplant, it has Italian intensity coursing through its cylindrical veins.
After a few seconds, the roar of the start-up subsides to a tempered chat. Pulling away, the car has a slightly restrained almost sterile note, no loud intrusive broadcast but a wise whisper in the corner of the room.
Open the throttle and at approximately 4000 r.p.m the character of the car changes. Angelic tones disappear and the engine has a foreboding timbre synonymous with Dante’s Inferno.
Immediately your senses are heightened, your eyes dart around with excitement and your heart rate increases in series with the sweeping hand of the rev counter.
If you do not succumb to the naughty nature of this car, then bypass go and head for the mortuary. The rationale of this car is to remind the driver they are alive and la dolce vita is a paradigm to be embraced.
I immediately fell for its charms.
Drive the car on a twisty lane and the maneouverability mesmerises. Newton’s laws do not seem to apply to this car.
The combination of four wheel drive, Pirelli shod wheels, hi-tech suspension all collaborate to take the car around bends with millimetric accuracy.
I never felt intimated by the car, because the surefooted nature of the Gallardo always reminded me that I was superficially touching its talents and there was untapped reserves of ability which my lack of skill would prevent me exploiting fully.
The automated e-gear transmission provides rapid selection of different gear ratios. The gear paddles are located on steering column not the steering wheel.
I found by having the controls on the steering column, you always knew where the paddles were irrespective of the angle of the steering wheel. It sounds a small detail, but enthusiastic dialogue with serpentine bends showed this to be a significant benefit.
With 560 PS, 0-100 km/h in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 325 km/h, the Gallardo is probably the highest performance car I have ever driven. But, once the revs subsided after the initial start-up of the engine, I soon became at ease with its persona.
Despite its foreboding performance figures, it does not overawe. It has a depth of abilities which surpasses the talents of all but the most accomplished professional pilots.
It is the embodiment of latin passionata fused with teutonic quality.
La Bella Figura? This is a question asked by Italians as they dissect food, wine, music, fashion and many will argue whether the Gallardo typifies La Bella Figura or not.
Some will argue Lamborghini has put its best foot forward, a pre-requisite for membership of this Italian clique. On the otherhand, some may counter that it is too expensive to be La Bella Figura and that it does not conform the maxim “less is more”.
I am not Italian and would suggest I lack the skill to clearly define whether the Lamborghini Gallardo LP-560-4 is la bella figura. One thing I do know, it has a beautiful figure, it conveys style in abundance and conducts itself perfectly.