Group test Ferrari 512BBi Boxer, Porsche 911 Turbo 930 vs Lamborghini Countach and Aston Martin Vantage

2014 Drive-My

Fast family – Ferrari 512BBi Boxer, Porsche 911 Turbo 930 vs Lamborghini Countach and Aston Martin Vantage. Road cars come no faster than these; together they amount to an astounding £185,000 and 1500 bhp. For this test we took them to racing circuits and to Britain’s most challenging back-roads we blasted them down motorways and hacked them in the city. And found, above all else, that unless you drive the this cars together, you know very little about any of them.

Ferrari 512 BBi Boxer

Ferrari’s Boxer is the machine which took up the Prancing Horse honour after the Daytona’s day was done, early in the 70s. We drive the BB512i, the third version, but do not find a yesterday’s car. If there is a standard among supercars, a Greenwich Mean exotic, then it must be the Ferrari Boxer. A Lamborghini Countach is just too rare and specialised, an Aston Vantage is too much a car of the ’50s and a Porsche 911 Turbo 930 is just too eccentric, even flawed, in its fundamental layout. A Boxer has optimum weight distribution through a mid-engined layout, its engine design and size chase performance without much regard to manufacturing cost or fuel or tax economies, yet it is satisfactorily easy to use on the road so that day-to-day use is not entirely beyond the pale. Nearly, but not quite.

Group test Ferrari 512BBi Boxer, Porsche 911 Turbo 930 vs Lamborghini Countach and Aston Martin Vantage est Ferrari 512BBi Boxer

Boxer’s beauty is probably best expressed from this side view; fine, low nose and superbly sculpted sides and windows give it great individuality. Ferrari has all the goods inside, but interior layout is airy and simple. Seats lack side support for fastest corners, though; headroom cramped. Ferrari in action shows evidence of having a more compliant suspension than some predecessors. Grip is excellent, refinement impresses, too. Thoughtful development has brought Bosch fuel injection and 5.0 litres to classic flat-12 in current Boxer; New Boxer will be four-valve plant.

test Ferrari 512BBi Boxer

The Boxer has been around a longtime, like the Lamborghini Countach. It was conceived at a time when life was simpler for fast cars, when there had never been a serious kink in the supply-line to the Western World’s petrol pumps. Noise and pollution regulations hadn’t been heard of. It simply aimed to put the sophistication of a mid-engined layout, honed to a point of unbeatability in Ferrari’s sports/racing cars half a decade earlier, at the disposal of the enthusiast with a virtually limitless sum to spend on a car.

The Boxer manages, even now, to provide an intangible sense of occasion every time you step into it. There’s a relationship between a Boxer’s sounds and senses (and blood-red colour, usually) and the cars that have raced for Grands Prix and at Le Mans since the early ’50s. There’s tradition, and even 10years on there’s modernity.

Allowing for its advancing age, the Boxer can meet the demands of 1984 very well indeed. The car has been very intelligently developed in its latest BB512i guise which first saw the light during 1982, so that it resists rust better than any previous big Ferrari, complies with at least some of the world’s less- stringent exhaust pollution regulations, doesn’t make too much noise (yet continues to sound wonderful when you’re inside) and has fuel consumption and a cruising range which makes far more sense than the wild BB365 cars of the early ’70s.

Test Ferrari 512BBi Boxer

Yet the similarities between the original and latest are striking.

The shape, the work of the Pininfarina design house, is very nearly unchanged; there were merely some additions of wheel arch extensions and aerodynamic spoilers and some modifications to exhaust pipes and tail lights on the way through more than 10 years of production. The car still has its semi-monocoque body layout, a cabin section pressed from sheet steel, with square-tube frames grafted on front and rear to carry the power pack and suspensions, and to support the non-stressed panels. The old combination of a variety of materials remains: steel sheet for the cabin section, tubular steel for the front and rear sections, alloy for bonnet and engine cover and grp for the lower body sections and some of the flooring. The car has race- influenced unequal length wishbones-with-coils suspension systems at both ends, plus huge powered disc brakes (ventilated at both ends) and manual rack and pinion steering. The whole car, flat-12 engine and gearbox in place, weighs the best part of 3500 lb. The flat-12 engine of 5.0 litres capacity has twin overhead cams for each bank and is (since 1982) fed by Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection, replacing the roaring bank of six twin-throat Webers that used to extract (or were claimed to, before the truth about power was a legislated requirement) 380 bhp from the 4.4 litre version of the flat-12. In those days the rev limit was beyond 7500, too, and there were bottom-end breakages, it’s said.

Now the engine pumps out 340 bhp at 6000 rpm and its peak torque is 333 lb ft of torque at a fairly sober 4200 rpm. The rev limit is 6600, partly because Ferrari’s people have long since seen the sense of having drivers help preserve their engines’ durability, and partly because the flat-12 has expanded, by boring and stroking, to 5.0 litres. That happened in the second version of the car, the one between carburettor 4.4 litre and fuel-injected 5.0 litre.

Though the temptation is to go on about the BB’s links with sports racing cars, it has few beyond the broad similarity in the position of its engine. The Boxer has been raced, notably at Le Mans, but it was never to be a pure racing machine and this shows in the fact that its magnificent all-alloy engine is surprisingly high-mounted in the body, with the gearbox and final drive underneath. The engine’s crankshaft is nearly two feet off the ground, in a vehicle whose maximum height is barely more than three-and-a-half. It is done for compactness, of course, to keep the mechanical bits bay as short as possible and it works (the BB is only 7.0 in longer than the lower-powered 308GTB Ferrari which mounts its V8 engine transversely). Mind you, a Countach is actually an inch or two shorter than a 308 – though you have to add a‘moral’four to six inches for its total lack of bumper protection …

The Boxer puts its power through a five-speed gearbox, control over which the driver takes via a small, chrome gearchange lever raked rearwards from the inevitable exposed gate so that I it’s positioned right beside his left kneecap. The ratio spread is fairly close after you negotiate a high 1 first (53 mph at 6600 rpm) so that a driver using the car’s redline never need drop below 4500-4800 on the way to maximum performance. The car’s acceleration times between 60 and 100 mph are affected by the need for three gearchanges in that range – at 53,73 and 97 mph, but this is only ever a handicap when you’re trying to record ‘handbook’ acceleration times on the test track. The terrific ratio spread means that second and third are the gears for difficult, hard-charging A and B-road conditions – and because first gear is set away to the far left, opposite reverse, they’re easily accessible for snap changes – snap forward for second, snap back for third and near enough to 100 mph. Fourth is good for 129 mph; top runs out between 160 and 170 mph, depending on engine mileage and excellence of tune. Call it 168 mph, realistically.

