Lamborghini Aventador SVJ The Brentador is the first and only SVJ in the country, and we drive it. As Lamborghini prepares to join the world of electrification, is the 759bhp Aventador SVJ Sant’Agata’s best ever attempt at purely petrol powered perfection? We take Bren Garage’s SVJ, the first and only one in India to find out. Words by Adam Towler. Photography by Gaurav S Thombre.
EXTREME MAKEOVER AVENTADOR SVJ – 350KMPH LAMBORGHINI DRIVEN IN INDIA!
Pullovers. Hoodies. Sweaters. Whatever you want to call them, the appeal of the most powerful, most advanced and most spectacular purely petrol-powered Lamborghini ever made, and ever likely to be made given we’re almost certain the Aventador’s replacement will be a hybrid, hinges on bringing along some additional outerwear. Not because the big old brute’s heating and ventilation system conforms to any stereotype of Italian supercar electrical inadequacy. No, it’s because of those seats — those infamous bucket seats, the long-standing nemesis of the evo road tester.
Roll up said garment and place it at the back of the cushion. Now free fall, gracelessly, contorting and awkward, down into the seat. Next, wriggle one’s backside forward so it’s resting halfway up the squab. Markedly supine, but it works, because the big Lambo’s wheel can be pulled right out, and splayed knees aren’t an issue with the pedal location. Headroom is also increased, but most of all the backrest now clamps usefully across the shoulders, and doesn’t try to ram you forward in abject agony. The pullover becomes an oversized lumbar support and driver endurance can now be measured in hours, not minutes.
THIS IS THE LAST AND ULTIMATE PURELY INTERNAL COMBUSTION-POWERED LAMBO
So it begins, sweater in place, SVJ unloaded from its custom trailer (doesn’t fit on regular single-car transporters) one February morning, bright and sunny. I feel guilty waking the slumbering SVJ, to encourage all 15 litres of oil and 25 litres of coolant into percolating around that giant beast of an engine. It cranks over with the shrill, fast-paced whirring signature of a proper Italian supercar, before catching with window-rattling force, soon expelling voluminous clouds of condensation and heaven knows what else. Edging out of the side road outside of Bangalore, on the NH to Hyderabad, the car’s nose jutting upwards and shuddering with non-existent damper travel due to the deployment of the essential nose lift, the world turns inward. It’s a massive purple Lamborghini with gold wheels and a towering rear spoiler, so yeah, it’s what I was expecting, but… eyeballs swivel, workers cease working, drivers swerve distractedly, bikers chase us with mobile phones held aloft in reverence. It’s a strange experience — excitement, incredulousness at seeing something so wild on Indian roads, which then builds into an oppressive kind of interest that suffocates you with its intensity.
THERE’S I MMENSE POWER (AND VOLUME) ON TAP, BUT YOU’RE UNLIKELY TO TURN IT UP TO 11 INITIALLY
Stop-start traffic through the hordes of mobile phone-wielding bikers makes for painfully slow progress, the Lambo wedged in on all sides, its driver feeling pathetically self-conscious. The old single-clutch automated ’box clunks and clonks out of first gear, but I’ve already given up with Auto mode, the shifts just so clumsy and slow it’s annoying, and I’d much rather control the car myself. In fact, I soon give up on the everyday Strada mode altogether, because while it’s virtually impossible to hear its cylinder deactivation working, the slight hesitancy and then pulse of power of it switching in and out soon grates.
It’s not until an hour’s past that driver and car can get into a rhythm, but there’s one overwhelming snag. I can’t think of a car I’ve driven with less rearward visibility. You don’t expect a panoramic vista in a car such as the Aventador, but just as a wartime RAF pilot’s failure to spot a yellow-nosed Messerschmitt on their ‘six’ could have fatal consequences, the SVJ driver’s licence is always in mortal danger through their inability to spot anything behind.
The SVJ’s active aerodynamics system — the trickery that stalls the front and rear wings on the straights to cut drag and aids corner turn-in by stalling one half of the rear wing as and when required — is to blame. When conditions favour the rear wing to be stalled, flaps in a central bifurcated duct at the base of the rear wing open, and because the middle wing support and the wing itself are hollow, air rushes up into the void and then jets out of tiny holes on the underside of the wing, detaching the airflow.
However, on a practical level, the hungry gape of the Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva intake and the thick stem of the central support mean that there’s merely a triangulated sliver of clear Perspex either side of the stem to see through, and a distorting, quivering sliver at that. In daylight, visibility is almost zero; at night, it’s a disorientating mess of scrambled light beams, and however much you crane your neck like a hysterical chicken, there’s no angle that allows you to confirm whether there’s a car directly behind you, or much further back in an adjoining lane. Neither do the side mirrors assist, for those sassy Sant’Agata hips are just too wide for them to show much more than chiselled purple flank. If only you could toggle the SVJ’s reversing camera, or even better, the mirror was replaced by a permanent rear-view screen.
