When Alexander the Great viewed the breadth of his domain he wept, “for there we’re no more lands to conquer”. Hail the SVJ (the J is for Jota) and what a difference this “J” makes to the world’s best super sports car.
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It is already in a class of its own, I mean which other racing chariot is equipped with such a glorious normally aspirated V12, is mid-engined and under €500,000? Launched in 2009 with a unique and very stiff Boeing-engineered full carbon chassis, the Avantador literally takes your breath away as the single plate clutch snaps your head into the fine Schedoni leather seat with a ferocity known only in fighter planes and high G theme park rides. It has the confidence-inspiring security of four-wheel drive and a benign set up that favours understeer and allows the majority of owners (rather than professional test drivers on race tracks) to enjoy their cars without fear of ending an amateur Sunday rally down a cliff face in the Malibu canyons. I’ve driven all the Avantador models over the years and it’s still one of my all-time favourites. The SVJ also attains the status of “King of the ring”, posting an impressive lap of 6:44.97 - almost a full minute faster than the original 2011 model. A bit of a late bloomer you might say.
The SVJ takes performance to new dimensions, utilising the sister V10 cars ALA aero technology that allows road drivers to benefit from a relatively simple application of advanced aerodynamic technology. The fabulous E35 highway to Florence took a “Panoramica” mountain tour up towards the famous Futa Pass. The trucks and caravans were going in the other direction, so this left us with a beautiful, smooth two lane highway which could be best described as God’s own highway (we are only 250 miles from the Vatican in Roma after all). Especially if you’re riding one of devil’s finest creations.
Last year, I discovered how good the ALA worked on the Performante. Stunning was the answer. So, repeating the same drive in the same conditions with two more cylinders and 100 times more horse power was a professional responsibility I needed to complete.
I can’t fully explain how quickly I was taking the corners. Firstly, there is no point of reference as my friend following me in a “normal” Huracan just disappeared in my mirrors within a few upshifts (well actually, it was the side mirror as the rear wing ALA combo inlet totally obstructs the rear view mirror and should be replaced with a rear facing camera like Cadiliac fits). Secondly, I was engaged with judging fast approaching apex’s, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the instruments. “Fly the plane” they instil into every pilot, “don’t bury your head in the cockpit” – all lifesaving advice when piloting an airplane and also when flying on the ground in the SVJ. I found the best set up in the “Ego” mode - Lamborghini’s custom setting for selecting powertrain, steering and suspension. I prefer a less weighted steering feel and a ‘softer’ suspension - it’s all relative here, suspension that also absorbs the plentiful bumps without redirecting the car off the road, and powertrain set to corsa mode.
Exiting the motorway to continue the climb towards the FUTA pass, I had time to rest and reflect on the last 20 minutes of maximum adrenaline. It felt like one of those F1 refuelling hoses had been attached to the top of my neck and an additional adrenal pump turned on. I’m fairly convinced that this is one of the healthiest forms of heart exercise in the world (unless, of course, you over cook it at more than 120mph on a corner).
Meeting up with the Huracan at the gas station exit, we sprinted up the mountain B roads of the SP 59, which are mostly tight second and third gear sprints between a treelined ribbon of degraded Italian asphalt. We were blessed with only few trucks, of which there are many plaguing the roads in Italy and are always a concern when entering blind corners at any speed. We head down the hill past the German war grave memorial where over 30,000 are buried, the Futa Pass forming part of the strategic Gothic line during WW2, and into the famous roundabout near the Albergo restaurant, which has been feeding weary road travellers on horse and cart, bike or Lamborghini since 1890. I’d emailed the owner’s son Claudio, a 5th
generation restaurateur, to alert him that we were returning for our annual dose of high carb pasta and high octane expresso. But after receiving no reply, I shouldn’t’ have been surprised to find the joint uncharacteristically shut for the day. Not too perturbed, we continued our assault until we reached another spectacular low-key biker and car guy pit stop, namely Chalet Raticosa, about 10 miles down the pass. Fortunately, they too had pasta and whilst the three raging bulls rested for an hour, hot exhausts ticking away in the slightly cooler mountain air, we obliged with plenty of mama’s homemade delights.
Filled up and ready to continue the convoy, we were missing my father and his rather svelte Ferrari 458 Pista, which not too uncharacteristically had gone missing in action for most of the day. He’d been hold up at the church square entertaining locals in a town called Vado. So, operation Vado it was. Once we navigated, with some difficulty, down the narrow mountain lanes and found a much needed gas station, (don’t ask me about the fuel consumption), I turned off the annoying auto start feature, because if you’re driving a 759 BHP 6.5 litre V12 that revs to the heavens, you want instant engine response. And if you are also concerned about the environment (and why not?) then you should allocate a part of your toy budget to planting a suitably sized forest in Brazil and not worry yourself if it’s 10 mgp or 12 mpg, as it rather defeats the purpose.
All the while, up and down the mountain, the SVJ took it all in its considerable stride. It is a wide car for sure, but personally I don’t find it intimidating at all. In fact, I find that the car shrinks around you and is aided by world class turn-in, excellent weighted steering (Ferrari has gone with ultra-light steering on all models and I don’t like it), secure consistent ride and responses, plus advanced electronics and driver aids that are there to help but don’t interrupt the fun.
As the convoy pulled into Vada the town came alive. It seemed that word had gotten out, helped in no small part by the sparling red 488 displayed prominently at the only church in town. School was out too and there isn’t a more genuine car test than Italian school children.
With the finest from Sant’ Agata and Maranello on display, coupe and convertible V8, V10, V12, it soon became clear which exotic had the longest line and most selfies. Even after eight years, the Avantador still thrilled boys and girls young and old. It was still a challenge to remove the car after an hour of adoration from the drooling circle of children. With the happy families of Vado waving excitedly in the mirror as the sonorous horses ricocheted off their red brick houses and I snapped into second with the rev counter in the red zone, I couldn’t wipe the broad grin off my face… a happy day with happy people and a happy car that inspires all who come into contact.
After a superb day’s driving, I pulled into the factory gates and my thoughts wondered into the workshops in front of me. The next Avantador will be with us soon enough, I thought, and it will leap into the 22nd
century with a hybrid V12 (still thankfully normally aspirated) but with additional battery power to push it near 1,000bhp. I have no doubt that under the current management it will be both visually and technically brilliant. But it will take the V12 cars into another league - even further away from the ‘good old’ analogue days. If only they made a manual SVJ – wow what a treat that would be. Pulling into my assigned parking spot, I couldn’t help but notice my new drive waiting for its run home over the Tuscan countryside to the extraordinary Opera 02. I was ready for my Urus.
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