The Ferrari, bearing in mind its power and breeding, is a simply set out car inside, and it is quite easy to use. The engine starts instantly on the fuel injection these days and there’s none of the midly temperamental woofling and snuffling thatthe carburettors used to pull near idle, especially when the car is cold. There is elastic power available literally from idle – near 1000rpm – to the redline (and beyond, for those who wear the blue-and- white apron). The car will pull fourth in town at40mph, rather less than 2000 rpm.

Sitting in the car, preparing to drive away, the Boxer lacks the Lamborghini Countach’s ‘intimidation factor’. The engine has started easily. The small steering wheel is set arm’s length away with the bottom part of its rim sloping more towards you than some, so that the heel of your palms rest comfortably on the rim as your fingers grip it atten-to-two. The only modification we noticed for ’84 was a ‘flat’ on the side of the wheel facing the driver, better to fitthe thumbs. The instruments, the big pairthat matter, are straight ahead with the wheel rim cutting off their outer sections (the redline isn’t clearly visible unless the driver makes a special effort), there are oil pressure and water temp gauges in between them, and a further pair of ancillary gauges on either side. Most ventilation controls, the power window switches and fan controls are grouped on the low, thin console that houses the gearchange lever.

As you idle away from standstill, the Boxer steering seems dead and heavy. It kicks back a good deal over bumps. But as speeds rise the rim effort lessens and the sensitivity grows. The engine, fairly quietto those outside, (especially compared with the Countach’s note), sounds terrific to those in the cabin. It’s the classic collection of buzzes, whines and barks that builds eventually into the most delightful shreik at full noise, reminiscent of the finest competition car sound ever concocted. At serious speeds the steering rim kicks and squirms in your hands as the surface changes – and there’s feedback over ruts – but the carcan be guided accurately most of the time with movements of the wrists; the steering is quick enough for that. When you come to a hairpin and need to take a fresh handful of lock, it’s almost an annoyance, so satisfying is the business of guiding so much potential with little, timed movements of fingers and wrists.

Sure, the car will tighten its radius if you suddenly throttle off in mid-bend, and the body roll is greater than some, but the driver never feels a hint of threat to the overall stability of the blood-red Ferrari

The cornering characteristics of the Ferrari are classically mid-engined. The car is always immensely stable. The only serious risk on unfamiliar roads is that the car might arrive at a corner too quickly, perhaps under brakes, and understeer across the apex. There’s really no question of a Porsche-style oversteer twitch, at least not when the car’s riding on its ultra-forgiving TRX tyres. Sure, the car will tighten its radius if you suddenly throttle off in mid-bend, and the body roll is greater than some, but there’s never a threat to the Ferrari’s outright stability. You just need to reduce your lock a little to steer around. Under power out of bends, the car is as secure as it would be with rails beneath. That chassis and those tyres (240/55 VR415 Michelins mounted on those lovely Daytona five-star alloy wheels front and rear) could accept far more horses than 340 of the Italian variety, before breakaway became a serious risk. If you pick your corner and boot it, the car will hang its tail quite neatly. But it would never happen by accident.

The Boxer is undoubtedly the most refined of the mid-engined two-seaters. It’s better in many ways than its smaller stablemate, the 308GTB. The Countach, it beats very squarely indeed. The Mondial two-plus-two, built much later than Boxer, Countach, 308GTB or even Jalpa (bearing in mind that that car has its roots in the Lambo Urraco) is another step up the refinement scale. It’s smoother, quieter, almost silken in its progress over difficult roads. However, not enough Europeans seem to find it desirable…

The Boxer’s twin Achilles heels are its total lack of carrying space (a legacy of those old pre-oil crisis days when Ferrari thought I they were making a statement, nod a supercar) and its severe lack of I cabin headroom. That second drawback it shares with the 380GTB. The properties combine I to make the Boxer a poorer car for] long distances than it might have I been, though over bumps the driver soon learns to duck the head by instinct to avoid contact I of cranium and headlining.

These problems have needed I correction for many a year, and lacked it. Also, the seats have never been of the finest for such a car as this – minimal lumbar padding, insufficient bolstering to hold the body against the prodigious forces of cornering- but the car’s standard of craftsmanship is now absolutely excellent. The paint is deep and it gleams like the Aston’s and Porsche’s, the panel gaps seem to need to be only half those of normal cars, and Ferrari’s brochures now bristle with disproportionately long explanations about the tortuous anti-rust measures taken at the I body-builders. There is now just no justification for even the person who pays £50,000 for the Ferrari to complain. The workmanship is in the Aston/ Roller class. Perhaps better.

The Ferrari Boxer remains the standard in exotics, for us. It may I even stay that way when it is replaced, late this year, by a super-Boxer which uses a newly- developed version of the fiat-12 with four valves/cylinder in a Mondial-look body. The car, to be I called Testa Rossa, will have headroom and through-flow ventilation, luggage room and more power that is produced with a clean exhaust. It will be, quantifiably, a better car. On the other hand it will likely lose the pure, graceful lines the Boxer shares with the 308GTB (another I car which is getting older) in favour of the extra length, possible extra weight and controversial looks. The new car I will undoubtedly be more desirable for its function. However it will be going some to match this car’s character…

{gallery}Ferrari512{/gallery}


Porsche 911 Turbo 930

Porsche’s 911 Turbo is a ’77 spin-off of a car which is 21 years old. Even so, its development has been exceptionally thorough – and for sheer excitement, it meets the best head-on. There is a powerful case to be made for not including the Porsche 911 Turbo in a group of ultimate exotic cars; it is too cheap by about £15,000 and it is the only one of the type which is spun-off from a lesser model instead of being hand-crafted in microscopic numbers by dedicated artisans.

Porsche’s rather prosaic dash layout at least puts tacho in the correct spot, but switchgear is not well arrayed. Cabin quality Is of the highest.

On the other hand, there is a very strong case for putting the Porsche 911 Turbo right at the top of the list. It is the one car of the kind which began life as an out-and-out racing exercise (with all the dedication to performance which that implies) yet it is also the one car of the group that one could step into now, this minute, and drive to the other side of the Continent, knowing that it would not break down or deafen the occupants; that it would negotiate all ferry ramps and swallow a satisfactory amount of luggage. Furthermore, it would deliver 50 or 60 percent better fuel mileage than certain Latin rivals which add only about 10 mph to the Porsche’s 160 mph top speed. Add to that, if the point still needs making, the fact that the Turbo has excellent parking protection, proven resale value and a standard of finish and quality control which helps preserve a buyer’s investment.