Naturally, a ’70s supercar hero would simply grin from behind his oversized Aviators, drop a cog and rinse the V12 for all it’s worth, but this is the NH 275 in 2019, the era of the not-so-smart motorway with occasional speedbreakers, not so occasional vehicles coming the opposite way and the very occasional but horribly scary stray cow. So I don’t. Which is all the more galling because every subtle but high-definition channel of communication the SVJ relays — and it is a car of constant, animated conversation, even at a steady cruise — suggests it would like to be gently cantering along at about 200kmph. That’s not to say I’m not a little more liberal with the throttle; even at little effort the V12 still sounds staggeringly good, and as I’ve discovered, the hi-fi is equally staggeringly bad. But it’s just all so gloriously exciting: that noise, that view out, that sensation of raw speed. What it must sound like from the outside, carving through the morning light with those fat Jota exhausts jutting out high, I can only imagine.
The dramatic reach and distinct echelons of the V12’s performance bring to mind a particularly large musical instrument, perhaps like the pipe organ from a cathedral. There’s immense power (and volume) on tap, but you’re unlikely to turn it up to 11 initially. While this latest revision pulls readily from very low revs, it’s between 3000 and 4000rpm that it really gets going. There’s a marked band of accessible torque here, accompanied by a grating, gristly, beautifully mechanical growl. Tap in and out of this band and the SVJ covers ground with effortless and imperial ease, yet it’s like playing the aforementioned organ with over half the stops still pushed in: there is still nearly 5000rpm remaining to conduct in this orchestra.
Quickly the implications of accessing the full 759bhp begin to crystallise in the mind. It’s obviously going to be a fleeting moment of obscene physical sensations, mechanical urgency and intimidating volume, followed almost immediately by drastic self-censure. As I suspect, you can’t really prepare yourself for the sensation of speed and force that a wrung-out SVJ provides on any road. Back at the Estoril race track in Portugal last summer it felt biblically quick, but this is 100 per cent more visceral. The SVJ digs in and always wants to move forwards, clawing frantically into the asphalt. That engine, though: the efforts to remove reciprocating mass have given it the spiky, intimate viciousness of a demented two-stroke. We howl through; spit, bang, snuffle and crackle on the overrun past whatever we find on the highway. It’s gloriously irrelevant, and more important in so many ways than ever.
EVERY SUBTLE BUT HIGH-DEF CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION SUGGESTS IT WOULD LIKE TO CAN TERALONG AT 200 KMPH
I’m amazed once again by how nimble and precise this car feels. Crucially, there’s such a natural response and weight to the steering — without it the car would be a nightmare of approximation and intimidation; with it there’s one input into a corner, and the faith that you can place something so wide exactly where it needs to be on the road. I’ve long since settled on my preferred driver settings: Corsa for engine and ’box, but either Strada or Sport for the damping depending on the surface beneath. The flexibility of Strada is continuously impressive, the SVJ remains wonderfully fluid over the road as long as the speed exceeds 50kmph. Conversely, it’s Sport I engage when the road deteriorates, because it prevents the car’s nose from kissing the ground when provoked by a heavily undulating section.
The brakes are Herculean, but work them really hard and you sense the shadow of that extraordinary lump of mass behind you, the car shimmying slightly, just a tacit reminder of the physics in play. Corners are in two parts: a definite sense of rotation on the way in as the four-wheel steer does its work, then another delicate jink as torque is shuffled rearwards on the exit. Driving the SVJ has now become instinctive; I’ve even made peace with the gearbox, refining the subtle lift that smooths out the changes at middling revs and throttle applications — it’s a human-mechanical interaction after all, and I almost feel nostalgic that it’ll soon be replaced by another seamlessly proficient twin-clutcher.
The SVJ hangs in there, still keen, poised, exhausts (so I’m told later) flamboyantly spitting blue flames, me a little tipsy on the sheer immersive activity of driving. I drive on and on until I can go no further, then kill the V12 and listen to the amusingly loud fans attempt to dissipate some of the readily apparent heat. I’m exhausted but it feels right: it’s the last and ultimate purely internal combustion-powered Lambo, and I want to savour every last damn mile I can.
It’s a car rife with contradictions of course, and chief among them is that its flaws conversely make it what it is. It’s huge, ergonomically bizarre and in some ways hopelessly outdated, but view the proposition as a whole, then to strip away those inadequacies, frustrations and challenges would somehow cheapen the experience; they’d normalise it, dilute it.
How can Lamborghini distil all those perverse and wonderful things about the Aventador into a future, antiseptic, electrified world? For the sake of everyone who truly loves cars, I’m counting on Sant’Agata having a mightily good plan.
