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Supercars To Go, Third Place: Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 AP

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The idea of a rear-wheel-drive Gallardo was so obvious that it’s a wonder it took six years for it to appear on the market as a limited edition and another year after that to join the standard lineup. Indeed, the 550-2 was popular from the moment it appeared in dealer order sheets, though not for the reason you’d initially suspect.

We’d all like to believe that the “purist” Gallardo sold well because Lamborghini owners naturally gravitated towards a more thrilling, more authentic Lamborghini experience, preferably with a manual transmission. A few people did stump up for the mack daddy clutch-and-RWD combo, but far more people chose the 550-2 Spyder e-gear. After all, the 550-2 was cheaper than the 560-4 we discussed yesterday. Why not use the savings to pay for the droptop, particularly given the fact that you, the Lamborghini customer, live in a sunshine state anyway?

So though you will occasionally see an AWD Gallardo coupe hammering through some miserable weather in Manhattan or Chicago or Powell, Ohio, the customers always really wanted the cheapest convertible they could get. Thus, the triumph of the 550-2; not as a fine-tipped, metal-topped brush with which to paint the fastest laps on a concrete canvas, but as the lowest number in the list of Spyder suggested retail prices.

Our test car is half-pure, if you will; though it has no canvas top, it is equipped with the same e-gear transmission seen in the LP560-4. Like most of its 550-2 siblings, it has a more conservative front and rear fascia than the AWD variant. As an “AP” version, it boasts a quilted-leather interior. This is surprisingly relevant to the trackday task at hand. Observe:

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In a standard Gallardo, that quilted roof is replaced by a double-bubble felt headliner that offers a full extra inch and a half of headroom. The difference that makes in the comfort of operation for taller drivers wearing a helmet is impossible to exaggerate. In this 550-2, I had to keep my head tilted at all times. No amount of slouching could let me sit upright in it. Had I brought my top-vented helmet to the track that day instead of my open-face instructor’s model, I’d have been unable to drive the 550-2 around the track.

Which would have been a genuine shame.

Somewhere inside my twisted, oft-broken ribcage beats a heart that absolutely despises this automobile’s undisputed and massive superiority over the 560-4. After all, it’s the height of douchebag spec-sheet press-kit in-flight journalism to mindlessly prefer the “right-wheel-drive” version of a supercar. I could have delivered this verdict to you from my home office and thus enjoyed four days playing Fleet Foxes covers on my ragged-wood ’74 Gibson J-40 instead of suffering through over one hundred and fifty teeth-grinding coaching sessions in Oklahoma. Any idiot with a twelve-month-old username on Jalopnik can tell you that the 550-2 is better. How I prayed for this car to suck as I took my cramped seat behind the wheel and prepared to pull onto the front straight at Hallett. I was dead set against the white Lamborghini, stabbing from hell’s heart into its flat-surfaced face with all the hate I could muster. The words came unbidden to my mind’s typewriter as I opened the door:

A cynical attempt to persuade nouveau-riche keyboard racers that they aren’t being coddled by everything from hyper-active ESC to safety-first tire stagger, the 550-2 proves to be the two-percent milk of Lamborghinis, a Lambo For Dummies too ill-educated to understand the benefits of AWD on the racetrack…

But look ye, Starbuck, what is said in heat, that thing unsays itself. And it took just one turn — one turn for me to put aside the ridiculous conceit of hating the RWD Gallardo for hate’s sake. How joyously it bent into the first fast left, the steering both smoother and lighter for the loss of the front axles! How it balanced in the midcorner on the throttle, and how it leapt from the exit with just a touch of stutter-step as the V10 fed a Diablo’s worth of twist to the forty-five-percent differential! I pulled the paddle and the shift was smoother and faster than in its quad-driven sister. Over the blind hill I went as the speedometer rang the triple digits and I pulled the paddle again and was heartily shoved in return and then finally it was time to trust the brakes, that trust returned with a shudder of the ABS and an arresting-hook swing of the speedo’s needle even as I roared down through the gears to second for the track’s slowest corner.

Forget the spec sheet, for it fails to show you the most important item included when you choose the cheapest Gallardo: joy. There’s a tradeoff, of course: when it rained, the lack of a driven front axle made everything more of a challenge, including full-throttle acceleration in a straight line. In that respect, however, it was no worse than a Corvette.

The rest of the thing is as the LP560-4: understated interior even with the quilted leather, plenty of visibility, a feeling of manageable size, an engine that manages the neat trick of being torquey and rev-happy, a suspension that balances the competing demands of ride and handling well enough to work on an ancient racetrack.

With less visual gingerbread than virtually any other Gallardo variant, in the Econoline-van white paint, and already suffering from the not-quite-Lamborghini proportions that failed to shock even back in 2004, this car definitely won’t impress anybody in Palm Springs or Miami. Your neighbors will wonder why you can’t afford a Huracan, and your frenemies on the Internet will automatically assume you paid whatever the lowest listing price on eBay for any Gallardo is. The Estonian call girls and NYU SeekingArrangement adventurers will turn up their noses at your attempts to climb the supercar ladder. At the Cars and Coffee, it will be suggested behind your back that you own the Acura ILX of Lamborghinis.

All of that, as well as everything else that troubles you, can be safely and easily forgotten the moment you exit pit lane at your local track. Dismissed by the posers, this bull is, instead, the toreador’s choice.

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