 

test Porsche 911 Turbo 930

Few cars – even exotics — have a more distinctive profile than the 911 Turbo. Massive duck-tail, ultra low profile tyres scream high performance.

None of this is to say that the Porsche 911 Turbo 930 is a model pillar of the establishment, or anything like it. Actually, it is an eccentric design indeed, with its engine as in all 911s, slung out behind the rear axle line. And from this layout springs the car’s most-discussed feature – its on- the-limit handling. Turbo tail happiness, power off, is a well documented feature and it’s backed up by the fact that Porsche owners and sellers are more reluctant than most to commit their cars to the hands of the uninitiated. That’s how holes in hedges are made. But the car is not simply tail-happy, as will become clear.

 

test Porsche 911 Turbo 930

Actually, the Porsche is a better package than other top-class exotic sports cars. For an overall length of 169in (around 5.0in shorter than the strictly two-seater Ferrari Boxer and more than a foot shorter than an Aston Martin V8, another marginal two-plus-two) the car provides a shallow but useable nose boot, fair accommodation for two plus occasional seating in the rear for eight-year-olds. The Turbo weighs a surprising 300 lb more than the similar-looking 911 Carrera, but at 2870 lb, it is still at least 500 lb lighter than the Italians – and that’s using the optimistically light figures Modenese factories always quote. The Aston is something like 1200 lb heavier than the Porsche.

 

test Porsche 911 Turbo 930

If we owned one we’d drive it very often, and take a private turn at the local racetrack every couple of months, to stay conversant with its limits. That would be using it properly and to the full. Wide, rear stance of 911 Turbo forestalls oversteer in most driving conditions, but it’s felt when you feather the accelerator in hard going. Porsche’s engine is obscured by intercooling radiator (left) and the engine cooling fan. It’s a fuel injected, 300 bhp flat-six, with turbocharger.

This comparative lightness comes as an advantage of limited mass production; the Porsche has a monocoque body fabricated in sheet steel. It also has an engine which, because it’s slung outboard at the rear, needs to be lighter than most. It is, of course, the ultimate road-going version of the famous Porsche air-cooled flat-six, an engine which first appeared as a 2.0 litre, normally aspirated, and has grown remarkably since. The engine came to the Turbo as a 3.0 litre, producing 260 bhp. That was in 1974, when the car was seen as a homologation special, dressed up inside on the orders of the then chairman, Dr Ernst Fuhrmann, to be more than a gutted racing special. With the engine’s expansion to 3.3litres and other engine developments that included an increase in the compression ratio of 7.0 to one, the output reached 300 bhp at 5500 rpm and 313 lb ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Running a maximum boost of around 0.8 bar, intercooled and with boost available from not much more than 2500 rpm, the car became a real rocketship in the right hands.

The emotive point of the Turbo’s shape has always been its rear; the fastback sweep of the body down to the huge tea-tray tail, the characteristic rear window and the radically extended rear wheel arches which cover its 225/50 VR16 Pirelli P7s (205/55s at the front). That massive stern’s natural tendency was once to swap ends at moderate speeds. It’s a lot better than that now. The suspension is all independent, by MacPherson struts in front and carefully-developed semi-trailing arms at the rear (springing for each rear wheel is by a transverse torsion bar). The steering is a manual rack and pinion system, surprisingly light at low speeds but still fairly heavy when parking. The brakes are drilled and ventilated disc brakes, power assisted, on each wheel. Plenty of race development here.

As soon as you step into it, the age of the 911 design becomes very clear; this cabin was new 21years ago. The sills seem fairly high, the seats are low and the roofline seems to balloon up over your head (there’s almost room for a driver to wear a hat) and the slab dash, while functional, is clearly old. The switches are quite haphazardly arranged so that it’s only the driver who is totally familiar with the car who can operate it fluently (the powered sunroof switch is so well hidden that you must peer under the dash to find it) and the gearlever is mounted so that first and third (in the four speeds-only gearbox) are a reach away. The pedals pivot on the floor, VW Beetle-style, and the steering wheel is very vertical and high-mounted. On the other hand, the seats are terrific; leather buckets with firm bolstering, well designed with cornering support at their outsides and plenty of lumbar padding. And the dash, though prosaic, does position the tachometer straight in front of the driver where it’s needed.

But there’s one serious fault with the front passenger’s accommodation. The footwell room is unacceptably limited. All passengers are forced to sit with their knees awkwardly bent, and taller occupants suffer especially. The space evidently goes to accommodate the car’s 17.6gal fuel tank (which could hardly be smaller to give a decent touring range). The whole thing smacks of a more casual than usual approach by Porsche to a problem that only affects cars for their minority right-hand-drive markets.

The Porsche engine’s character (as well as its particular specification) divides it totally from the run of exotic cars. The others have ignition buzzes, valve chatter, induction roar, timing gear whines, plus barks and wails from the exhaust to advertise their presence. The Porsche has practically none of this. The remoteness of the engine and the typically-turbo silencing effect of its KKK blower unit make it a quiet engine indeed. Engine noise only strays above a hum, even when it’s delivering maximum push at around 5000 rpm. Only when it’s nearing the 6700 rpm redline (and the actuation of its ignition cut-out) does the engine emit a delicious yowl – even then the detail of the noise is lost in the body’s sound insulation. What results is a truly effortless power delivery, a giant push which throws car and self, down the road and past 60 mph in lust 5.3 sec. In fact, the car could get to 60 much, much faster if only its first gear stretched a shade further; changing at 6800 rpm requires you to snap-select second at 58 mph…

The engine’s strength from way below its torque peak of 4000 rpm to its exaggerated 6800 rpm redline (this one must be strong at the bottom-end) is why the car can support its prodigious gearing, and needs only four gearbox speeds. If you changed at 6800 rpm on your way to the top of the performance curve, you’d find that second was good for just on 100 mph, third for 146 mph (you’d have swallowed up a standing quarter mile in something like 13.2 and 13.4 sec, depending on your clutch work and the grip coefficient of your road) and fourth, if the engine had the torque to pull maximum revs, would top out at a remarkable 199 mph!

In this car, near the limit, you must be right about choosing your entry speed to corners. If you go in too fast, and need to throttle off near the limit, the tail will snap outward with a speed that needs a racer’s reflexes

The gearchange itself is pleasantly light. There’s little sign of the fact that it must dispense 313 lb ft of torque in its silken movement. However, it isn’t the best-defined of gearchanges; there is quite a lot of distance across the gate and the lever feels, well, sloppy. But it is easy to use, every time, and the fact that there need only be four gears makes the car very fast in the sort of country where speeds vary constantly between 40 and 100 mph.

