1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé road test Featured

   
1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé driven Laurens Parsons and Drive-My

The List How one reader braved a Diablo Your dream drive made real ‘Out here in the real world it looks positively cosmic’ Matthew Burrup’s dream drive list is star-studded – but his affinity for lairy Lamborghinis is stratospheric. Will this wild, special-order Diablo VT send him to seventh heaven? Words Ross Alkureishi. Photography: Laurens Parsons.


The List In the Eighties, the bedroom wall of Classic Cars reader Matthew Burrup was exclusively adorned with Lamborghinis. Three decades later his dream drives list is much the same – so we let him loose in a Diablo VT.


Early morning, and Classic Cars reader Matthew Burrup fidgets nervously in the passenger seat of our modern commuter wagon. ‘You know, I’ve been seeing the number 666 everywhere in the build-up to this,’ he states, as we crawl through a nondescript industrial estate in Preston. The sky is a dull grey, doing its best to dampen our spirits. Then we turn the corner and there it sits outside Amari Supercars, dazzling like a supernova in all its special-order Yellow Skirt Hic glory – El Diablo.


1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé driven
1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé driven

‘Wow, look at that!’ screams Matthew, practically exiting before we’ve fully stopped. ‘It’s a colour only a Lambo could pull of, I mean it’s not for a shrinking violet is it?’ Sitting against a backdrop of super- and hyper-car royalty – including a McLaren P1, numerous Lamborghini Huracans, an McMerc SLR and the world’s only road-legal Ferrari Enzo FXX – the Diablo’s hue instantly renders all other colours as dreary as the Lancashire heavens, ensuring all eyes remain firmly upon it. ‘The dimensions are insane,’ he adds. ‘And that rear view, with quad exhaust pipes and massive 335-section tyres is proper old-skool supercar.’

Proprietor Sheikh Amari greets us and has a discreet five-minute conversation with Matthew before handing over the keys and popping the Diablo’s driver’s door for him; it swings open with a powerful sense of theatre, in that trademark Lamborghini scissor style. Matthew lowers himself down into the Bianco leather-clad interior, slots the key in and there’s a chirrup of the starter motor before the big V12 fires with a hollow bellow and immediately settles down into a deep, low burble. You’re aware of the machinations going on in the rear, accompanied by fans continuously kicking on and of.


1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé road test
1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé road test

Like many a Diablo newbie the centre-mounted seatbelt catches him out, but once engaged he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pair of aviators. ‘I’m such a poser at heart,’ he explains. ‘And that’s why a Diablo had to be on my list.’ It takes a couple of attempts to disengage the handbrake, and we’re of; only to stop a few feet further forward. ‘The mat’s catching on the throttle,’ he explains. ‘You know, I Googled Amari Supercars, and read an article about a photographer putting an Aventador through its front window not too long ago.’

Caution being the better part of valour, we finally crawl out onto Preston’s roads. ‘I was concerned about a heavy clutch, but Amari reassuringly told me this later 5.7 VT has assists on the clutch and gear change, making it easier to get on with at low speeds. There’s no need for the accelerator as you pull of slowly; just let out the clutch and let it ride on the torque.

‘The throttle is heavy though, almost like a safety feature telling you “push down too hard in town and you’ll end up buried underneath the lorry in front.”’

As we negotiate the city’s rush hour roads, the effect of the Diablo on the rest of the road-going population is considerable; it’s the visual equivalent of placing a sausage on a hot barbecue grill as we sizzle and snake around roundabouts and manoeuvre our way through junctions. Get up close behind a modern supermini and you can sense the driver – or perhaps the car – shaking at the monstrous apparition in their rear-view mirror. ‘Out here in the real world of supermarkets, traffic lights and petrol stations, it looks positively cosmic,’ states Matthew.

The blatant reference to Jamiroquai, whose frontman famously crashed his Diablo, sits there uncommented upon. Our B-road opens up before us and he opens the taps; a feral animalistic roar instantly ills the cabin as all four tyres grip and our spines become one with the low-slung sports seats. We run out of road – very quickly – and he engages the huge cross-drilled and vented anchors to rein matters in. ‘What an adrenaline rush,’ says Matthew. ‘That’s all-consuming, waking up all your senses.’ I’m not sure what was the bigger indicator – his white knuckles on the steering wheel or my own right foot’s desperate search for an imaginary brake pedal in the passenger footwell.

‘I don’t know why, but I thought it’d sound more like a flat-plane V12 F1 car, but there’s much more of a hard-edged roar to it. I also think I may have let the revs die a bit early between gear changes there.’ The fast approaching hedge suggested otherwise, but we’ll beg to differ on that one. Except, he’s right. There’s a knack to achieving swift gearshifts, the faster you go the more precise you need to be, and it’s one he’s doing his best to practice. ‘It’s improving,’ he says. ‘Keep the revs high, engage the clutch and use a smooth but firm motion to shift; it must be so rewarding to own this car and master it – you’d feel heroic.’

What of the handling? ‘The steering is really nicely weighted and it devours corners, but you can’t help feeling rubbish urban and potholed UK roads are not good for it. It’s not that this old beast can’t cope with them; it soaks up bumps as best a low-slung supercar can… But it feels like you’re doing it a disservice by not giving it a smooth wide road to stretch its legs on. It’s not a point-to- point sports car like an Elise, but a mile-munching high-speed GT made to blast through Europe in one fell swoop.’

If Matthew thinks the Diablo VT remains precise and controllable on B-roads even at medium speeds, then perhaps an earlier 2WD Diablo would come as a shock. On release, they quickly garnered a reputation for hairy handling characteristics; at the limit you had to be one seriously talented boy or girl to keep matters forward-facing when one let go. More difficult to drive with altogether heavier controls, you could argue they were more of a super- or sports car than the later variants. The arrival of the McLaren F1 proved to all that a supercar needn’t mean compromise, and so the Diablo grew up.

