Mario Andretti just picked up a new car in Los Angeles. Not a race car for this Indy car champion, Indy 500 winner, and most recognized name in international racing, but something very, very close: a Y2K Lamborghini Diablo SV (for Sports Veloce, or Velocity). Now owned by the thoroughly German Audi brand, these handcrafted Lamborghini Diablos were designed by Marcello Gandini, who earlier had come up with a V-16 version that never saw the light of day.
First introduced in the late 1980s, this successor to the Countach has evolved into a line of three stunning state-of-the-art exotics that are the fastest and most powerful four-wheel-drive cars in the world: the Diablo Roadster, the Diablo SV, and the Diablo VT.
Two new special-edition Diablos debut this year. Built only for the U.S. market and just now in the dealerships are the Alpine VT (Viscous Traction) coupe (more powerful than the SV) and the MOMO Roadster, which range in price from $239,000 for the base model to $333,500 for the top of the line. (Mario's rear-wheel-drive, mid-engined SV costs somewhere in-between.)
The VT version has a traction-control system that shifts power to the front wheels if the back wheels lose grip, plus built-in headlights carried over from 1999. (The ancient pop-up headlights disappeared after the 1998 model-year.) The Roadster has a removable roof that can be stored over the engine cover.
Raise the hood on one of these magnificent Italian machines and there's reading material on the engine block describing the firing order of the car's 12 cylinders: 1-7-4-10-2-8-6-12-3-9-5-11. Pumping out 530 horsepower at 7100 rpm for a factory-claimed top speed of 209 miles, the various 5.7-liter Lambos leap, the company insists, from 0 to 60 mph in a smidgen under four seconds. Maximum torque is 445 lb-ft at 5500 rpm. The Diablo transmission is a five-speed manual.
The suspension system was inherited from Lamborghini's racing efforts, with cockpit-adjustable stabilizer bars similar to those in an Indy 500 racer, and includes independent front and rear wishbones, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar.
These supercars offer little room for anything but two elegantly slender people in the front seats and a golf bag in its 5 cubic feet of cargo space. Its two doors open and swing straight up to the sky, similar to gullwings but without roof panels. Rear spoilers any Indy-car builder would be proud to display crown the rear decklid, and giant-sized disc brakes bring you quickly to a halt.
Among the high-tech electronics that have made their way to Italy is a shock-absorber system with manual and automatic control, static ignition, and multipoint sequential phased fuel injection.
In spite of its 80.3-inch width — 5 inches more than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class — the Diablo has a curb weight of 3575 pounds, which is around 1300 pounds lighter than an S-Class sedan or CL coupe.
The MOMO model has 13 distinct features, including lush metallic paint, a high-tech carbon-fiber dash, console, rocker panels and door sills, a navigational system and, most important of all, a hidden built-in radar detector. In case the price leaves you penniless, buyers also receive a leather jacket, a hat, running shoes, a competition racing suit, gloves, sunglasses, a car cover, and luggage. The Alpine version features Alpine Electronics, considered one of the better stereo sound systems in the world, plus a navigational system, a camera, and a slew of other accessories. Only 12 MOMO and 12 Alpine special-edition Lamborghinis are being sold in the United States.
If you need a faster car, the killer Diablo GT is your best bet. Lamborghini says it’s the world's fastest production car, and it’s street-legal only in Europe. However, if you're a professional race driver or a collector, it's really the car for you. Trust us on this one — this year's recent Concours Italiano, at the annual Monterey classics weekend, featured 55 Lamborghinis, alongside actor Nicolas Cage's one-of-a-kind Lamborghini Miura that was previously owned by the Shah of Iran.
And coincidentally, en route to Pebble Beach, Mario Andretti drove his new yellow Diablo accompanied by several California cops — just in case that 530-horsepower became too tempting. Who'd dare give this racing legend a speeding ticket? And who would dare slow down one of these truly arresting cars?