The pedals and their location, like so much else about the Porsche, show evidence of being a poor system, honed over years to do a first-class job. But their movements aren’t as natural as those of pendant pedals, and there’s no getting away from that. The brakes, though immensely powerful, need understanding. They’re quite dead when you use them first but after they heat up, the bite is all you could wish. Of fade, there is none.

The engine’s style of power delivery is like no other. Whereas the Italians and the Aston have tremendous power from quite low down, which feels as if it grows more or less linearly, the Porsche is only fairly strong at 2000rpm, yet it takes off from about 2800rpm. There’s that feeling of the rate of acceleration itself accelerating, which is foreign to normally aspirated engines. That self- energising power, coupled with a lack of mechanical racket, allows great mouthfuls of distance to be swallowed with little effort from you or the Porsche. The fact that the steering is light, that there are only four very widely arranged ratios (second and third working together will cope with any British-roads situation) and thus gearchanging is minimised, only serve to enhance the car’s effortlessness at covering ground. You find yourself driving the car to maximise this; manoeuvring without flourish, picking cornering lines that use maximum road and require minimal wheel movement. It’s an immensely satisfying way to go – and quite distinct from the others.

But effortlessness should never encourage a lack of concentration in this Porsche. It has excellent roadholding and ultra-sharp handling, but its cornering behaviour can also contain the seeds of disaster.

In this car, near the limit, you must be right about choosing your entry speeds to corners. If you go into a bend too fast, and need to throttle off near the limit, the tail will snap outward with a speed that requires a racer’s reflexes to catch it. As one of our test drivers termed it, ‘you need an opposite lock switch, not a steering wheel’. Of course, things can be stabilised by simply getting back on the power, provided there’s room. If not, the car will slide a long, long way at a very high speed. It’s under these conditions that the car’s short wheelbase (less than 90in) becomes apparent. Its reactions to throttle steering are instantaneous; there is a case for saying that in the hands of superior drivers this is the most manoeuvrable of all fast cars in on-the-limit cornering, but the Turbo needs a very, very firm hand and a driver whose concentration is fully focussed and reactions immediate.

We found that this power-off oversteer facility could be a joy on a racetrack, where the corners are known quantities and you can see around the bends. And where stabilising power could be fully applied. But road corners taken too fast had the potential to be extremely dicey.

Strangely, the 911 Turbo suffers little in ride terms from its short wheelbase and comparatively long body overhangs. The ride is choppy below 40 mph; the car is plainly over-damped for those conditions, understandably enough. But when driven over difficult crests with three figures on the speedo, the body stays beautifully flat and controlled. There’s less road rumble and steering kickback than in most comparable cars, though the front wheels do ‘walk’ a lot over bumps taken fast and the wheel twitches in your hands. Slow, wet bends need watching, too; 911s of all breeds have been known to understeer off them, having felt suddenly very nose-light.

in sum, though, the 911 Turbo is an electrifying car, a terrific fast touring proposition and a car which can be used as practically as a family hatchback without harm to it, or the investment, or the driver. It is several times more exhilarating to drive well than its Porsche co-flagship, the 928 S2, because it’s tougher to handle but ultimately, we think, faster.

{gallery}930turbo{/gallery}


Lamborghini Countach

There has not been a more spectacular-looking car than Lamborghini’s Countach, nor is it likely. When we took it to the roads we affirmed that the car’s pretty damn competent there, too. About the lowest thing in the Lamborghini Countach is your own rear end in the driver’s seat. There you sit, not much more than four inches off the road, resting on a thinly padded bucket seat whose cushion is actually below the level of the side sills. The centre console, massively dividing the car’s wide, wide cabin, slopes upward towards the rear so that you’re cocooned between it and the door. The other side of the cabin seems yards away, you haven’t a clue where the nose extends, except you know it’s some way forwards, and the view to the rear is restricted to a slit of glass. That’s so close to your nose when you turn around that you can feel the heat from the engine bay it’s picked up.

test Lamborghini Countach

It is this driving position which characterises your first driving period in a Countach, even if you’ve driven one before. All your usual relativities with known components are wrong. The car’s too wide, you can’t see its extremities – and all the while the computer in your head is telling you that the thing is worth upwards of £50,000 and you’ve really got to get to grips with it to report its behaviour sensibly.

Then what always happens, happens. You drive for a while, stop and do other things. When you step in again the Countach seems familiar. The driving position (which you need to put effort into adjusting for yourself, via a ‘rocking’ mechanism and a fore/aft lever) feels familiar and your hands and feet are expecting to provide the heavy efforts that at first seemed so alien, even after the Ferrari. Somehow, your brain’s information store has assimilated info about the car’s extremities, and you discover that there’s a little hatch, no more than three inches square, beside and behind the passenger’s headrest, which provides you with rear three-quartervision. In short, you have bent to suit the car; the Countach will never be compromised to suit your comfort.

test Lamborghini Countach

Lambo needs its solid-looking controls, efforts are very high indeed. But precision is built into everything; inspiration factor is sky-high. Countach’s rakish shape is impossibly complicated amalgam of scoops, planes and curves. Rear aerofoil is a serious stability aid, experts say.

Without a doubt, the Countach is the most spectacular and outlandish car you can buy from a new car dealer. Anything more spectacular you’ll have to take from a track and civilise, or build from scratch. Even then, it’s doubtful that you’ll reach that impossibly-crafted collection of planes and slopes and scoops and geometrical bulges that goes to make up the one car which can never be superseded. (Ever imagined a cosmetic tart-up on a Countach?) The closest the car ever came to a styling revision came with the 5.0litre engine, when the aerodynamic gear was extended and the car’s side sills and wheelarches enlarged.

test Lamborghini Countach

Lamborghini’s 70 deg V12 gives 375 bhp as standard, but this one is blueprinted, with 425 bhp. Delivery is smooth, comes from low down. Lambo refuses even to roll its body, let alone step out of line at near racing speeds. Wing is proved to aid stability, cuts top speed 10 mph.

The Countach is heavy (3400 lb), short (inches less than a Jalpa) and extremely wide. It’s a remarkable 14 in wider (at 79 in) than a Vauxhall Cavalier, itself not the narrowest of cars. It has its 4754cc V12 engine (twin overhead cams each bank, six 45DCOE side-draught Weber carburettors, 9.2 to one compression ratio) mounted longitudinally in the space-frame chassis, in that unique-to- Countach manner with the engine mounted ahead of the rear axle line but turned 180 degrees to the conventional, say, Boxer way. It drives through the gearbox mounted end-on, so that it’s located literally beside the driver’s elbow, just behind the actual gearchange quadrant. Then the drive leaves the bottom of the ‘box and is carried back by a shaft that tunnels straight through the engine’s sump to a final drive just behind the engine. This has the great advantage of concentrating the entire weight of the mechanicals inside the wheelbase, keeps the V12 engine fairly low-mounted and leaves room for a pair of side radiators to be mounted behind scoops on the upper surface of the rear body, just behind the two doors.

