Enzo Ferrari (founder of Ferrari) had a dream and he said, “the dream became bigger, much bigger to build a car, that doesn’t slow in the curves, that flies without leaving the ground...” and owning such a car would be a dream which most people have, from James Bonds’ Aston Martins, the famous DMC-12 from Back to the Future, Jay Chou’s Toyota AE86 from “Initial D” movie or the Formula-1 halo racecars.
For me, it started with the Ferrari’s Testarossa from the late-1980s. I still remember, as a boy, I was dumbstruck by a Red Testarossa parked at the top level of the Ocean Terminal car park under a clear blue sky. It looked like a jetfighter without wings ready to take off, shot flames from behind and fly to the moon (I did not know what those black slates were then)!
Since then, I developed an unyielding passion for cars, from picture books (when I was a boy) graduating to car magazines (teens) and eventually to non-fictions on the mechanics and technologies underneath the skin of cars. Throughout my childhood I dreamt of the day when I would become a race car driver and own a supercar like the Testarossa myself.
Years later, I am fortune to be able to turn my dream into reality and have driven a few “dream cars”, two of which I would like to take this opportunity to share my experience with you.
Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera (2010-2013)
A boring, clumsy and long-winded name given to a car which is otherwise amazingly agile, aggressive-looking and entertaining car.
Lamborghini first introduced the Gallardo to the market in 2003. It was then a brand new design for Lamborghini with substantial design inputs from its new parent, Audi, which acquired the brand in the late-1990s. The first generation Gallardo were powered by a mid- mounted 4,993cc v10 engine capable of producing 500PS while driving all four- wheels. It had a futuristic wedge-look, surprisingly user friendly ergonomics and reliability. The latter two were crucial for its success as ergonomics and reliability are words which, back in those days, did not exist in the vocabulary of supercar manufacturers!
I was lucky to have driven a track- focused version of the Gallardo, i.e. the Superleggera (Italian for super light).
It was “apple” green in colour, with an interior fully cladded in carbon-fibre and Alcantara (man-made suede), and aggressive set of aero body kit all in the name of weight reduction and faster lap time. With sharp edges and a spaceship- like look, it looks gorgeous (or hideous) to the eyes of the beholder.
With a weight of 1,340 kg and an upgraded 5.2 litre V10 engine the Superleggera was capable of producing 562bhp and to the speed of 100km/h in 3.2 seconds.
As a track-focused car, the Superleggera gave me an amazingly experience on the few occasions that I managed to drive it on the racetracks.
It has a constant four-wheel drive system, set of highly track-tuned suspension springs and dampers (even harder than the normal street car), perfectly weighted steering and aggressive gear shifting transmission ensure track rookie like me could stay alive and focus on the track and corners with confidence.
The Superleggera however is not for daily use. While it has all the usual amenities like air-conditioning, blue- tooth stereo and parking aids, the reality is that the seats were highly uncomfortable with limited fore-aft adjustment and while the suspension and gearbox setup were excellent for track use, they are too stiff and jagged for normal road use, especially in Hong Kong’s bumpy traffic. Worst still, the car I drove with the optional track package with 4-point seat harness and roll cage, rendering the already tight interior more confined and would potentially trigger a shock to those with claustrophobia. The car’s low clearance and limited visibility also create hindrance in Hong Kong as the driver will be driving in town literally blinded to everything next to or behind him. Parking in Hong Kong is also a real concern as the car aggressive front spoiler and low ride height mean that you would not be able to get in and out of the majority of Hong Kong’s multistoried car parks .
One of the questions which owners often get asked was how expensive it would be to maintain a supercar like the Superleggera. Surprisingly, Gallardos have proven to be extremely reliable, perhaps due to the Audi influence. Over the years, the costs of maintenance for the Superleggera were no more expensive than a comparative European performance sedan of similar stature. The major ticket items were the clutch which has to be replaced every few years with city driving and the other being leakages in the car’s A/C system due to aging. Unfortunately, the repair required the whole of the interior to be stripped bare to replace the internal ducts. The replacement parts were inexpensive but the costs of labour to remove the interior trims, replace the ducts and reseal the interior pushed the bill well into mid-5- digit figure territory.
Ferrari 458 Spider
The success of the Gallardo pushed Ferrari into creating a new car to stay competitive. The result is the 458, a highly praised and awards winning modern Ferrari which continues to command respect after it has been succeeded by newer generations of supercars.
If the Gallardo is a representative of the aggressive design philosophy then the Ferrari would no doubt take the crown of elegance. Designed jointly by Ferrari and Pininfarina, the Ferrari 458 looks sensational and smooth without edges with clever aerodynamics allowing the car to achieve high speed stability without using any of the intrusive wings like the Superleggera.
In addition to the look, the 458 also has the last generation of Ferrari’s V8 natural aspirated engine with power that matches the Superleggera and speed capable of hitting 0-100 km/h time in 3.3 seconds.
Unlike the Superleggera, all of the 458’s power is transmitted to its rear axle. Couple with a quick steering, the result is one of the best-handling mid-engined cars which is easy to drive. Critically, the 458 retained its signatory F1-styled “banshee” style exhaust sound which to a car freak like me is music to the ears.
The contrast with the Superleggera is even sharper in town. The 458 offers a superb driving experience and can be used as a daily driver. Its sleek and elegant look is much less attention-seeking and provocative than the Lamborghini.
Further, its road manner is highly composed, quiet (just avoid burying your right foot on the accelerator) and with the adjustable suspension in sport mode, it can be almost as forgiving as a Mercedes Benz coupe. The seats are comfortable with thick cushions and the interior is spacious covered in plush leather. All- round visibility is excellent I have not experienced any difficulties parking it in Hong Kong car parks.
The only can the 458 excel on road, it is also a track weapon. Take it to the track and flip the “mannetino” switch to “race”, the Mr. Hyde personality of the 458 would instantly awake and the car becomes a beast. The steering and gearbox would become quicker and the suspension stiffen up. The car would react sharply to any change in direction and throttle control and with minor adjustments, the 458 would allow you to drift.
Finally, the Ferrari 458 is especially friendly when it comes to ownership, particularly those that were manufactured after 2012 as Ferrari offered 7-year free maintenance in respect of the standard service items (such as oil changing). As to reliability, most owners would have experienced electronic gremlins as a result of the car not being used and the battery going flat which would normally be fixed with ease.
The 458 spider is a hard-top convertible and there is no better way to relax and chill than driving it around Sai Kung’s twisty roads with the top opened in autumn.
I hope you enjoyed this article and I look forward to sharing more experience with you.