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This year, Ferruccio Lamborghini would have been 100 years old. If he were British, this might be marked by a small notice in the paper or by a plaque on a park bench. But, of course, he was Italian, and not just any Italian, so to celebrate the occasion the company he founded in 1963 has produced its most powerful road car ever – a 760bhp wedge of evil, clothed entirely in moody-black carbon fibre.
It’s called Centenario, and no matter how nicely you ask, you can’t have one, because all 40 have already been sold – 20 coupes, 20 roadsters – at £1.7 million a pop. The most remarkable thing about this is that these customers handed over their millions based on a few sketches, and only laid eyes on their new toy at the same time as the rest of us, when the sheets were whipped off at the Geneva show.
Actually that’s not quite true. Because, a week before it was officially unveiled, we sneaked behind the scenes at Sant’Agata for an exclusive photoshoot and a guided tour of the car with Lambo’s R&D chief Maurizio Reggiani. This is significant, because the car is a sort of skunkworks project run by his department, and the latest in a string of special-edition Lamborghinis – Reventón, Sesto Elemento, Veneno – that serve partly as rolling laboratories for new technology.
“This car is kind of a gym for our engineers and for our designers,” he tells us. “In this car, they can do something that, in a normal production car, would take four years to realise. Only our R&D department can build a car like this, because you must have the knowledge of what you can put in the mix to make a good cocktail.”
At the heart of it all is the familiar 6.5-litre V12 from the Aventador, producing – and it’s worth mentioning this again – a whopping 760bhp. To extract that sort of power from any engine means feeding it vast quantities of air. A turbo is one way of doing that, but this is a flagship Lambo, so it’s naturally aspirated. Which means the air must be funnelled from the atmosphere directly into the car’s lungs. You’ve probably spotted the roof scoop, and the gaping intakes ahead of the rear wheelarches, but you’ll have to get up close to see the gaps in the headlights that allow air to pass through them, helping it flow around the side of the car and into the radiators.
The other half of the aero story is downforce. See that front splitter? As air passes over it actually pins down the front axle, before exiting through those bonnet vents. The sideskirts and wheel arches contribute too.
In fact, the functional aero parts are marked by a matt carbon finish as opposed to the gloss finish of the passive bodywork. Then there’s the mother of all rear diffusers, which not only cleans up turbulent air behind the car, but makes up for the lack of bodywork behind the rear wheels and turns the car into a mobile meat slicer.
Oh, and the rear wing. That helps too. At low speeds, it sits flush to the bodywork but as pace increases it pops up 15cm and can adjust its angle of attack by up to 15 degrees. However, as Maurizio explains, it has another party trick. “When the wing is out,” he says, “we warm it using the exhaust gases.” With a hot underside, there’s a greater pressure difference between either side of the wing, which in turn increases downforce.
People say that cars like this bend the laws of physics, but actually the reverse is probably true of the Centenario. After all, isn’t it simply working with those laws, and using them to crazy effect? In fact, nature is a willing participant in all of this. The air isn’t forced into place, not in the engine nor around the bodywork – it’s merely persuaded by all those ducts and vents and razor edges. Even the spokes of the wheels (forged aluminium with carbon blades) help to fan the brake discs.
Like the Aventador on which it’s based, the Centenario is 4WD. But as well as sharing driving duties, its rear wheels must also share steering duties – following the rear-steer fashion set by the Ferrari F12tdf and the, er, Renault Megane.
At low speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels, making it easier to manoeuvre. But who cares about parking a deranged hypercar? That’s the butler’s job. More importantly, at higher speeds – right up to the Centenario’s 217mph maximum – the rears steer in the same direction as the fronts. This, in effect, stretches the wheelbase by half a metre, therefore increasing stability.
The Centenario also points to a connected Lamborghini of the future. There’s a 10.5-inch touchscreen through which you can control a web browser, web radio, Apple CarPlay and a brilliant toy-box of telemetry features. Over to Maurizio: “You can upload any track, which is then displayed on a 3D map, and the system is able to tell you when you must upshift and downshift. It even tells you the braking points based on your speed.” The options list features a pair of on-board cameras, so you can see what effect those laps had on your face.
Maurizio and his team have been working flat-out on the car for six months, prepping for its Geneva debut. We squeezed in our shoot at the very last minute, before it was loaded onto a lorry and driven overnight to the Palexpo Arena, 330 miles away over the Alps. Ever keen to help, and because we were going that way anyway, we offered to provide a fearsome, high-security escort. What better way to ensure the safe passage of such a precious cargo than by dispatching some TopGear staff in a rented hatchback?
Needless to say, it was an eventless journey and the Centenario arrived just in time for its early-morning unloading slot. But here’s the thing: how do you protect the anonymity of a top-secret, £1.7 million, all-carbon-fibre Lambo when moving it off a truck, through a busy exhibition hall and onto a show stand surrounded by workers with cameraphones?
First, you reverse the truck right into the hall and along the walkways, much to the consternation of the security people and fire marshals, who aren’t keen on filling the place with a) a moving lorry, and b) heady diesel fumes. Everyone else simply wheels their cars from the stage doors to the stands, but Lambo is not everyone else.
Next, you cover the car in a sort of fabric cocoon, with a cut-out for the windscreen so the driver has a rough idea of what he’s about to flatten. Several Lycra-clad, high-heeled “booth professionals” totter out of the way (they’re rehearsing for standing around cars tomorrow by standing around cars today), and a path is cleared.
After you’ve inched down the ramp and off the truck, you must do a 50-point turn and drive onto a metal platform that will be hoisted into the air by a forklift truck. It will carry you above parked cars and pedestrians to the Lambo stand where your parking space awaits. Except it’s not that easy, because the car’s a bit too long, and the engine’s towards the back, so four blokes must push down on the bonnet to stop the precious car rolling backwards and smashing to the ground.
There are no spare parts. Even a tiny splintering of wing would require hasty phone calls to the factory and some hardcore Italian gesticulation in order to fix (they would, in fact, dispatch a ‘flying doctor’ with a carbon-fibre repair kit in a briefcase). Thankfully this isn’t required, and after a few sweaty moments the Centenario is rolled onto its glossy white perch and surrounded by a temporary box consisting of a timber frame covered by black curtains. In here, the car cover is removed, and the polishing can begin.
How many men does it take to clean an already-sparkling Lambo? About nine, plus hundreds of cloths. It also requires a great deal of baking parchment, which shields the parts that aren’t being dusted from the dust of the parts that are being dusted. Every surface, gap and crevice is cleaned, often with tiny paint brushes and little cans of pressurised air to blow away particles that gather in hairline cracks. The temptation to shout “You missed a bit!” is very hard to resist.
Tomorrow morning, after several cans of Pledge have been expended, the fabric garage will be removed, the temporary bedsheet will be pulled off, and the world will get its first proper look at this year’s wildest Lambo. How will it react?
“After the Veneno, everybody expected rockets,” says Maurizio. “So we decided, ‘OK, now it’s time to surprise, it’s the 100th anniversary of Ferruccio’s birthday, and we need to surprise him too.’” It would take some car to wake a man from the dead, but even when parked silently on a motor show stand, the Centenario just might be the one.
First one has been delivered to a customer in the UAE. You can see another in the background, and the covered car might be a third.