I honestly can’t remember a Performance Car of the Year decision that was so close. Yes, I can recall years where there’s been the odd vote for what seemed like a straggler, sometimes even a couple of votes for some kind of sentimental favourite. But never have I watched it come down to the wire like it did this time.
This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s April 2004 issue
You’ll see it broken down into what judge voted for what car elsewhere, but just for the record, the BMW M3 CSL scored three primary votes, two second preferences and a pair of thirds. But even after having its nose in front for a little while, the mighty Bimmer was pipped for position by the Lamborghini with four primary votes and three second preferences.
In a nutshell, that means no judge had the Gallardo any further south than second place and the majority of them had it pegged as Performance Car of the Year. So maybe it wasn’t as much of a nail-biter as it seemed to us, sitting around an old office desk in a store room in the middle of nowhere (Benalla, actually, but you get the idea).
Of the rest of the top six, the Audi RS 6 scored three third preferences, the 350Z a second and a third and the HSV a second choice. Nobody voted for the BMW Z4, which had pipped the Audi S4 into the six and even topped the 350Z on cold, hard, emotionless points scoring.
None of which matters now, and let the record show that PCOTY has its first Italian champion (if you ignore the fact that Audi now owns Lambo) and the first time an Italian car has even cracked the top six. It’s also our most expensive winner ever and a whole bunch of trivia like it being the first V10. But there’s nothing trivial about a Lamborghini Gallardo, either in its concept or its execution.
When you know as much about aluminium as Audi does (the A8 has owed its structure to bauxite for the last decade or so), it’s a natch to use the stuff for anything purporting to be a supercar. So the Gallardo gets an aluminium spaceframe constructed from extruded members welded to cast joining members. From that, the aluminium body panels are either screwed or welded on, and external bits like the bumpers are made from thermoplastic and bolted on. Short version: Stiff as buggery.
No scissor-action doors? Nope, that’s a V12 Lamborghini exclusive, says head office.
It all works because, even with all-wheel drive, the car weighs just 1450kg. The distribution of that weight is critical (42 percent front/58 rear) and Lamborghini claims that’s spot on for the standard 30/70 front/rear torque split, which then self-adjusts to 100 percent at one end or the other.
But the detail stuff is tricky, too, with the engine adopting a 90-degree angle between the banks of cylinders (Lambos have traditionally been 72 degrees) to get the mass lower and even dry-sumping the V10 to get the crankcase closer to the deck.
The 367kW gather at 7800rpm, which seems high for 5.0 litres (and it is), and that’s even more amazing given that the engine is significantly undersquare with a bore of 82.5mm and a stroke of 92.8mm.
But while the long stroke doesn’t appear to limit the revability (the piston speeds must be something else), it does help with torque, and 510Nm from an atmo mill of this size is dead handy. In fact, any normally aspirated engine that can muster better than 100Nm per litre can be regarded as something truly special.
More significantly, torque peaks at 4500rpm (lower than HSV’s ClubSport) with 80 percent of that peak available from 1500rpm, meaning that any time the tacho needle is pointing even vaguely north there’s oodles of urge on tap. The broad spread of useable grunt is partly due to variable intake and exhaust camshaft timing and a variable-length inlet manifold. Whatever the reason, it’s flexibility on wheels.
Perhaps the real reason the Gallardo won PCOTY is because it’s a car that honestly bridges the gap between big-dollar, big-power supercars and cars that are actually inviting and entertaining to drive.
See, tradition has it that anything truly exotic and sophisticated will be a pig to drive in traffic, will overheat, will be hard to get into and out of and will be a nightmare to maintain, as well as tricky to drive smoothly or quickly (usually both).
And, presented to a field of PCOTY judges, it’ll get belted via the law of diminishing returns, which they’ve all done in the past. The Gallardo is none of those things. It idles as happily as any mass-produced car you can name, feels responsive in all sorts of conditions and never gave us a hint of mechanical drama, nor even the sense that we might be stretching the friendship.
