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So, Ben, are those wheels hot or what?

June 06, 2007|Dan Neil | Times Staff Writer

The 2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640 Roadster goes right past Ridiculous, ignores the exit for Silly, and blows by the "Turn Here for Stupid" sign at 205 mph before finally taking the offramp -- in a screaming, smoking, three-digit, four-wheel drift of the I-see-Vishnu variety -- for Crazy.

Snake-belly low and reverse-cowgirl sexy, this car -- the chop-top version of the not-altogether-understated Murcielago Coupe -- is the most heinously irresponsible, developmentally arrested, awesomely cool sports car the world has ever known. This $405,000 hypercar is, in short, a great big booger flicked in the face of respectability.

The trouble is, I'm too old, too wise and too attached to my driver's license to really appreciate this car in all its 640-horsepower, 0-to-60-in-first-gear glory. I need someone utterly smitten with the gall of the thing, someone unacquainted with the misery of city traffic in a nose-scraping Italian exotic. Someone for whom the Lambo is a treasured dream, not a nightmare date.

That brings me to Ben Gallinson. Ben is an eighth-grader at Palms Middle School, which is a gifted/high ability magnet school near Culver City. Ben, clearly, is in the right place. He wrote to me in March -- an actual letter, no less -- for help on his English class project about the history and development of car design. Would I sit for an interview? Sure, kid, whatever.

Well, time passed, and we had trouble getting together. I felt bad about it, so one day -- when I had the stupendous Creamsicle-orange Lambo -- I thought it would be fun to drive by his house. I recruited his mother's help to surprise him.

Out Ben came, wearing baggy basketball shorts, a Yosemite T-shirt and the awed expression of a teenager who has just met his first Lambo. Ben, usually quite articulate, was reduced to, "Aww man!"

You know, it's easy to forget in my job how unspeakably dope a pair of scissor doors are, but with Ben there I saw the Lambo all over again for the first time. These cars really are majestic creatures, the only sincere embrace of European futurism in current car design. And audacious. The rear tires are over 13 inches wide; the front carbon-ceramic brakes are nearly 15 inches in diameter. The detailing is exquisite, from the carbon-fiber binnacle over the instruments to the beveled-glass edge on the side windows, worthy of Baccarat. In our test car, the orange stitching matched the seat insets, which matched the exterior paint. And when the ferocious 6.5-liter V12 gets hot, the car's radiator cooling ducts rise out of the bodywork with robotic malevolence, like a stealth fighter deploying its armaments.

All of this Ben took in with various expressions of manic glee. Wanna go for a ride?

Ben strapped in, fumbling to find the inboard-mounted seat belts that I had become accustomed to, and we took off with his mother snapping pictures behind us. In a couple of blocks, I found a spot to punch the throttle. The four wheels tensed as the thrust of 478 pound-feet of torque came online. The car stuffed us back in the seat with a violent lunge and the engine emitted a great whacking snarl to make the angels weep.

I pulled the e-gear lever for second at 8,000 rpm. BANG! The car lit up the afterburners. Ben and I both laughed.

Nice car. Nice kid.

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