KEEPING LAMBO LAMBO
Lambo’s head of vehicle development
When I was asked to Join Lamborghini, everyone who knows me said that for me it was a dream come true. Rouven Mohr, an ex-Audi engineer, originally from Saarbrücken on the French/German border, has a love of cars that’s as obvious as it is infectious. ‘Sometimes when I wake up I have to say, “Is it true I’m working for Lamborghini?” I had a big poster of the purple Diablo SE30 when I was young – this was for me very cool. The cars in this period were icons. I’m an engineer, I like cars.’ His personal fleet includes a Porsche 964 Carrera with a turbo conversion, a Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32), a Nissan 350Z and an Infiniti G35 drift car with an 800bhp Supra motor.
‘I am responsible for the target setting, monitoring and release of our cars, plus all testing and validation activities. Compared with Audi there are differences in culture, but the development process itself is not so different, because the basic steps are the same. What is different is the speed that you can have in a smaller company. Not because Audi is slow, but just because of their complexity in the product range. ‘At the beginning of a project we set targets – the wish list. We investigate the competitors, the complaints from previous projects – we speak with journalists and our customers. We bring it all together, then other departments develop the specific technical solutions. During this process, my team [of 90 people] are involved at milestones. My intention is always to give something surprising to the customer – to have overfulfilled. You know, no one needs a Lamborghini, but everybody wants to have one. With the SVJ we needed two-and- a-half to three years for the project.
‘It’s not just personal opinion [developing a car], so in my job you have to be objective. But my background is that I love cars – I live for cars! Even driving a rental car I am thinking: what could be better? I try to understand what the customer wants, and to then be a small step forward. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect in everything – it’s not possible, and sometimes not meaningful. For me it’s easy because when you have this passion for cars it’s not a job: when you love it, you do it anyway. And not everything is measurable – if you like the exhaust sound you can make a marvellous frequency analysis, you make a colour picture, but at the end of the day it’s simply a question of whether you like it or not.
‘I will be proud if the team and I could make a small contribution to Lamborghini remaining the most emotional sports car experience you can buy. Not that it’s automatically the best-performing, but I want to have customers that are looking for an extreme driving experience. It’s important that some brands really try to stay on the emotional side. I fully agree with all the big trends like digitisation and electrification – it would be a mistake for a brand to say “no”, it’s part of society and things are changing – but I strongly believe that also in the future the request for emotions, to feel the car and to have fun driving, this will remain. I fight for this, and that Lamborghini, in my time here will maintain this.’
“I WAS ALMOST DESPERATE, I NEEDED TO EXPERIENCE THIS”
Boopesh Reddy’s Bren Garage has some of the most sought-after supercars in the country, if not the world. The Lamborghini Aventador SVJ is the ninth addition to the list. Words by Sirish Chandran. Photography by Gaurav S Thombre.
AN SVJ AT BREN GARAGE
A garage with 9 of the most delicious supercars on the planet
Boopesh Reddy is a true-blue enthusiast, that much is blindingly obvious. We’re at the Bren Centre in the heart of Bangalore, a stand-alone building next to the Porsche showroom that has nothing to do with any of his businesses but is just there to fuel his passion for cars. When his Instagram was overwhelmed by a deluge of comments after taking delivery of the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, he threw open the garage to his fans to have a look at the first and only SVJ in the country — and 500 fans showed up. “The enthusiasm reminded me of myself, as a youngster,” Boopesh tells me. He then asks me if I know that the Bren Garage was ready before he bought any of the cars. I did not. “My farmhouse is 200km away and I go there only 4 times a year. I love my cars and I need to go to them often. I am very emotionally attached, I don’t see it only as a materialistic thing. So when my neighbours wanted to sell their plot I bought it and the first thing I did was design the garage. I wanted it to be a place which is beautiful and well-ventilated, 12 feet high ceilings in the basement, so it never feels like a basement. And then I got my Speciale confirmation.”
“THE BEST NATURALLY ASPIRATED ENGINE WITH THE BEST AERO IS A GREAT COMBINATION”
As a kid, Boopesh had a poster of the F40 on his wall. His first love was Ferrari. But that was the time when Ferrari had no official presence in India. “I was not a big fan of Porsche earlier and Ferrari’s dealerships had issues those days and Ferrari was not in India. So I decided on the Aston, otherwise Ferrari would have been my first choice.”
“I was always a big fan of James Bond. Aston called me and said they have a Vantage, I said no, I need something even nicer. Do you have the James Bond DBS which he has in Casino Royale? They said we have better one, DBS Carbon Black edition. It took me two minutes to say yes.”