The Countach LP500 usually produces 375 bhp at 7000 rpm and 303 lb ft of torque at 4500 rpm, but the car we used for this story, privately owned by racing driver and demolition contractor Barry Robinson had a standard-spec but blueprinted V12 engine, reckoned by the factory to pump out more like 425 bhp. Barry’s Countach will likely race in Thundersports events this season, carrying the flag of his family business TW Robinson Demolition, one of the half dozen biggest concerns of its kind in the country.

The Countach has a high first gear (maximum speed 55 mph at 7000 rpm), stacks second fairly close to it (75 mph) and then has the other gears arranged fairly widely-third 112 mph, fourth 143 mph – but has its top gear lower than some at 25.7 mph/ 1000 rpm. The car tops out at 179.9 mph if kept out of the red sector that begins at 7000 rpm, though in practice the car goes faster than this at the top end because its massive Pirelli P7 tyres grow a little at top speed to increase the gearing. Barry Robinson has plenty of reason to know about the car’s behaviour at high speed. He recently set a whole series of British speed and endurance records, lapping Vauxhall’s Millbrook speed circuit -the best such track in the country – at 180 mph true for hours on end, even in the rain. He has tales of a lurid spin down the banking at that speed, although nothing but praise for Pirelli who provided something like 15 sets of special-compound tyre3 (and a technician) for the runs. ‘We found the car would run at 180 mph true without being quite flat out’, he says. ‘That was without the wing of course. We did a lot of wind tunnel testing at MIRA and found that the wing slowed the car down; the drag coefficient’s up around the 0.4 mark, but the wing has a really good effect on controlling yaw lift, and increasing the car’s stability. It’s worth fitting the wing for fast road work, anyway.’

Standard Countachs are supposed to do around 180 mph. In practice you’d need a very, very long road to achieve it. Their performance level is generally a little ahead of the Ferrari Boxer’s (as evidenced by a higher top speed) but they can’t match a Porsche Turbo over the first 120 to 130 mph. It’s only in the upper reaches that the Porsche eases and the Lambo keeps slowly climbing beyond 170 mph.

A Countach, even the ‘refined’ LP500, is still a rough, tough car, built in such small numbers (two or three a week) that the factory needn’t worry too much about legislation problems. Each buyer is an individual case; there are enough enthusiasts prepared to lie and cheat themselves into tax disc and a set of registration plates in the countries of Europe that barrier testing and clean air laws are barely a concern. They wouldn’t necessarily take that line at Sant’ Agata, but it’s true enough. The 70 deg V12 that powers the LP500 is a much- changed version of the old 4.0 litre. It has an alloy block and heads, chain drive for its four camshafts and as soon as you start the engine you’re aware of its more extreme tune than most other cars sold for the road.

It belches and grumbles at idle, the exhaust bellows even as you run it unladen at 2000 rpm to warm the oil (they speak of the extra- loud exhaust in the factory; perhaps Barry’s car has come with that). Curiously, though the mechanical components are all around you in that car, it’s only a little louder than a Boxer. It’s noisy, but not deafening. The throttle pedal has that delicious sharpness of response that the Italians seem to be able to build into their engine controls, even though the bulk of the power is available only when you give a hefty push on the long-travel throttle pedal.

The pedals are not very far away down the footwell. You sit in this car with your buttocks about the lowest part of your body. Your knees are high, the wheel is closer than you might expect of an Italian car (probably a compromise to make that outrageous shape) and is tiny in diameter and very thick-rimmed. The gearlever is high and fairly close, so that even in its furthest- away positions, your left elbow remains crooked.

The engine’s warm, you press very firmly to free the clutch and snick the gearlever outward and back into first. There’s a manual lockout against reverse, which is straightforward from first. A touch of throttle; the engine climbs to 2500 rpm .smoothly. You brace your left thigh muscle to let the clutch out slowly, the take-up is very firm but silken and the car grumbles away without a jerk or snatch. The engine is loud but beautifully smooth. The valve gear, just behind your head, chatters away. The exhaust grumbles, then howls. Into second you usually take too long over the dog-leg change, and the engine revs die instantly you’re off the power. It takes a blip, or exemplary control over the throttle’s closure to make that one-two change smooth. The engine roars as you open up. Beyond four, the edge of that blueprinted engine becomes apparent. From beneath there’s road rumble and tyre slap on the road, it lessens a little when the Pirellis get warmer but it’s always more reminiscent of a track car’s behaviour than that of a road machine. The steering, quick- geared, needs a very hefty hand indeed especially when it comes to handling the car quickly into hairpins and out again. On the other hand, its directional stability is tremendous; a little of the squirming that you feel in others but the car tracks like an arrow unless you change something yourself.

The Countach’s chassis behaviour is also reminiscent of a track car’s, even though Barry Robinson assures us it’s standard (apart from record run rear tyres with especially shallow tread). The damper control of the car is overwhelming. At trundling speeds it’s hard to believe that there’s any deflection at all; the car just maintains a flat, bumpy progress with its front wheels banging into the bumps if there are any about.

But when it’s really soaring, the Countach suspension shows why it’s made that way. The rumble lessens with speed, the iron control remains over the body’s movement (the cornering shots show how little body movement the car gives away) but somehow the suspension conspires to absorb serious-looking bumps that it encounters. Over wicked- edged crests, taken hard, the only thing that moves about is driver and occupant, and since headroom is hardly generous there’s cause to polish up the head-ducking reflex. The car sweeps on, singing up beyond 70 mph before you need consider snapping into third, gathering up 100mph on short straights and tracking beautifully around bends, even bumpy ones with ragged bitumen edges. None of us could imagine displaying anything in the way of attitude with a car of such grip on roads like these. The Lambo’s limits are well beyond those of drivers, road or visibility.

On a racetrack, you can get the Lamborghini to understeer its way through hairpin bends. You might manage to get the body to jig a bit, and you’ll feel a bit of a sideways step from the rear tyres – just a few inches – if you throttle off senselessly in the middle of a difficult bend. But in the dry, really, the car’s too good for you. It flatters your driving because there’s nothing to do but point it. Point it, and it goes, no questions asked.