Today, 4wd is commonplace in the super- and hypercar world, and perhaps the sensible option for the novice Diablo driver. ‘You originally said I might be driving a rear-wheel-drive Diablo SV in Scotland, and I was checking the weather report every day for a month, hoping it wouldn’t be raining,’ admits Matthew. ‘I’d read the early ones were a bit of a handful, but when you arranged the Viscous Traction model I was reassured and that’s proven to be spot on. If you respect the car, it in turns looks after you.’

Time’s getting away from us, so we head to a local pub Haighton Manor for a spot of lunch; as we pull into the car park and stop, a chap readying for the of in his Mazda MX-5 says ‘Bright enough for you, Sir?’ Quick as a lash Matthew responds ‘Yes thanks.’

As we take on board our refreshments, the memory of that quip makes him smile again. ‘You know, that car is perfect for me,’ he says. ‘If you’re going to have a Lamborghini it may as well be in a custom colour – you couldn’t get away with a Ferrari in that shade. The interior in white leather, with stitching to match the exterior, is pure Nineties Miami playboy. It just suits my show-of nature; it’s the same reason I drove a brightly coloured Scirocco around Barry town all those years ago when I was a lad – it’s a bit different, and stands out from the crowd.’

That’s something of an understatement, as confirmed by a multitude of pub visitors stopping to ask questions about it. Time for our second session, because we’ve only scratched the surface of this car. Matthew enters quite sweetly this time. ‘I was just throwing myself in at first, but I’m getting semi-graceful at it now – even if that handbrake still has comedy placement. I was worried that the Diablo would feel huge on me, as I’m only a small guy, but I needn’t have. And although the footwell is narrow and offset to the centre, it’s okay for my sneakered feet but you couldn’t drive it with walking boots on.’

He follows my directions as we snake back on our B-road playground to the north of the city and join the M6 north at junction 32. I know from previous experience that Matthew’s drive can’t end without sampling the Diablo on the motorway – it’s transformative. As we leave the on-ramp and join busy lanes, I can hear his running commentary. ‘Keep your wits about you, use your mirrors, van drivers slowing down and speeding up to check out this bonkers supercar, steady, up to fifth, middle lane, barely 2000rpm at 70mph, cruising.’

Halfway to Lancaster the road clears and with it the commentary returns. ‘Fast lane is free, mirrors, get out there, third gear, floor it.’ Suddenly the noise grows to a crescendo and it feels like we’re strapped to a missile on a mission towards 200mph as the surrounding cars become pinpricks in my passenger wing mirror. ‘The hairs on my whole body feel like they’re standing to attention,’ shouts Matthew. ‘This is it, what I spent my whole childhood dreaming about… driving a Lambo!’

A dirty Transit forces Matt of the throttle as we run out of space ahead, and we settle back into middle-lane cruising.

‘I had to calm myself down there,’ he explains, sheepishly. ‘Say to myself, “take it easy Buzz, it’s not yours.”’ His first experience of the Diablo’s comedy gearing – 65mph in first, 98mph in second, 133mph in third, 169mph in fourth and 200+ in fifth – has brought home the realisation that at legal limits you’re barely scratching the surface of what this phenomenal machine can do.

‘I’d love to drive this to Barcelona,’ he says. ‘We’re going there on holiday this year, and I’d have to lose the kids, but imagine barrelling it all the way down there, on quality French toll roads. You could lose your licence, but it’d be worth the risk. It used to be German cars for me, but Italian cars communicate with you. They really do have personality, and this Diablo has a huge one.’

 The rest of our return journey is relatively sane – the V12 operating barely above tickover – and I can sense Matthew processing the experience. As we pull up outside the dealership there’s no sadness as he hands the keys back, just satisfaction at the realisation of a boyhood dream.

 ‘It was a Countach that was on my bedroom wall poster, but the Diablo held an equal amount of allure. It’s not an all-singing, all-dancing hypercar with all the gizmos; it’s a proper old-skool, five-speed, pop-up headlamp, bonkers supercar with a massive personality – and if that floats your boat, it’s worth every penny. ‘Would I buy one? Damn right, I would.’


Thanks to Amari Supercars for providing this 1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé, which is currently being offered at £189,995 (registration plate available by separate negotiation). Visit amarisupercars.com


 

‘The heavy throttle is like a safety feature to stop you burying yourself under the lorry in front’ ‘It must be so rewarding to own this car and master it – you’d feel heroic.’ Matthew says the Diablo is the automotive embodiment of his extrovert personality. Matthew worships the light-alloy V12. This 1999-registered Diablo is one of the last Lambos with pop-up headlights. When life gives you lemons… order a side of cocaine. Mathew worships the light-alloy V12. Vast 335/30 ZR18s tick an essential supercar box.


TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1999 Lamborghini Diablo VT Coupé

Engine All-alloy dohc-per-bank 5707cc V12, Lamborghini LIE engine-control system and electronic port injection

Power and torque 523bhp @ 7100rpm; 446lb ft @ 5500rpm (DIN)

Transmission Five-speed ZF manual, four-wheel drive with viscous coupling

Brakes Ventilated and cross-drilled discs all round, servo-assisted

Suspension Front and rear: independent by double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive telescopic dampers and roll bars

Steering Power-assisted mechanical rack and pinion

Weight 1625kg (3582lb)

Performance 0-60mph: 3.7sec; Top speed: 208mph

Fuel consumption 11mpg

Cost new £175,000

Current value £189,995



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