The DBS was the start of the Bren Garage that now includes, “Based on the order in which I purchased them 458 Speciale, Carrera S, Cayman GT4, 911R, Turbo S [GT Street R conversion], Mercedes AMG GT R, then GT2 RS, and now the SVJ.” The 458 Speciale was the first Ferrari Boopesh not only owned but also the first Ferrari he ever drove! How’s that for a cool story! With breathtaking humility he tells me, “The timing worked well. Sometimes I feel that if you chase passion, not hurting anyone’s sentiments, there is someone listening and it works out.”
Of course Boopesh is now a big Porsche fan and his Techart GT Street R conversion on the 911 Turbo S is the car he uses to drive up and down to the Chennai race track from Bangalore. “My first love was the Porsche Carrera S. I was learning how to drive on the racetrack, learning the lines and everything. I would learn so diligently, and it would work with me as though it is listening to me. It was amazing how the machine would connect to me.” We are of course here to drive and talk about his SVJ. I start by asking him why the SVJ?
“I was never an Aventador fan because I thought it was too bulky for the racetrack. I never fell in love with it even when the SV came out. But the new ALA system changed my mind, and it did the Nurburgring lap record even with that kind of bulk, so it must be a phenomenal machine. I think they have come to a level where the best naturally aspirated engine with the best aero is a great combination.”
I remember him telling me how difficult it was to get hold of the 911 R, the only one to be allocated to India. Was getting the SVJ that difficult? “They pre-selected certain people who were fascinated about racetracks, as they wanted to give it to people who go out on the track more where they can enjoy it. I was given an allotment, and the moment I got it, I said I’m ready to buy it. I’m sure that after beating the Nurburgring Porsche GT2 RS lap record, there must be something to it. So I was very excited. I was almost desperate, I needed to experience this.”
Post our drive in the SVJ, the car was loaded on to the custom-built transporter and driven off to the BIC for the Cannonball track day. I ask him his first thoughts about driving the car on the road. “Over all, I am surprised by the way it behaves. And it has the character of the Lamborghini single clutch kick which I really enjoyed the most and I miss it in all my cars. And that kick is what I look forward to on the racetrack.”
But isn’t that kick a sign of the Aventador’s age, in this day of twin-clutch automatics? “I don’t think if it was refined it would be a true Lamborghini, as then you’d compare it to other cars. There is a sense of fear, a sense of ‘ok, I’m driving a beast’ and that’s the kind of feeling you need, when you’re driving, the kick it gives you, you need to be very alert. I need to control the car. So these are things which keeps you excited, that ‘yes, there is something special’. If you make it smooth then what is the fun? If you want a car to be smooth and just hit a straight line, buy a Tesla. All this, it is its character.”
Boopesh is a track-day fanatic and the SVJ is there to fuel his race track passions. He isn’t one for driving it around in the city and having the hordes chase him with their mobile phones. “These machines with so much power, they’re a responsibility. When you drive these machines on the road, and are trying to impress people, it’s a wrong thing. These machines are meant to be on the racetrack or highway to enjoy. People should understand that these cars are meant for specific use to enjoy in a specific place and not just to be used or abused.”
His track day enthusiasm started on a bike. “It all started 10 years ago, when I used to take my bike to the track. From bikes to cars was a big shift. Because of safety reasons. My wife said no more bikes. So then I said it’s going to be an expensive hobby. And it is expensive it definitely is, as you need a lot of money to buy such cars, but you hardly get to drive them, except for some special moments on the track. It’s not the car for your daily commute. For me it’s all about the moments on the track and the thrills and the happiness and adrenaline rush, all of which matter a lot to me.”
Moving on, I ask him what’s next. “The Ferrari Pista is coming soon and I am eagerly looking forward because the reviews and what people are talking is that it’s one hell of a track machine. I like track machines and that is why I didn’t buy any other car than the GT and the Turbo S, these are two good machines that can go anywhere and if you want the old king, the 911, the legend is always there.”
Boopesh was also keen on buying evo’s 2018 Car of the Year. “I would have loved to buy a [McLaren] 720 S, but the dealership is not there in India. So I’ll wait. I love buying cars, and the place I live and work in is Bangalore and I want everything around me.”
Though his cars are mostly out on track he also lets his fans get close. “A lot of kids, including I, had posters on walls. We would dream of the cars in the posters. I have worked hard to achieve my dream of buying such cars, and I want to share my experiences and inspire these kids. Their enthusiasm to have such a car, that was in me also. And when they asked me can you drive it on the streets, I refused as it is unsafe and I don’t want them to follow me. So I thought of this event, where I will announce when the car will be available for display. The turnout was maddening. The enthusiasm reminded me of myself, as a youngster. And the entire crowd respected the car. Nobody even touched it. I was so overwhelmed that I’m inspiring these young kids. I was once like them, day dreaming. Sometimes I wish that everyone gets a car like this, gets to experience such a car. That is said with complete sincerity. “I wish everyone gets a car like this!” It’s not a sentiment you will find echoed from many owners of such cars.