Cruising around in Smart Cars and Lamborghinis

by Brian Clarey

The fire-orange Lamborghini, an ethereal shade known as arancio borealis, whips a sharp left towards Wendover Avenue as a small black car — an inferior species, like a Toyota or something — bears down. If we were in my Subaru, that pesky little import would have T-boned the passenger side before I could spin the wheel. As it is, the arancio borealis Lamborghini executes the pivot with yards to spare and its tires grip the road as we explode onto Wendover, G-forces sucking my lumbar region snugly into the contoured passenger seat, the motor growling like an angry pirate. “You okay dude?” shouts Steven Jones, general manager of Greensboro’s newest car dealership, Lamborghini Carolinas. I nod. He taps the accelerator and twiddles the butterfly shifters. In third gear we’re tearing along at 90 mph and the engine’s growl has softened to a purr that reverberates magnificently when we shoot under the overpass on our way to Benjamin Parkway. My sense of perception is totally skewed. This morning at the office I docked the Subaru and hopped into the newest addition to the YES! Weekly fleet: a 2008 Smart Car Fortwo Passion Coupe, less than nine feet long and just under a ton in weight, with a 1-liter, 3-cylinder engine, butterfly shifters and a body made almost entirely of plastic. It looks like an oversize baby shoe, but the little buggy fills up for $30 and gets 40-45 miles per gallon. The Smart Car debuted in the United States in January 2008, but they have been bobbing down Europe’s roads for years. They’re made by Mercedes-Benz, built for efficiency and safety, with just a little bit of style. You can get one for about $13,000 if you don’t mind waiting a few months for it. I grab Lowrance and we take it for an initial run. It’s a zippy little sucker, though it’s kind of a bouncy ride and in automatic mode the gear shifts are not exactly smooth. But it’s got some pep, and I get the tiny whiner up to 80 mph on the highway when I stand on the gas. It’s a two-seater, of course, with ample leg- and headroom, and it’s basically got the feel of a small pickup truck, without the bed. Another thing: People seem to love this car. When we stop at a gas station for hot dogs, a small crowd forms around it. We poke and prod, looking for ways to open the sunroof (you can’t) and pull the hood (nope, it pops off like a snap-together model). On High Point Road a teenage girl leans out the window of a passing car to smile and wave; I punch the gas and shoot past her, inspiring glee. On Business 40 a guy pulls alongside of me and takes some video on his phone. I oblige by stomping down and leaving him in my tiny, tiny dust. My kids love it, too: They’re laughing and clapping and jumping up and down when they see it in the driveway. And I even get a few looks when I wheel the thing onto the lot at Lamborghini Carolinas, threading through the crowd at their grand opening like I’m in a golf cart, which I kind of am. The Lamborghini affair is a swanky one. They’ve got umbrella tables with white and black linens. They’ve got chrome and leather couches in the sitting area and a new shag rug. They’ve got canapés on the tall tables and models for hire in little black dresses. They’ve got a band — a trio, with a bearded gentleman tickling the ivories of the showroom piano. They’ve got a bar. They also have a bunch of Lamborghinis lying around, exquisite machines, like a bunch of sleeping lions. The Gallardo Spyder has a 10 cylinder, 5-liter engine with a top speed of 195 mph, which it can reach in 4.3 seconds. The Muirciélago LP640 Roadster alongside it has 12 cylinders, a 6.5-liter capacity and can hit 205 mph in three and a half seconds. Each is a piece of art. “What makes it a luxury item?” asks Pietro Frigerio, COO of Automobili Laborghini America, in that suave Italian way. “A jewel… a house… a car…. It’s only the attention to detail that makes it above the rest.” Out in the lot, the arancio borealis Lamborghini that will soon take me screaming down Wendover Avenue rumbles to life; shimmering heat waves emanate from the rear end. Lamborghini started as a beef between Italians — the people who brought you the word vendetta — in the old country. A tractor maker named Feruccio Lamborghini was having problems with the clutch in his Ferrari. He took it to Enzo Ferrari, right there at the factory, and Ferrari insulted him. Frigerio tells the tale. “So Mr. Lamborghini, he made his money with his tractors. He’s very proud of himself, you see? He says, ‘I don’t need your cars. I can do a better one.’” The Lamborghini 350 GT rolled off the line in 1962. “Our cars have a soul,” Frigerio says. “We’re not selling a car, not just transportation. It’s a lifestyle.” Last year Lamborghini made 2,400 cars and sold 930 of them in the US. The company is growing, Frigerio says, and he estimates that 30 cars a year moving through the Carolina showroom will meet the company’s needs. For now. Of course, for the price of 30 Lamborghinis, even cheap ones, you could buy like 600 Smart Cars. Factor in the gas mileage for the Lamborghini — between 8 and 17 miles per gallon — and you tell me which one you’ll be seeing more of on the roads next year. Still… there’s something about the burning through town in the arancio borealis Lamborghini that fuel efficiency just can’t touch.

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