Our managing editor gets behind the wheel of an old-school supercar, the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster, and relives a memorable introduction to the world of high-performance motoring.

It’s been nearly sixteen years, but I remember it like it was a few weeks ago. As the new recruit to one of SA’s (then) leading motoring titles, I was given an enviable work assignment and the best/worst possible way to start my tenure there.

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Lucky bugger

When the editor handed me the invite, I thought that he was pranking the new guy. I mean, who gets offered a Lamborghini launch event on their very first day of work? The answer, it seems, was me. As it turned out, the invite was received quite late and everyone else on the team was already scheduled on other events. Well, don’t mind if I do…

Jetting off

Just seven days after starting my new job I was jetting off to Malaysia, still not quite convinced that I could be this fortunate. Those fears dissolved completely when I entered the pitlane at the Sepang International Circuit where I was greeted by a fleet of the brand-spanking new Lamborghini Murcielago LP640. Incidentally, “Murcielago” means bat in Spanish, which was a departure from the fighting bulls Lambos are usually named after.

It wasn’t my first car launch, or track experience, but this was a whooolllle other level. I’d driven a few fast/powerful cars before, but this would be my first taste of proper, mid-engined Italian exotica. And to top it off we were at an F1 circuit on which to enjoy these thoroughbreds.

Memories

All these years later, and having driven countless cars in various locations, the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 international ride and drive rates as one of my most memorable events. There are other notables, but this one is near the very top of my list for a few reasons.  

I recall being forgotten at the airport by the Lambo staff (a story for another day). I remember my ‘experienced’ co-driver fluffing many gearshifts during his laps of Sepang, even though he claimed to have some racing experience. And how can I forget watching a ‘hotshot’ Japanese journo perform multiple pirouettes heading into the outfield at T5… whoops. I especially recollect chasing one of Lamborghini’s test drivers for a few laps, and the subsequent, very slight nod of approval when we returned to the pits. This is the highest form of compliment any Italian racing driver ever dishes out – or so I am told.

I have been fortunate enough to drive many Lambos since (as recently as the Huracan Evo) but, as they say, you never forget your first. Anyway, all these memories came flooding back just a few days ago when I found myself behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster right here in SA.


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Right place, right time

I have a streak of good fortune when it comes to supercars. My very first experience of a Ferrari (458) was through the good graces of a chap I hardly knew. I was immensely lucky to get behind the wheel of an F40 in Italy (article here), thanks to a virtual stranger. And most recently I got to pilot the car pictured above. I can’t say too much about the owner, except that he is a real petrolhead and has many nice toys.

One of his treasured babies is a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster, which he admits he is unlikely to ever sell. He recently turned down a massive chunk of change for the drop-top, so I believe him. The day of our drive was a chance for him to give the slumbering beast its monthly workout, so my timing was on the money.

Read about our drive of the extremely limited MAT Stratos by clicking here.

Jaw-dropping

The Luc Donckerwolke-penned shape is arrestingly good looking even 20-odd years later. Without knowing an iota about cars you would guess this is a Lambo. The shock-and-awe of its low slung body (a fraction over 1,1 metres), extreme width (over two metres), combined with its incredible profile and long tail means it attracts masses of attention. 

We extracted the car from the owner’s home on a private estate and even in those affluent surroundings it drew more than a few passing glances, especially after the raucous start-up. That massive V12 chunters to life like an angry beast and settles into a high-rpm whirr as it warms up. There were whistles from pedestrians, dozens of cellphones cast in our direction and even some drivers who were too distracted to maintain their own trajectory.

Soaking it up

The owner has chosen to drive to ensure all is well with the car. I take the time as passenger to soak up the surroundings. It’s a cloudy day, which is ideal as the roof is rarely fitted to this car, and we aren’t being toasted by the late afternoon sun. 

As the owner brings the fluids up to temp he starts to use more and more revs. When the road ahead clears he drops a few cogs and nails the gas. WHOA, the beast is well and truly awake now. We race ahead with immediacy. As we blast under a bridge the noise reverberating into the cabin sounds like a 1990s F1 car – NICE!

My turn

My generous friend has driven quite a few kilometres to get us to the photography location. Once we are done there, it’s my turn behind the wheel. The car was parked with the doors closed for a bit so I have to prod the flush-fitting handle and lift. 

