Anyone who stayed awake to the end of last week's Volvo XC90 Brave Pill will know that this week's was meant to be the first French car to receive our Légion de Courage. But that plan has been thrown into an appropriately gallic third-reverse gear retreat when this moderately famous Lamborghini Diablo was discovered in the classifieds.
Many Lambos earn substantial media coverage, but none have likely achieved more than this early Diablo, one of the first right-hand drive cars to reach the country in 1991. Anyone who read that era's car magazines will likely have seen it multiple times, but not on editorial pages. This is the car that well-known in-car entertainers Alpine used both as a factory demonstrator and attention-getter, with frequent appearances in the brand's glossy and mostly tobacco-filtered adverts from the time. It also starred at live events for several years, many being the sort where gullwing doors were more often sported by Max Power'd Vauxhall Novas.
This wasn't just marketing hype, the connection between Alpine and Lamborghini ran deeper than this car. The audio company featured a Countach in some of its cheesier eighties adverts, and an Alpine audio system was standard in the Diablo. In 1999 it even produced a co-branded Diablo VT Alpine Edition for the U.S. market, featuring a custom installation that included both sat-nav and a built-in speed gun detector. But wearing the D14BLO registration, this was the best known of the lot - certainly in the UK. Just looking at it might be enough to summon memories of dry ice and a 'reach for the lasers' soundtrack.
Even a minor celebrity Diablo still lives in the critical wilderness when compared to its sanctified predecessor. It really isn't long since even nicer examples of the Countach could be landed for similar money to the £169,995 being asked for our Pill, but now you'd need to budget nearly twice as much to land even one of the later and wingier versions, while earlier ones are more likely to be £POA than have actual values attached. Prices have rallied for the later fixed-headlamp Diablos, but there is still much less love for the pop-up cars.
Not that the Diablo encountered huge critical acclaim when new. Lamborghini's struggle to replace the Countach had been demonstrated by the wedgy supercar's pensionable age and some of the less attractive upgrades that blighted the purity of Marcello Gandini's unimprovable shape as it grew older. Gandini had also been commissioned to style what was known as Project 132 - the car that would become the Diablo - while Lamborghini was still owned by the French Mimran brothers in 1985. But when Chrysler took control two years later timid executives in Detroit soon ordered that Gandini's wedgy design be toned down and softened. The result as launched in 1990 was a car that certainly didn't lack presence, but which definitely didn't match the expletive-summoning shock of the original Countach. (Most of Gandini's original proposal later became the Cizeta-Moroder V16T.)
The Diablo also lacked mechanical sophistication, even by the limited standards of early nineties supercars. The engine was suitably monstrous, a turned-up 5.7-litre version of the 48-valve V12 from the Countach with the addition of fuel injection pushing output to 485hp, enough for a claimed 202mph top speed. But the Diablo didn't get ABS brakes or even, on early cars, power steering; resulting in a driving experience big on machismo and short on finesse. Ergonomics were close to terrible, with poor visibility, air con unable to fight the heat soak from the vast engine and low speed refinement bad enough to have one contemporary review liken the cabin to the cell of a Bangkok debtor's prison. You get the idea.
The Diablo's bigger problem was the Ferrari F40. While the overlap between both cars might look limited to modern eyes, there wasn't an abundance of supercar choice at the time and comparison was inevitable. The F40 was even rawer and considerably more expensive, but it was also lighter, more agile and had a far sharper dynamic focus. The Ferrari's instant legend status turned the Diablo into a pudgy also-ran in both comparison tests and the minds of many buyers, something reflected in both early sales numbers and subsequent resale values.
Lambo worked hard to improve the Diablo over the years with progressive upgrades indicated by new suffixes: the all-wheel driven VT, then GT and SV. Performance improved, equipment levels grew and the cabin became plusher over time - although the rabbit hutch dimensions were never expanded. I only got to drive one of the last 6.0 VT coupes in period, an experience that was thrilling and terrifying in almost equal measure, especially when trying to thread it down a bumpy B-road. I emerged from a driving stint clammy with sweat and congealed fear to be assured by an older and wiser colleague that it was a huge improvement over the earlier car. But the really scary bit came at a petrol station, refilling the almost-empty 100 litre tank barely 200 miles after it had last been brimmed.
Our Pill is being sold by a well-known supercar dealer in Preston and the advert's comprehensive history run-down says it first reached the UK in July 1991, one of the first pair of right-hookers to get here. Alpine owned it until 1997, and left it with what must have been a top-of-the-line head unit with a pop out screen. This stage of the car's life also seems to have been responsible for the vast majority of the distance it has covered.
While the digital MOT history only goes back to 2006, the car showed just 76,761 miles when it passed a test then - by the most recent pass in October last year that had increased to 78,371. That's barely 100 miles a year, yet the odometer reading does seem to have increased consistently between tests. The last advisory was recorded as long ago as 2012, but testers have put down distances in both miles and kilometers in different years. That mileage might be high for a Lambo, but it has a way to go before it gets close to the figure racked up by Simon George's Murcielago.
Running costs for any V12 Lambo will be on the welt-forming side of high. Routine maintenance is predictably expensive and out-of-routine stuff can come with surreal price tags, especially when it comes to tracking down more obscure parts. Yet given the state of the rest of the market for V12 Lamborghinis an early Diablo looks well hedged against further depreciation.
Sensible? Not even vaguely. But like many of the reddest investments, our Pill offers both substantial risk and the prospect of huge reward.
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