km : Hindsight

Lamborghini Diablo VT 6.0 SE

Each generation of top-dog Lamborghini has left its legacy, a lasting timestamp for each new round of youthful car geeks. If you grew up in the 1980s, you will no doubt reference the Countach poster on your bedroom wall. Kids of the ‘90s — my people — will remember racing the Diablo to its then incomprehensible top speed of 202 mph in the original Need for Speed video games. And now it’s almost time for the Murcielago to ride off into that sunset; who knows, maybe today’s kids will remember the late-run LP670-4. With production of the Murcielago winding down soon we decided to take a look back on the model that bridges the gap between the last two generations, the Diablo VT 6.0 SE.

The VT 6.0 SE not only marked the end of the line for the Diablo, it represented the beginning of a new era as well. Owned by Chrysler in the late Eighties and early Nineties, then sold to the son of Indonesia’s president after that, Lamborghini was changing hands far more often than it was designing new models. Audi bought the company in 1998 and seems intent on long-term ownership rather than dumping the brand back on shaky ground. Meanwhile, in an odd reversal of fortunes, Chrysler itself is owned by Italians; but I digress. Knowing that a successor to the Diablo would take time to develop, Audi put its design staff — the first time in decades someone not named Marcello Gandini would shape a Lamborghini — to work updating the car for a few more years of service. The pop-up headlights were eliminated, a few new cuts and twists were added, and before long the Diablo was new again, with the VT 6.0 SE sending pretty clear signals which way Audi would take the future models. lambo-se-1.jpg

The first two characters in the final Diablo’s name are perhaps the most significant, standing for Viscous Traction. In Lambo-nese, that means a viscous-coupling all-wheel-drive system, a hallmark of the new parent company best known for giving the world quattro. The “6.0” signifies that Audi’s engineers reworked the old Diablo’s V12 from 5.7 to 6.0 liters, and along the way updated programming, reworked variable valve timing, and introduced cutting-edge materials like titanium and magnesium into various engine components. Power rose from 530 hp (the earliest Diablos possessed just 480 horses) to 550, raising the top speed to 205 mph and dropping the claimed 0-60 mph time below four seconds. The SE signified Special Edition status as the final run. Audi’s take on the Diablo was instantly recognized as the pinnacle of road-going versions of the model.

Revealed at the Geneva show in 2001, the Special Edition cars were to be the last of the Diablos to leave Sant’Agata before the company’s first entirely new model under its engineering-focused new owners, the Murcielago, began production. Forty cars were built — making them the rarest of the Diablos — split evenly between two colors. Oro Elios, a gold metallic, was meant to symbolize a sunrise, while a Marrone Eklipsis, a brown metallic, was inspired by sunset. Both, it seems, were inspired by marketing, while a gorgeous dark chocolate brown leather interior just screamed “Audi.” The gearshift and instrument cluster rings were made of titanium, a connection to the high-tech materials that had just found their way into the engine bay. lambo-se-2.jpg

That bay itself was finished in unpainted carbon fiber, a stunning display of the material that makes up much of the Diablo SE’s body. Atop the engine sat twin sets of magnesium intake manifolds and valve covers that look so cool they make us wonder how designers didn’t see the need to use a see-through engine cover. At the rear, the printed cylinder firing order had so many numbers the list is longer than the phrase “valve timing management.”

There was also bare carbon fiber along the bottom of the body, inside the door sills, and over a good portion of the interior, where small, poorly applied screws offered proof that Audi hadn’t yet eliminated Lamborghini’s classic poor Italian build quality. For the SE, the carbon fiber was woven with bits of titanium for an interesting metallic shimmer when the light was just right. Appreciating every detail of this car is something that takes time and a keen eye.

The Oro Elios-colored example you see here, one of just ten in the country, was bought new by the current owner and has seen just 6000 miles on the original tires since. The paint color seems almost subtle in some pictures, but once a dash of sunlight hits the metallic flakes, it’s as loud as any stereotype about all things Italian might suggest. We understand the sunrise reference now, because once this paint comes over the figurative horizon, one shouldn’t look directly at it. lambo-se-3.jpg

The craziest thing about the Diablo is its proportions, and the special color seems to exaggerate them. It is four inches wider than a new BMW 7-series. Its low stance makes it look even wider, and its stubby front and sharp-sloping greenhouse focus the eye on the rear fenders; the car looks to be all engine, with a driver’s seat squeezed in out of necessity. The taillights appear to sit higher than the driver’s head. It looks like a normal sports car might, if seen through a funhouse mirror.

Each of the two scissor doors swings up to reveal the rich brown leather and carbon-weave cabin, which doesn’t look as dated as it probably should. Sure, the shape of the dash is bulbous, as most were in the 1990s, but the layout is straightforward and upscale. It isn’t much of a step back from the Murcielago, though neither is as modern as the more Audi-inspired Gallardo. The seats are comfortable but require a sort of fainting motion to fall into, considering their bottoms sit just inches from the ground and behind a large sill.

Fury is what we expect when the engine cranks over, but we don’t get it. A roaring tiger at full tilt, the big V12 is more of a purring housecat at idle or anything under 3000 rpms or so. While the motor warms up for the first few minutes, the management computers systematically shut down each cylinder, one at a time, to check for faults. The process announces itself with a rhythmic change in exhaust note, along with a puff of smoke each time a cylinder kicks back on. It’s odd to watch, but at the same time highly exotic and intriguing. lambo-se-4.jpg

Somewhere beneath the carbon bodywork and tube chassis, the SE’s gearing is a touch shorter than any other Diablo VT 6.0, so it launches harder than any of its predecessors and hits 60 mph in closer to 3.5 seconds than 4.0. Behind the revolver-look wheels, the Diablo’s Brembo brake calipers wear a Lamborghini logo instead of the brake company’s, also a feature unique to the SE. Regardless of the paint job, they bite down with serious, tongue-against-the-teeth force.

A lot about the Diablo feels similar to the car that replaced it, but engine noise is not among those things. Its engineers wanted to make it a livable supercar, and in everything except suspension travel it succeeds in that. But the engine, as a result, it too subdued for a raging bull. The good sounds don’t happen until higher in the rev range, and when first gear hits 70 mph, it’s tough to thoroughly explore the V12’s sonorous side. As a result, the sound is all mechanical and unfortunately trucklike. In a barking match with a Murcielago, the Diablo wouldn’t stand a chance. It makes us happy that Lamborghini’s new owners have delivered a serious infusion of emotion in the time since. lambo-se-5.jpg

Among the kilometer staff we have a pretty even mix of the Countach-on-the-wall guys and Need For Speed Diablo guys. The Countach-era enthusiasts among us who’ve met that legend first-hand will admit that it’s entirely disappointing as a true car. This writer is of the younger group though, and meeting a legend like the Diablo was a special moment. It has the speed, the wild proportions, and a wonderful coach-built sort of feel that is rare these days. But as a road-killing machine, there’s no denying that its replacement is angrier, more psychotic, and absolutely bursting with emotion.

In a decade or so when we’ll no doubt have a new young writer reminiscing about Murcielagos on the ol’ YouTube, it’s hard to predict what he’ll say about how his childhood icon compares to its replacement, which should show up in 2012 and is rumored to be named “Jota.” Between Countach and Diablo, Lamborghini added drivability and power. Between Diablo and Murcielago, the story was emotion and proportion. Going forward, we think it’s time for serious interior improvement, with a banishment of complicated aftermarket stereo head units and rock-hard, misaligned seats. Some added lightness would be good as well, and of course, more power. Always more power.

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