Weekends: Taming Mulholland Hwy in a Superleggera

Orange. Could there be a more compelling reason for taking the keys of the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera that has just arrived under the canopy of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica where I am staying? It would be hard to imagine.

Whereas competitors at this end of the market tend be featured in shades of red, black, silver or white, Lamborghini has no such limitations. In fact, the more unique, the better. The appeal of driving something so enormously capable in such a blistering colour as “Arancio Mira” is almost beyond comprehension. For the next few days in always sunny California, life is destined to be dreamlike.

You don’t so much enter the Gallardo Superleggera as you attempt to fall into it gracefully. In my case, getting out is equally as challenging and on several occasions, I manage to ruffle the perfectly coiffed portion of my balding head still covered with hair. It is a proud moment to say the least.

Getting comfortable behind the steering wheel is much easier than I anticipated. High backed, Alcantara leather sport seats grab in all the right places. The 3-spoke sport steering wheel features similar material as well as carbon-fiber, aluminum and a flat-bottomed base to aid entry and exit. Holding on is effortless, even when driving at high speed produces sweaty palms.

Turn the key and the V-10 engine barks to life with a banshee wail certain to wake the neighbours. You know the sound is impressive when self-absorbed L.A. gathers with respect to listen and watch the Gallardo Superleggera come to life.

Blipping the throttle is not for the faint of heart or shy. Underfoot is 530 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 376 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm. Sitting at a stoplight, the Italian bull is already going faster than anything else on the road in the minds of those looking at the car. How quick you choose to go depends solely on the size of your wallet.

Arriving back at the hotel after an early morning rush hour jaunt, (surprisingly easy in the Superleggera) I hand the keys to a valet attendant and he proceeds to park the car where everyone will see it. As any Hollywood agent knows, it never hurts to decorate the scene with a little eye candy.

Stepping under the canopy of the massive Moreton Bay Fig Tree at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica is like strolling back in time. Hallways and restaurants are decorated with images of Tinsel Town’s most memorable stars from the past, including Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart.

The hotel itself is anything but old fashioned; offering state-of-the-art facilities along with the gracious accommodations and service Fairmont Hotels is famous for.

A total of 302 guest rooms and suites are housed in the Ocean Tower and historical Palisades wing. Mere steps from the main entrance, cottage-like bungalows are secluded at the rear of the property by lush foliage and a waterfall fronting the large freeform pool.

Spa treatments are available at Exhale Spa; a three block walk from the hotel. With 15,000 sq. ft. of relaxing space, spa professionals offer a diverse range of treatments in 20 Zen inspired rooms. Men’s and Women’s shower offer hot and cold whirlpool baths and steam rooms that put the finishing touch on a perfect way to renew mind and body.

Refreshed and eager to go, it is time again to get behind the wheel of the Gallardo Superleggera and experience the equivalent of automotive nirvana. With so many great roads a mere 30-minute drive from the hotel, my obvious choice is Mulholland Hwy just north of Malibu.

Ascending the hallowed two-lane road from Pacific Coast Hwy, I push my lower back into the seat and launch the Gallardo Superleggera through a rapid succession of paddle-shifting gear changes. Quick right and left turns are followed by high-speed hill climbs and even faster descents. Motorcycles make up most of the company on the road as I sprint deeper into the canyon.

Where the Superleggera triumphs over the standard Gallardo is in allowing the driver to further stretch the boundaries of what is possible.

Shaving 70 kg of weight with the use of a carbon fiber body panels such as the hood and rear spoiler, plus 10 extra horsepower, 0-100 km/h is achieved in a mere 3.8 seconds instead of the usual 4.0. It may not sound like much, but every bit counts when pushing the limits on a tricky stretch of highway such as Mulholland. Top speed is rated at 315 km/h.

Stops are instantaneous with 8-piston front and 4-piston rear aluminum calipers. Aluminum double wishbone front and rear suspension with anti-dive and anti-squat offers a superb drive experience, except where roads are less than perfect. With Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires on 19” aluminum alloy wheels, every bump is felt no matter how small.

Sitting so low to the ground, care is also required when exiting parking lots or driving through residential streets. Pulling up beside a Dodge Ram pickup, I have the unique experience of staring out my window only to see the running board at eye level.

Reflecting on my time in the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, I am most impressed with how easy it was to go fast and stay in control. Equipped with permanent 4-wheel drive and surprisingly uncomplicated controls, it’s almost civilized. Thank goodness for bright colours and a high price tag, otherwise everybody might want one.

2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera
Wheelbase: 2,560 mm
Overall length: 4,300 mm
Engine size: 10 cylinders V90° DOHC 4-valves
Transmissions/speeds: 6-speed automatic
Rear/front drive: Permanent 4-wheel drive
Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
Braking: Power vacuum ventilated 4-disc, ABS
Tires: Pirelli 235/35 ZR 19 front, 295/30 ZR 19 rear
MSRP: $317,600

Related links:
Car and Driver

Where to stay:

Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
101 Wilshire Boulevard Santa Monica, California

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