Unveiled this week at the Geneva motor show, the Centenario exists as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ferruccio's birth. And despite its abject outlandishness, this is no token gesture: the Centenario is a full-on production model, albeit one destined for a very brief run. The company plans to build just 20 coupes and 20 roadsters — every last one of which was claimed before the lights went on in Geneva. It also happens to be the most powerful production car in Lamborghini's history, packing a 760-horsepower naturally aspirated V12, and one of the most expensive, with a sticker price of €1.75m (about £1.4m, or $1.9m).
What was the last truly beautiful Lamborghini? Certainly nothing in the current range. The Hurácan is a too Teutonic for its own good, with a shape that is more focused on going fast than pleasing the eye. And the Aventador is preposterous from any angle. Moving backward, the Murciélago — the first new Lamborghini under Audi ownership — is positively modest by standards of today's Sant'Agata, the unadorned arc of its body perfectly reflecting the tidy values of its new corporate parent. But you'd be hard-pressed to call it beautiful. Ditto the Gallardo, which strived to be simultaneously different from and identical to the (legitimately pretty) Ferrari 360 Modena, and failed on both counts.
The 1990 Diablo may be the last Lamborghini that aspired to actual beauty. And it's no coincidence that the car's initial design came from one Marcello Gandini, perhaps the most gifted supercar stylist who ever lived. Any discussion of beautiful Lamborghinis must begin and end with Gandini, who in addition to the Diablo penned two of Italy's undisputed beauties: the Miura of 1966 and the Countach of 1971, both luscious concept cars that became equally luscious production cars. Gandini's other Lamborghini concept cars, the 1967 Marzal and the 1974 Bravo, and his 2+2 production models — Jarama, Espada and Urraco — were less swooningly lovely, but even so, their designer's devotion to visual harmony shines through.
The Centenario, in contrast, is monstrous — and quite intentionally so. It is angry, brutal, even dangerous. From the shovel nose to the trio of exhaust tips, the car's glossy gray surfaces are festooned with prickly details. Fins and creases have scalpel edges, scoops and vents and wheel arches are raw and woundlike. And fine yellow stripes catch the eye like police tape around a crime scene. This is a car that does not slip through the wind; it slashes and hacks its way through.
One cannot help but wonder how Ferruccio, who died in 1993, would feel about his 100th birthday gift. He'd be impressed by the performance, certainly; the Centenario is capable of howling from zero to 62mph in 2.8 seconds and punching onward to a top speed in excess of 217mph. And he'd be dazzled by the masterful use of advanced technology and materials; the car is crafted almost entirely of carbon fibre and incorporates such cutting-edge features as permanent all-wheel drive with rear-wheel steering, an adaptive magneto rheological suspension and even Apple CarPlay.
But gazing at the car, we suspect he'd feel a twinge of remorse. His directive for Automobili Lamborghini, inspired by an infamous snubbing by Enzo Ferrari himself, was to beat 'Il Commendatore' at his own game, to build the anti-Ferrari. It's a comic-book revenge plot, an arch villain’s origin story. The modern Lamborghini — this modern Lamborghini, the Centenario — is the ultimate expression of Ferruccio's hot temper. It is a car — and a company — that exists now solely to "play the bad-boy card". And though, as my colleague noted, they play it well, there is something empty, even sad, about devoting your existence to being someone else's undoing.
By Matthew Phenix