It wasn’t a punchy sports car. I think my max speed on a downhill run was something like 16.8 mph. It wasn’t bright orange; it was Oregon Duck green and yellow, the height of a small house and the width of a single wide trailer.
My first experience driving a six-figure price tag vehicle came at the ripe age of eleven, behind the wheel of a combine on my family’s farm.
Fast forward seventeen years: sliding into a Lamborghini sports car, I clenched every muscle tight and whispered a prayer as the professional driver punched the accelerator to blow past 168 mph and on toward blurred vision. Ted chased behind us, solo at the wheel of a shiny Gallardo after a full day of precision control maneuvers and on-track training.
Pinch us, can this possibly be real?
Welcome to the 2012 Lamborghini Driving Academy at the Imola Racecourse in Italy’s Motor Valley: Five professional instructors attending to seven drivers from nations all around the world, giving personalized instruction and leading hair-raising runs around a Formula One racetrack.
Ted and I accepted a once-in-a-lifetime invitation from Lamborghini to experience the thrill of exclusive, top of the line, screaming-speed equipment on a world class raceway in a land that lays claim to such two and four wheel legends as Ducati in Bologna, Ferrari in Maranello, Maserati in Modena, and of course Lamborghini in Sant’Agata Bolognese.
In following posts, we’ll share highlights and photos from our extreme two days with the Lamborghini Driving Academy, but first, I’m eager to pass on my most surprising discovery from the experience: a revelation that came not from the speed of the sleek matte bodies or the skills of the pros, but from stories of Lamborghini roots grown Boglonese farmland soil.
I learned to drive on country roads, on country tractors. So likewise did Ferruccio Lamborghini.
He carried a relationship with agriculture from an upbringing on his family grape farm in the beautiful countryside of Emilia-Romgana, and after serving as a young man in the Italian Royal Airforce, Lamborghini began his own post-WWII enterprise assembling and selling tractors made from salvaged military vehicles purchased from exiting US Forces. He built his original company, Lamborghini Tractors, through skilled craftsmanship, mechanical knowledge, and innovation.
Eventually, his success as industrialist and businessman generated the wealth to indulge in his life-long love of cars and thus ensued the series of events that would inspire him to craft his own super-verhicle.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, Ferruccio Lamborghini proudly owned many of the finest makes, including models from well known neighboring Italian auto-maker Enzo Ferrari.
“I had three or four of them. The Ferrari was a very good car, I must admit, the best I had had so far apart from the Mercedes 300SL. After I got my first Ferrari, my other six cars – Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Mercedes, Maserati, Jaguar were always left in the garage.”
–Ferruccio Lamborghini (Thoroughbred & Classic Cars, Jan. 1991)
But…beware selling a fine machine to a fine mechanic. He knew enough to know what wasn’t working well, and he knew enough to recognize that sometimes the better alternative to waiting on someone else to fix your problems is to tackle them yourself.
“All my Ferraris had clutch problems. When you drove normally, everything was fine. But when you were going hard, the clutch would slip under acceleration; it just wasn’t up to the job. I went to Maranello regularly to have a clutch rebuilt or renewed, and every time, the car was taken away for several hours and I was not allowed to watch them repairing it. The problem with the clutch was never cured, so I decided to talk to Enzo Ferrari. I had to wait for him a very long time. ‘Ferrari, your cars are rubbish!’ I complained. Il Commendatore was furious. ‘Lamborghini, you may be able to drive a tractor but you will never be able to handle a Ferrari Properly.‘ This was the point when I finally decided to make a perfect car.
–Ferruccio Lamborghini (Thoroughbred & Classic Cars, Jan. 1991)
If Enzo Ferrari hadn’t made that crack – one day early in the 1960’s when I was complaining for the nth time about the insoluble clutch problems I was having with his car, I might never have built my Lamborghinis.
I liked my Ferraris. but I was sick and tired of spending so much of my time burning out their clutches [sic] And every time I went to Modena, everyone there seemed to take a malicious pleasure in making me hang around waiting. Ferrari’s answer to my complaint on that score was that one day he had kept the King of Belgium waiting, so Mr Lamborghini, the builder of tractors and boilers, really had no cause to object. As for the technical drama, he just wasn’t willing to listen to my suggestions, and I was never able to obtain a reinforced clutch for my Ferrari. Finally I’d had enough. I slammed the door and vowed I would build my own car. The way I wanted it. And sturdy!
–Ferruccio Lamborghini (Lamborghini, by Lamborghini; Automobile Classiques, Spring-Summer’84)
Lamborghini: A knowledgeable tinkerer with a passion for excellence and a stubborn streak that riled him to make his own when he knew he could do better.
Stories of engines, makes and models, famous races, and serious automobile collectors are enough to make my head spin most days, but Lamborghini had me at the word “tractor.”
Following our Monday and Tuesday combination of driving instruction and time on the track, we paid a visit to the Mueso Lamborghini for a guided tour of the manufacturing facilities.
My farm-girl heart surged a bit with pride when I heard that to this day, they develop and test drive new Lamborghini vehicles not on dedicated race tracks, but on true back country roads right there in farmland surrounding Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy. (Confession: I received my first speeding ticket at 18 for zipping down hills and around corners on back country roads in St. Paul, Oregon…)
We found the legend to be true: there at the stoplight on our way from the factory was a brand-new Aventador out for a test spin.
After learning the back story of the heritage of the brand and the Lamborghini legacy born in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, I’m a new kind of fan. I may not be able to rattle off engine sizes or performance speeds, but I can tell you this: Lamborghini roots make me smile…almost as much as the feeling of screaming down a racetrack in a modern marvel.
From John Deere combines to seven hundred horsepower Aventador engines, these two Oregonians are living the dream…
If you ever find yourself in the Terra di Motori (the Italian “land of motors”), arrange ahead of time for entrance to the new Museo Lamborghini, opened in 2011. Admire decades of prototypes and production models, and if you’re really ready for a thrill, trade a confidentiality agreement for a behind the scenes factory tour to see the current Gallardo and Aventador under hand-assembly.
Lamborghini Driving Academy
Open to Lamborghini owners and sportscar enthusiasts alike.
Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A.
Via Modena, 12, I-40019 Sant’Agata Bolognese (BO), Italia
Phone +39 051 6817.611
M-F (excluding holidays), 10.00 am – 12.30 pm & 1.30 pm – 6.00 pm
Adults: €13 Museum Entry or €40 Museum Entry & Guided Factory Tour
Lamborghini on Instagram
Photos of the legends…
Thanks for reading our series from Emilia-Romagna: A region of Northern Italy ripe for exploration. And thank you especially to Lamborghini for hosting us at their 2012 Driving Academy. If you’d enjoy coming along for the ride, follow us on Twitter (@twoOregonians), like our Facebook page, and stay tuned for more photos and stories from the racetrack and behind the wheel.