The scissor door swings upward in a precise arc. I slide into the captain’s chair and grab the inside door handle as I slide down. In the form-fitting seat I find a driving position that isn’t quite as comfortable as a modern Lambo, 911 or McLaren. There’s a slight angle towards the Centre line of the car. The base of the windscreen seems quite far and there is almost no rearward visibility. Your typical Italian fare then.

On the move

I am very pleased to report that this Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster is fitted with a manual transmission, which the owner tells me is just one of five such RHD versions in the world (one of four roadsters in SA). The clutch action isn’t light, but not as monstrously heavy as I expect. 

There’s a surfeit of torque low down from the naturally aspirated 6,5-litre motor so a trickle revs ensures a smooth pull away. I row up and down through the transmission, just for the heck of it, during our initial few kilometres. Each mechanical shift is a delight with an oily feel, each announced with the signature clack-clack from the open-gated shifter. 

Progress

We wind our way through some twisties and it is immediately apparent that the supercar game has progressed significantly since I last drove this car. The owner, understandably, does not want me to take too many liberties with his toy, and it feels as though one really can’t do so in the twisty stuff.

The platform feels torsionally rigid even without the roof, helped by extra carbon-fibre bracing in the engine bay. Unlike many of the modern sports- and supercars the steering isn’t hypersensitive, rather needing lots of lock in the tighter stuff. The middle pedal, too, an early attempt at composite anchors, has very little progression. There’s plenty of retardation but the action is grabby.

You really have to be on top of your game and/or have lots of space if you want to hustle the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster through the twisties. It’s no wonder that the world drive event was confined to a racetrack. The set-up feels unforgiving, edgy, and you are constantly made aware of the large lump of powertrain over your shoulders. At 335-mm wide, the rear Pirellis provide plenty of grip, but I do not want to know what happens when they break traction.

  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster
  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster cabin
  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster interior
  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster profile
  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster instruments
  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster engine
  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster rear
  • Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster

Explosive power

We head for the motorway and, hopefully, some open-road to really enjoy the one part of this car’s make-up that overshadows all others… the motor. I downshift twice (clack-clack) as we merge from the on-ramp onto the motorway and I crack open the loud pedal. The engine, which initially sounds a little gravelly, revs up smoothly and quickly. As the revs build, things start to get hairy. 

Twelve naturally aspirated cylinders start to sing in unison, in perfect tempo with the acceleration of the scenery. I keep my foot buried. From 4 000 r/min there’s an explosion of power, thankfully we are on a pin-straight piece of road, unleashing the full 471 kW. The final 1 000 r/min up to 8 000 is particularly ferocious. The noise is otherworldly, a mid-range howl that develops into a high-end shriek – magnifico.

Clack-clack. I hook another gear. We’re travelling at a rate of knots, if the closing speed to other cars is any indication. We slow momentarily to politely ask the lane-hoggers to move over, but the low-slung roadster scares them out of our way. 

Sensory overload

Time for another downshift… clack-clack. One more time as my drive is fast drawing to a close. The surge is explosive, maybe amplified by the rushing wind overhead and the histrionics coming from the engine room. It’s a visceral car, no doubt about that. 

The noise, my word the noise is addictive (listen in the video at the bottom of this post). It’s hard to believe that the V12 traces its origins to that designed by Giotto Bizzarrini nearly 60 years ago for the very first Lambos. But the engine speeds needed to unleash the full orchestra happen at speeds we’d rather not mention. We get in a few more runs before turning around to head back ‘home’.

Tell-tale signs

As we pootle back through the avenues of the estate there are tell-tale signs of our recent workout. The adjustable air intakes on the rear haunches are wide open like a pair of bat wings, feeding the engine room with fresh, cool air. There’s also the tink-tink-tink of cooling metal, always a great noise after a spirited drive.

As we tuck the ‘bat’ safely back in its cave to slumber for another month or so I can finally download my thoughts and experiences from the drive without having my full attention taken by the driving experience and the concentration it requires.

Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster Summary

Since the turn of the millennium I have driven many, many cars, of course, some are more memorable than others and one’s first supercar is bound to leave an impression. Driving this Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster was an absolute delight. But with the benefit of many years (and cars) worth of experience really helps contextualise the nature of the proper beast of a car, and how far things have progressed in twenty-odd years. 

Check out the gallery (above) for comments from other Murcielago owners.

Price: approx R4,5m when new/more than double that now

Engine: 6,5-litre V12

Transmission: six-speed manual, AWD

Max power: 471 kW

Max torque: 660 N.m

Top speed: 333 km/h

0-100 km/h: 3,4 sec

Fuel consumption: all the fuel