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Road Test: 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2014.
By Patrick Hong of Road & Track

CEOs may often come and go, but that's frequently not the case for vital people who embody the heart and the soul of a company. At Lamborghini, one such person is Valentino Balboni, the factory's recently retired chief test driver. Balboni's fondest memory at Sant'Agata is the first time he drove the legendary Miura off the company grounds alone as a test driver. Even today, you can still sense his joy as he describes the experience, speaking unhurriedly, with carefully chosen words and a glint in his eye. Listen in, and you can't help but be captured by his enthusiasm and profound passion for Lamborghini. To pay tribute to this calm 60-year-old from Cento, a man who has played such a vital role in cultivating Lamborghini's driving DNA over the last 40 years, the company created a special model for 2010: the Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni.

Not merely a dressed-up version of the standard Gallardo coupe, the Balboni Gallardo is rear-wheel drive only, hence the "2" in the LP550-2 designation. Although the Balboni can be ordered with the 6-speed paddle-shift transmission (e.gear), we are extremely pleased to see our orange Gallardo Balboni test car equipped with the traditional gated 6-speed manual transmission. There is nothing like the feeling of grabbing hold of the metal ball shifter, clicking through the metal gates while you orchestrate the perfect throttle-blip downshift. So it's back to sports-car basics for the Balboni: manual gearbox and rear drive. Power drifting anyone?

But wait. The king of sliding Lamborghinis, Valentino Balboni, is here. With cameras rolling we ask him to show us what the car can do. With a 45-percent limited-slip differential and the specially tuned springs, shocks and anti-roll bars to match the car's new configuration, Balboni is able to make the Gallardo dance on the asphalt with speed and fluidity. After a few practice runs, he hits his mark consistently. Understandably, the Lamborghini PR representative is a bit nervous about all the tire smoke and rubber and tiny pebbles pelting us, but Balboni is not concerned. "Don't worry," Balboni reassures Lamborghini PR. "We can get more tires." We love this man.

The same 5.2-liter V-10 powering other Gallardos is also found in the Balboni, but detuned to 550 bhp (DIN) instead of 560 bhp (DIN) at 8000 rpm. The 398 lb.-ft. of torque is still available at 6500 rpm. With 12.5:1 compression and lubrication via a dry-sump system, the high-revving engine is ready to push the 3000-lb. aluminum-chassis Gallardo forward at a moment's notice. In neutral, it's fun to free-rev the aluminum-block V-10 just to hear it explode in anger. Jab the throttle and the V-10 rips to its 8500-rpm redline eagerly. The guttural exhaust note crescendos to an authoritative bark that is music to the ears.

Through our standard Road & Track performance test regimen, the manual transmission-equipped Gallardo Balboni accelerates from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and to the quarter mile in 11.5 sec. at 126.7 mph. Kudos to our Assistant Road Test Editor Calvin Kim, as he's able to match the 0-60-mph time and even better the quarter-mile achieved by the e.gear-equipped Balboni. While the e.gear can shift faster than humanly possible, Kim attributes his quicker times to the ability to invoke more wheelspin off the line using the foot-operated clutch. Straight-line braking for the Gallardo Balboni is equally outstanding. Thanks to fade-resistant carbon-ceramic brakes, full-ABS panic stops from 60 and 80 mph took only 115 ft. and 200 ft., respectively.

Unlike the all-wheel-drive Gallardo, which understeers a bit through the slalom, the Balboni sneaks around the cones with more agility, clocking in an average speed of 72.5 mph. Without a front differential, the front end of the Balboni feels lighter and more responsive to steering input. And around the skidpad, thanks in part to the car being more sensitive to throttle modulation for yaw control, the Balboni turns in an excellent 0.95g of lateral grip. I got a hint of the rear-drive Gallardo's livelier handling when I had the chance to drive the prototype back to back against the all-wheel-drive model on a road course earlier this year. We had fun tossing the rear-drive Gallardo into corners and drifting out past the apex. And all this was accomplished with absolute confidence that the rear wouldn't come around unexpectedly, even with the yaw control turned off.

There will only be 250 Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni models available for 2010. Unique exterior touches include a special white stripe with gold accent that runs the length of the car. There are eight different exterior colors to choose from, including orange, blue and black. Inside, the black-and-white color scheme is repeated on the dash, doors, center console and leather upholstery. A badge visible through the rear left quarter window features Valentino Balboni's signature and the limited production number of the car. Retail price for the Balboni starts at $219,800.

As automotive enthusiasts, many of us will recall a time in childhood when we saw a very special car that captured our imagination. For me, that car was the Lamborghini Countach. It was at an intersection with the stoplight just turning green. That flamboyant wedge-shaped yellow sports car (I did not know the name at the time) accelerated forward so fast and so effortlessly that it left the scene like a flying saucer. That feeling of pure joy can still be felt today, and it only enhanced the thrill of testing the new Gallardo Balboni, a most fitting tribute to a superb young test driver who must have been only in his 30s back then...

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BB04 - 8/21/2014 7:16:09 AM