Turning Paris And Monaco Into Point A And Point B In A Lamborghini Diablo SV
Photography by Romuald Clariond
It’s good to have friends, and although I won’t advocate for any kind of romantic or platonic gold digging to access the so-called finer things, it’s also good when some of those friends have fun toys that they’re willing to share. What is hacking around with your pals in a series of fast cars if not a fortunate grown-up’s version of racing toy cars against each other on the our childhood carpets?
I love model cars to this day, but this story is about a special opportunity with a 1:1 scale Lamborghini Diablo SV moving under its own V12 power. It started at a table where my friend and I were having lunch, when he mentioned a good dilemma to be in: his Diablo was in Paris, he needed to bring it back to Monaco, but just didn’t have the time. A true shame indeed, one of life’s great problems, but a “problem” that I was more than happy to help him solve! When he asked me if I’d be keen on driving it home, I fake-pondered for half a second and said, “Sure, why not?” If only every favor asked of a friend were of this variety… Perhaps this was karma for helping so many of them move between apartments in the past.
We set up the basic plan—I was to land at the Charles de Gaulle airport, meet with my friend and the Diablo to do the keys handover, he would continue on his own journey, and I would drive back down to Monaco—but even with the massively reduced among of air traffic that we’re experiencing now due to the virus, I still managed to have a problem with my flight provider. The app wouldn’t accept my boarding information for my flight, and I was subsequently shuffled from one call center to another, one in-airport service desk to another. What was supposed to be a dream of a day started like a tired diesel engine in the middle of winter—which is to say, not very cheerily.
Arguing with disinterested and nightmarishly bureaucratic airline employees will only get you so far though—i.e. nowhere at all, and certainly not on a plane—so I was left with no choice but to buy another flight at the last minute. It ended up costing a lot more, but when you’re getting access to a car like this, how much complaining can there be, right? I was upset—of course these snafus only happen on the flight that I really wanted to take—but I wasn’t about to let it ruin the adventure ahead. And hey, in the end, I did get a whopping €15 rebate on the wasted ticket! Not all was lost, and there was much to be had ahead.
Finally landing at Charles de Gaulle, my friend phones me to say he’s outside with the car, and he’s laughing because the car didn’t start on its own earlier, which forced him to call on a friend with a booster. Okay, I guess this we will be getting the typical Italian car finickiness out of the way up front. My friend is liable to miss his own flight soon, so we barely have a chance to say hello in person as he rushes in and on to his gate. The car’s been left running the whole time just in case, and I’m eager to get this change in transportation underway—traveling by Lambo sure beats a COVID-era flight.
I notice a Rastafarian fellow from my flight and ask him if he’d kindly stall traffic for amount while I back the Diablo out of its parking spot—a good recipe from stress is trying to reverse a car with no rear visibility into airport pickup lane traffic—and he’s happy to help. I tell him my other car is a Renault, we share a laugh at my little joke, and I’m almost home free from the airport before the first thing breaks. Thankfully it’s only the little “Lamborghini”-inscribed rubber covering for the clutch pedal that has partially peeled away, so I tuck it into a storage compartment and thank the supercar deities for taking it easy on me.
I escape the snarl of cars and their horn orchestra for a moment, but am quickly packed into a different current of traffic on the motorway just a few kilometers away from my starting point. It’s when I’m crawling in this mass of cars through a tunnel that the fuel reserve light makes its presence known. So far this drive has been an exercise in keeping my blood pressure down, but thankfully I manage to find salvation in the form of a fortuitously placed filling station on the other side of the tunnel I was preparing to come to an unplanned stop in.
Not wanting to take a gamble on how charged the weak battery is, I opt to leave it running as I fill up. Carefully angling the yellow nose out of the station, I rejoin the flow of decidedly less exciting but probably infinitely more relaxing to drive cars, and as I travel farther and farther from the density of Paris I find more opportunities to make use of the V12 behind me. This means pit stops are even more frequent, and I tend to make friends each time I stop for fuel; in one such instance, a fan of the Diablo followed me out of the station for the next 100 kilometers or so, just happy to see his childhood dream car on the road. While there are those enthusiasts who will whip out their phones for a picture of anything even remotely exotic, the effect that this car has on people is different than that of one of its modern counterparts. There’s more nostalgia involved obviously, but there’s also the case of what people think of the driver. Instead of assuming I was some overly moneyed hedonist, I think this car signifies that the driver truly likes cars rather than the status the newest and fastest tend to convey. Perhaps I’m just projecting my own thoughts here, but I think you know what I’m getting at.
I don’t mind the frequent fuel stops, and in fact I almost look forward to them. In a car that you’re excited to drive—especially one that you haven’t experienced yet—these stops are just excuses for another pull through the gears when you rejoin the motorway. I regretfully don’t have the schedule space to make any scenic detours for photos, but I do have the chance for a quick snap with a friendly dude named Soufyane, who I met at one of the many fuel pumps I parked at along the way. He was driving a new NSX from Honda’s press fleet, and after a bit of talking he realized we’re both part of the same automotive journalism group online, and he also know of me from my Cannonball drives. After chatting we stick together on the road for a bit before parting ways at the exit for Saint-Étienne, his ultra-modern hybrid supercar giving me a chance to put the definitively ’90s Diablo into perspective.
You might think that it comes from the time when supercars cast away any sense of ergonomics or livability in the name of styling, but altogether it’s a much more comfortable car than I expected. All things considered, I’d say it’s civilized. It’s an easy car to see in a parking lot, but it’s a little harder to see out of it. That’s the main knock though, just a consequence of its low-slung layout and raked cabin. Otherwise it behaves itself nicely, while also packing the potential of that huge V12. If you don’t put the right pedal into the carpet every now and then, you might forget just how fast this car still is. Most of my time was spent on motorways trying to eat distance before it got too dark, but if the on- and off-ramps were anything to judge the car by, it handles its own in the chassis department.
The sun has finally set as I am passing through Aix-en-Provence, and I spot the recognizable circles of a Mercedes-Benz G-wagen’s lights in my mirror. The SUV moves over one lane, and it’s revealed that there’s another one behind it. It feels like I’m in some kind of James Bond scene right before the big car chase that inevitably ends in explosions and gunfire. As they get closer I notice they are Brabus-tuned Gs, so perhaps the hitman allusions are not too far off-base! Thankfully the only thing pointed out of the windows at me is a cell phone, but it’s still fun to loosen the leash on the good old imagination, so I wait for a long sweeping corner before taking off and ditching my tails… They passed me soon after when I was forced to stop for fuel for the umpteenth time.
One more pit stop and I finally arrive in Monaco. At nearly every stop I raised the door, not only because I can’t help taking pictures of the car in its “poster pose,” but also to air out the cabin a bit from my adrenaline. It’s got some ventilation inside, but these are the cars that make you sweat just looking at them. Though I’ve lived in Monaco for a while now, I wouldn’t call myself jaded, so I take the Diablo for a little spin around the Grand Prix circuit route before dropping the car off. A few days later I meet the car again when my friend and I bring it to Cars & Coffee Monaco, where, as you can see, it has no trouble standing out from a crowd of special cars. This was the first Cars & Coffee Monaco to take place after the lockdown, and seeing as my parents came to visit the event that I put on for the first time, it made for a very special day after a journey I’m not likely to forget.