Rear vision and access might not be world beaters, but they’re better than just about any other wheeled-wedge supercar, and the Gallardo is a car that you can drive racetrack-hard without that creeping feeling that it’s about to turn you around or spit you into the catch fence.
The steering can feel a bit remote and the front corners are tough to judge, but there’s not much else to tell you it’s all-paw or cab-forward in its layout. In fact, the thing is so docile that the majority of testers thought the Winton experience showed it could use a bit more power.
Regardless of what you think of a bunch of nutbags describing a car with 367kW and 510Nm as needing more grunt, the fact remains that the Lambo is anything but the bucking, weaving, malevolent sonofabitch that characterised its ilk in the past. Driven a Countach? Then you’ll know exactly what we mean.
But while the act has been cleaned up, the experience hasn’t been sanitised. There’s still a marvellous bellow from the zorsts when you stir the V10 up and the ride still tells you that you ain’t riding in no boulevard queen.
The exposed-gate shifter drew criticism, but get it right and the sound of knives being sharpened will bring on the tingles. The two-pedal version with the electronically controlled paddle-shift gearbox is a hoot, too, and would address the baulky shift issue.
And while it feels visceral and talkative, technology of the highest order plays a part. For instance, an all-wheel drive system that doesn’t degenerate into understeer at speed and gives such a wonderfully secure set of feedback responses is easily worth the extra weight it contributes. Get it turned in, stand on it and the Lambo hands you a degree or two of oversteer to counter the push and just hammers.
And you can start nailing the gas earlier and earlier. And really, it’s a metaphor for the whole car: it’s there because it needs to be, but it contributes to the end result without imposing too many (any?) compromises on the whole package.
How many times have you driven a car that sports a turbocharger at the expense of a laggy part-throttle response? Or something with all-wheel drive that weighs 300kg over the odds and still understeers?
Exactly, and the fact that the Gallardo pulls together a range of sophisticated technologies and performance parameters so damned effectively is more or less the reason we just couldn’t go past it for PCOTY. And that’s that for another year.
PCOTY 2004 Results - Winner
0-400m: 13.36sec @ 179.7km/h
0-1000m: 23.57sec @ 236.6km/h
Top Speed: 292km/h
Winton Lap Time: 1min 37.51sec
|Design & Function (/10)||10||9||9||9||8||4||7|
Total Score: 482/560
Votes: 4 x 1st, 3 x 2nd
PCOTY 2004 Judges' verdicts
"Once the awe has worn off, plenty of supercars are just silly. Not this one. Chuckable like a Rex, it never intimidates, it’s reserves of ability and engineering are enormous and it rings my bells harder than anything else. It’s more than a supercar. It’s nirvana."
"The top three stood out, but CSL and Gallardo more so. I’m coming up with half-arsed schemes to find $400k. I’d sell a kidney to own this Lambo – doesn’t have to be my kidney, of course. Most fun I’ve had in a car with my pants on. Or off."
"CSL is just superb. RS 6 is a demon on the track, sexy tough, too. But Lambo’s just better: a touch more punch but a lot more poise. Shift: bad. Everything else: brilliant! All three are legends. I want an RS 6, but it’d be a crime not to award Gallardo PCOTY."
"Let’s get something straight: I gave the nod to the CSL, but I wouldn’t buy one. Can’t cop that SMG ’box. It works fine on track but sucks on road. The Lambo? My second choice, downgraded only on price. Geez, for once I didn’t pick the winner."
"Tough call between the top three but had M3 CSL just in front of Gallardo on value and driveability. Audi RS 6 is awesome and the one you could most easily own, but it didn’t thrill like the other two. CSL was so easy to drive fast and thrilled almost as much as Lambo."
"The M3 CSL feels like a race car. And it’s the most consistent with no noticeable fade in any area. Absolutely spot on package. The Lambo’s more fun to drive than the BMW. Awesome brakes and great turn-in. It’s just $190k more than the CSL."
"Hello? The fact that it propelled me to 290km/h at Avalon is reason enough to choose the Gallardo. But as I said before, the Lambo also makes you look like a hero. It soaks up mistakes, and doesn’t have a nervous bone in its gorgeous body. Simply awesome."