The Lamborghini’s noise is nearly all mechanical. You do not hear anything much from the wind (it’s the same in all of these fast cars) but the roar of the tyres on the road, the tremendous level of mechanical noise-somehow it’s not obtrusive, though you’d never hear a radio beyond 60 or 70 mph in the Lambo – and quite a cacophony of whines from the innards of the gearbox. The whole of the sound is as if it had been designed simply as a maker of wonderful noise; we refuse to believe that at Sant’ Agata, somebody didn’t sit down one day, at the start of the ’70s and design the sound the Countach produces. The noise, raptured owners will tell you, is worth the entire purchase price.

Yet to many owners, a Countach would make no sense at all. Imagine having to leave such a car in the street, or to use it every day, or to lend it to your spouse to collect the kid from school. It’d be a nightmare, though we predict that the kid would be the last one to object. But for sheer outlandish eye appeal, and track-car capability that’s translatable for the road, there is simply no better car. It’s hard, also, to imagine a better one coming along.

The exhaust grumbles, then it howls. Into second you usually take too long over the dogleg change and the engine revs die just as soon as you’re off the power. Exemplary control is needed to make a smooth one-two.

{gallery}LamborghiniCountach{/gallery}


Aston Martin Vantage

Aston Martin’s big machine, the Vantage, doesn’t show much science about the way it works, but it still manages to be Britain’s fastest car in production, by miles, and to point quite well, too. There is almost nothing subtle about an Aston Martin Vantage, once it’s fully built. It is a large, luxurious and brutish car with a body that was traditional when it first appeared in 1967 but which still manages to combine pleasing lines with its massiveness. The subtlety comes in the skill of the craftsmen who build the Vantage – and all other ‘old’ Astons. There’s the skill and patience of the man who works for most of a week to make the car’s alloy bonnet from half a dozen separate components. There are the people who graft so painstakingly over an individual car’s burr walnut dash that years later they still remember individual jobs. And there are the ubiquitous four men who spend their days assembling Aston Martin engines from parts in bins- turning bare castings to running units. On their infinite skill rests the twin cam 5.3 litre V8’s reputation as one of the toughest, even in racing.

test Aston Martin Vantage

The Vantage grew up out of the first Aston Martin DBS car, which was unveiled in 1967. That first car was six-cylinder powered; the V8 didn’t come along until several years later, though it had always been scheduled for this car. The higher-power Vantage version was a 1977 addition to the range; Astons had built more powerful versions of their DB cars and the builders aimed to follow history.

test Aston Martin Vantage

Leather-and-burr walnut interior belies Vantage’s performance image; actually it vies with Porsche Turbo as the fastest-accelerating car of all. Aston’s handsome lines have been unspoiled by addition of spoilers and requirements of legislators. Huge 275 Pirellis show car’s serious intent.

The 1977 Vantage had a peakier torque curve than the ’84 edition. It also had deficiencies of suspension specification and build quality that made its difficult and untidy car to drive fast, especially over demanding country roads like the Welsh B-roads where part of this test took place. A thorough review of the car’s suspension took place and the Vantage turned into a tamer yet faster machine.

test Aston Martin Vantage

Vantage’s taut damping keeps two-ton car’s light gearbox and power steering body under control. In fact, the makes it quite nimble handling. Aston engine is a phenomenon of the motor industry. The 5.3 itre V8 built up by one skilled man. In Vantage, it’s good for around 390 bhp.

You would look for a long time to find a similarity-apart from bags of power — between the Aston Martin Vantage and the other cars in our group. The Aston is a 38cwt, front-engined traditional upright coupe-with-V8, which occupies more road space than a Ford Granada but has cramped two-plus-two accommodation. It is decidedly nose-heavy, and small hatchback cars a yard shorter run rings around it for cabin room. On the other hand, this body’s function, as well as carrying people, is to house the lusty 5.3 litre twin cam V8 built in alloy and fed by a quartet of massive 48mm dual throat Weber carburettors. This makes the machine Britain’s fastest road car by a very healthy margin indeed. The engine output is supposed to be a secret, Aston Martin say, but German law now requires the Newport Pagnell firm to disclose that it is good for 390 bhp. This is no figure to be sneezed at, though the car has in the past been rated at as much as 475 bhp. Astons have preferred to let the speculation push the outputs artificially higher rather than spell it out. A reliable estimated torque peak is around 375-400 lb ft, and the push is fed through a giant ZF five-speed gearbox, a design which has been commonly used for big power outputs in front-engined cars for years.

The big Aston, though it has had suspension refinement fairly recently, has traditional AM arrangements on paper-double unequal length wishbones at the front and a De Dion system at the rear. Though its popularity has mostly died for production cars, Astons still rate the De Dion as a means of keeping the car’s wheels perpendicular to the ground, a key point when you consider that the Aston wears massive ‘rally-type’ 275/55 VR15 Pirelli P7s, front and rear, and a footprint of this size is dramatically lessened if a wheel takes on any untoward camber. The brakes are gigantic ventilated discs, front and rear. Unlike most other very fast cars, the Aston has power steering – and a big- diameter, thin-rimmed steering wheel as well. The combined results are to give the wheels far lower rim effort than any other car as fast, and to enable the driver to peel an alarming amount of rubber from his front tyres when manoeuvring at parking speeds.

The Aston’s gear ratios are more widely spread than, say, the Ferrari’s, but it hardly matters. Torque cures all ills. First gear runs out below 50 mph, second is good for nearly 80, third goes to a very useful and powerful 114 mph and fourth is showing a true 138 mph at 6250 rpm, the ‘short periods-only’ redline.

There’s no doubt that the Aston is among the very fastest cars in a straight line. It vies with the Porsche as the fastest accelerating production car sold in Britain; its effortless kick in the back feels even more instant than the Porsche’s when you floor the throttle from a constant 120mph. You have to wait a long time to find the conditions where such things are possible, but the reaction is worthwhile. The engine I just gulps at the air and growls from its bowels (it never really emits a high note, just a baritone rumble at high revs, rather than a bass one lower down). The nose rises, the gigantic bonnet bulge takes away even more of your vision of the road ahead and the car rockets onward, with the energy most fairly fast cars reserve for the 50-70 mph area where every machine is supposed to have some punch. But in the Aston, there’s still 20 mph of fourth gear left at 120 and the car does its best work right up there.

At those speeds, of course, you can’t say much for the fuel consumption. Nine or 10 mpg would be a fine thing, though the car will turn in a reasonable 14mpg under more realistic British conditions.

In corners and under brakes, you cannot miss the fact that the Aston is a big, big motor car. The driver sits high, too; as high as some saloons, and he notices more the efforts of the tautly-set springs and shock absorbers to keep the body properly tied down. The combination of these uptight suspension rates and the huge, gumball Pirellis makes fora somewhat unrefined, rumbling ride, but it has produced a chassis which is utterly vice-free and allows the car to be hustled along with aplomb at speeds such traditional old cars shouldn’t be able to manage. The Aston’s body will lurch when provoked to extremes, and there’s body roll and tyre scrub near the limit, but the machine stays straight and stable all the while.

Besides that, it has the curious virtue for such a big brute of being light to drive. The assisted steering needs concentration, lest the driver (who is resisting cornering forces energetically because the seats don’t help much) should put too much heft into his work and deflect the car untidily. But the gearing is high and he soon finds he can bang the big car back into shape if it gets a little wayward. The transmission is light, too; its change mechanism is right above the gearbox and the throw is fairly long, even though the lever itself is quite short. The big problem, at least for those not used to it, is the lack of definition across the gate. It’s possible to get lost while trying to select a gear in the middle of the three longitudinal planes (second to third) and this can be a problem when you’re trying to snatch a lower gear for a slow corner. The big car’s bulk on the more narrow variety of British roads mean that it needs to be steered accurately-and this is made more difficult when the driver is distractedly gear-groping.

The brakes, though light, need to be used with considerable power to slow the big machine, and black brake dust is soon strewn on the wheel rims after a couple of stops from about a ton.

In tight corners, the big Aston feels a classic heavy-nosed, front-engined machine. Its tendency is always to understeer, though this has been tamed by those huge tyres and all the roll stiffness that has been built in.

In fact, a virtue of this car and of all the machinery we drove so hard for these stories is that they did minimal damage to their tyres’ sidewalls because the covers were sufficiently large for the job and because even in the softest-suspended car, probably this Vantage, the body roll was well controlled. Of course, the Vantage is one car you can easily boot into oversteer in slower bends, using the massive torque to overcome the traction of the limited-slip differential, but this is a comparatively slow way to travel and it peels alarming chunks of rubber from the P7s.

The nicest, cleanest way to drive fast is to keep the car straight, provoking neither oversteer or understeer, guiding it with minimal use of the powerful steering assistance, and using the massive engine power to fill in the straights you encounter. That way, the Vantage isn’t disgraced in Countach country which makes it very fast indeed. At the same time, such is the bulk of the big Aston on narrow, winding roads that the likes of a Peugeot 205GTi might well be quicker…

The exhaust note of the Aston strikes a clever compromise between being loud enough to let everyone know that the car’s the hotter version (though the blanked-off radiator and enormous boots do that quite well, too) and suppressing the mechanical noise and those noises of suction from the bank of Webers, which are inconsistent with its role as a stockbroker special. What the car lacks, among performance cars, is an edge on its throttle response from low down; to get action you must really prod it right open wide.

It’s a little difficult to know quite who is the target buyer for a Vantage. We suspect it’s likely to be a monied mogul whose first priority is to buy British. The thing is, the car has all the trappings, looks and aura of a fine old walnut-and-leather British gentleman’s express but the tautness of the suspension and the road rumble and harshness which this and the gigantic Pirellis kick up, do quite a lot to harm that luxurious mein.

Whether it suits the car’s character or not, the luxurious equipment is all there in the Vantage. The trim in our test car (once again we borrowed the transport of AML chairman, Victor Gauntlett), had brilliant cream upholstery with dark brown piping, plus inches-thick carpet mats on the floor and burr walnut (a £400 option in standard Astons) across its facia. The Vantage instruments are the traditional kind, black-faced Smiths dials arrayed in a pattern which has more than a touch of early ’60s DB4 about it. It still works well enough (at least with a too-big steering wheel for a driver to peer through). Why should they change it?

Though we’ve criticised its actual comfort quotient, the Aston has the most believable rear seat accommodation of any fast car about. It beats the Porsche 911 and 928S, the Jaguar XJS and Ferrari 400i, and competes neck- and-neck with the Ferrari Mondial, a car which can’t hold a candle to the big Britisher for outright performance. This might be enough to make many buyers prefer the Aston to all others, especially since there’s a boot the size of a smallish three-box saloon (though one half-filled with a spare wheel) to carry the occupants’ luggage.

For a top-price car, some of the Aston detailing is downright offensive. The garish ex-Jaguar interior doorhandles, the Chrysler cast-off steering column wands (those in an Escort work in a far more satisfying way), the strikingly low-rent US-sourced air- conditioning controls – surely those could have been pinched from Jaguar? – and the awkward ex-Ford array of door, ignition and boot locks which require the owner to carry four keys to various parts of his car, these are very poor detail features for which AML can only expect more criticism as the lowest common denominator of cars improves.

It’s a creditable old car, the Aston Vantage, the kind which, when it’s gone, will be sorely missed. But while it’s on the market at £47,499, the price of two Mercedes 500SEs, it seems more vulnerable to criticism. The power is there, but no longer the mystery and it is the mystery that sustains the sales appeal of so many fast cars. Still, if the forecasts of burgeoning sales, especially in the US, which were made along with the recent announcement of AML’s full acquisition by the US interests who already have distributorship of the cars on the New World, prove true, then the Old Thunderer could be in for a new lease of life. A decade of continued production seems quite on the cards.

Of course, the Vantage is one car you can boot into oversteer, using the engine’s massive torque. But this is a fairly slow way to travel and it peels some alarming chunks of rubber off the rear P7s


Finding out…

A week spent driving £185,000 worth of exotic cars over 3000miles must teach you a thing or two/Steve Cropiey. This test was never meant as a comparison. Rather, it was supposed to be a celebration and a separate assessment of the four fastest cars in Britain, on roads where they could give of their best, but where their foibles would show up, too. Nor is this story a comparison. In 3000 miles of driving that took in some of our favourite areas of South Wales and a good deal of the country between Black Mountain and our West Smithfield nerve centre we never resorted to a tape measure and minimally to our timing gear. Our doughty test team took the view that beside the important matters of the car’s character, its road behaviour, its sheer ability to inspire, door aperture dimensions and 20- 40 mph times in top gear didn’t matter a jot.

What was proved, as we said at the outset of the stories, is that unless you drive these cars together, you will know far too little about them to judge which is best for you. Perhaps somebody who has owned two or three of the cars, one after another (our Countach colleague, Barry Robinson was one such person) can make a good judgement, but so opposed and so strong are the cars’ characters that memories of one driven yesterday are rapidly obliterated by today’s.

Here’s an example. I had always thought that a Boxer and a Countach were similar cars in spirit; complex mid-engined layouts, twelve-cylinder engines with three hundred and some horsepower, the same barks and sizzles and sheer sensitivity built into each engine and the same matchless handling. Similar name-appeal, too. The main distinction between them, I’d thought, was the history and style of their manufacture – Ferrari born of a racing company and made from a Fiat-sanctioned efficiency- process that has tractor bodies being painted alongside Ferrari shells; Lamborghini without any racing influence, made by individuals who come in every day and apply their hand tools, very skilfully, to the job.

This similarity is not there. The notion died on the first occasion I stepped into the Ferrari after miles of driving the Countach. The engine started easier, seemed quieter and smoother. The pedal and steering efforts seemed as a Mazda 323’s by comparison.

What an easy car to drive! I wheeled towards the first corner, a 65mph right-hander with a difficult apex, at Countach speed. Remarkably, the pride of Maranello stepped outward; not far, but enough to know that it wouldn’t be wanting any more of that nonsense. This Ferrari Boxer is a softer, more sinuous car than the Lambo. I reckon it could have flipped through that bend at near- Countach velocity, but it needed guiding, caressing, not just to be poked in as I’d been doing. The Countach’s turn-in ability is phenomenal (probably a factor of its almost total lack of body roll or front-end kneel) though paradoxically at the racing circuit its only inclination when pressed was to understeer a little too much.

Butthe Countach is easily the most intimidating car of the bunch. You sit so low, you seem to see so comparatively little, the width of the body is so far outside your experience (it’s a Granada plus a foot, at least) that you cannot possibly enjoy the car for some time. When you eventually get going-and I’m predicting that there are some drivers who never would-there’s a feeling of achievement that just isn’t there in the rest. But the car’s grip on the road and your own caution about the space it takes up, mean that you never approach its limits on the road.

There are no bones about it, the Lambo is the fastest car across the ground (though the standard car has a little slower acceleration than the Porsche and the Aston, as our panel shows. It has a direct relationship with a track car in its rumbles, whines and whistles, and the supposedly road-going exhaust note is plenty loud enough to make the average parking warden’s eyes water, even at town speeds. It’s the one car of the four which makes people’s jaws drop (something we proved two-dozen times on our ‘transport’ stages between performance tests and photo locations). By a mile, the car is more outlandish, most impractical (Barry Robinson hasn’t taken his car across the Channel because he has doubts it would negotiate the ferry ramps; how’s that for a limitation). The Countach also lacks much in the way of body protection, specially at the rear, and the imagined cost of a new crank or a set of front- end panels is the kind of money businessmen take to Brazil.

In 3000 miles of driving that took in some favourite spots, we never resorted to a tape measure, and minimally to our timing equipment. We sought the cars’ characters.

The Ferrari, therefore, is an exquisite compromise. The essential car has a purity and a sophistication which has seen its appearance in sports car races (though it is decidedly a road car) but-apart from a sad, sad lack of any boot room whatsoever-the car is quite practical to drive. It’s flexible, it’s quiet yet sounds quite lovely from inside, has durable and easily handled controls, doesn’t need anything like the Countach’s control efforts, yet really, its performance in the hands of a good driver is damn near on a par with the Lambo’s. Add to that the fact that it really can cope with modern road conditions. There’s none of that old Countach feeling that with every mile you drive, you’re outside the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. The Boxer, apart from its boot, has many practicalities. And service is 17 times easier to find when you’re in the ends of the country. Ferrari have 17 British dealers; Lamborghini one.

The Aston is out of it, for me. You’ve got to respect the way it’s crafted, and the way it does deliver the performance, but it’s just too big a lump to be as fast as the rest of these, for long periods.

On the autobahns, it might be a different story. At least you can hear the radio quite far up the scale. But the road rumble, which is of surprising proportions for a car like this until you take a leisurely look at the size of those gigantic tyres (and realise that Astons make so few of them that there can’t have been much noise-harshness earmarked entirely for Vantages).

The Aston’s history and build process are factors in its desirability, but even with all that performance, the power steering and iffy ZF gearchange make it less of a driver’s car than the others. It’s a lot of a driver’s car, but less…

The Porsche surprised me. Not a man with much previous experience of 911s, certainly only 20 or 30 miles in Turbos, I thought I scorned the Stuttgarters for sticking with so ancient a concept because, I felt, they were scared to let go and try new waters. The Porsche 928 S2, driven recently, seemed to prove that the new-wave machines just weren’t exciting enough.

But against these other cars, the Porsche Turbo is a very, very impressive machine. If performance and handling are the things that matter here (and not archaic dash layout and sunroof switches under the dash) the Porsche Turbo 930 can cut it. It has on its own the smooth, silent, self-energising power of its KKK exhaust blower engine; that makes it seem more effortless than the rest. It is exceptionally easy to handle with lightish steering and a foolproof, widespaced four-speed gearbox that is no detriment to performance.

It dawdles in town. It has body protection. And people know exactly what a Porsche Turbo is; nobody has to ask. The handling quirk is even a factor in the car’s desirability. There’s a case for saying that the Porsche Turbo, expertly driven, has the most adjustable handling of the lot in very serious cornering. That’s because of the power-off, snap tail-out business and because the car’s naturally manoeuvrable on its short wheelbase. And there’s the terrific workmanship, the Europe-wide spread of dealers and the endemic reputation Porsches have for reliability. This one, at least, need not be a millionaire’s car, just a machine for somebody comparatively well-heeled.

I decided I would have the Countach, or failing that the Porsche. They have reserves and difficulties of driving which, when conquered, make your scalp prickle with delight. Then somebody pointed out that I had chosen cars separated by a cool £23,000 in price – £33,878 for the Porsche, around £57,000 for the Countach. But, I couldn’t bring myself to pick solely the Porsche, even though it would serve as an only car whereas with the Lambo you’d have to add the cost of an XR3 or some such to go and get the shopping. Still, Sant’ Agata make the car for me; sitting here I can feel the sheer sense of occasion there’d be whenever it rumbled out of my garage.

 

PERFORMANCE Ferrari 512 BBi Boxer Porsche 911 Turbo 930 Aston Martin Vantage Lamborghini Countach
Acceleration (sec) 
0-30 mph
2.8 2.3 2.4 2.7
0-40 mph 3.8 2.9 3.2 3.7
0-50 mph 4.7 3.7 4.4 4.5
0-60 mph 5.8 5.4 5.5 5.7
0-70 mph 7.6 6.5 6.7 7.8
0-80 mph 8.9 7.8 8.1 9.5
0-90 mph 11.1 10.5 10.0 11.5
0-100 mph 13.4 12.6 12.1 13.3
0-110 mph 16.4 15.5 14.5 15.9
0-120 mph 21.0 19.5 18.3 21.0
Standing quarter-mile
14.2 13.6 13.5 14.2

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