I was brought up to love Cambridge. I didn’t really have a choice though – the majority of my family attended the university, and my dad even teaches there. Of course, it’s not exactly a difficult place to like – with more history than most countries have, and the finest architecture that centuries of royalty could afford, it’s as picture-perfect as a city can be.
So as I was growing up, even to entertain the idea of attending Oxford was heresy. I’m not talking about as a student, but just visiting for a weekend would be frowned upon. If you ever saw my dad watching the Varsity match, you’d understand why.
Last month, I finally broke the cardinal rule, and for the first time in my life went to Oxford. And despite much hissing and heckling from the family, I rather liked it. In fact, as a weekend escape from the City, it’s idyllic.
Especially if you’re driving a Lamborghini. (Then again, you could be driving to Basildon, and the Lamborghini would make it idyllic. Until it got keyed.) The new Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder is probably not the first car you’d associate with the hidden streets and cobbled courtyards of Oxford. But it has more in common than you might think.
Beauty, history, legacy – natch. Eccentricity, certainly. But overall it’s the pursuit of excellence that connects these two entities. And like most of the university’s professors, the Lamborghini is mainly genius with a bit of insanity thrown in for good luck.
The genius lies not just in its physics-defying handling, or the mind-blowing braking, but in the little touches too. For example, if you’re approaching a speed bump, merely press a button and the nose of the car lifts so you don’t scrape the front. Clever. And when you hit 70mph or so, you’ll see in your rearview mirror an independently extended rear spoiler rise at the back of the car – helping to keep the car glued to the Tarmac. You see, it’s the thinking man’s supercar.
"Like most of the university’s professors, the Lamborghini is mainly genius with a bit of insanity thrown in."
The insanity, on the other hand, comes in the form of a 5.2-litre engine that delivers 560hp (40hp more than its predecessor), 398 lb/ft of torque, and an exhaust note that will make you weep with joy. The ‘LP’ in the LP560-4 officially refers to the position – Longitudinale Posteriore – of the engine, which is located longitudinally behind the driver. But once you’ve hooned around in sport mode for a few minutes, I think ‘Laughing Psychotically’ is perhaps more apt.
As the V10 gurgle echoed off the walls of Magdalen college, I couldn’t help think that Inspector Morse would be turning in his grave – possibly from jealousy: the Gallardo has almost twice the top speed and five times the power of Morse’s 2.4-litre Jaguar MkII.
The Gallardo would probably be more up Miss Marple’s street – there’s no doubt it’s a hit with the ladies. I happened to be visiting Oxford during Fresher’s Week – total coincidence, you understand – and the heads of undergraduate hotties were turning quicker than you could say ‘Daddy, will you buy me one?’.
More than any car I’ve tested, the Gallardo seems to do strange things to the female gender: women who would usually display no interest in – or indeed active disdain of – a supercar will instead go all gooey eyed. You know: the same way they do if you happen to mention Johnny Depp. Now, I’ve never understood the attraction of the pasty-skinned, pointy-nosed, greasy-haired actor (jealous, moi?), but the Lamborghini’s appeal to the opposite sex, on the other hand, makes perfect sense.
As US artist Akon sings: “I feel you creepin’, I can see you from my shadow. Wanna jump up in my Lamborghini Gallardo”. W H Auden, eat your heart out.
But to treat the Gallardo as a mere pulling machine is to debase its raison d’etre. I decided it was time to leave Oxford’s quiet streets and genteel traditions, and tear up the rest of Oxfordshire instead.
There are plenty of fantastic roads nearby to put the new Gallardo through its paces. My favourite has to be the A4095 near Kirtlington Golf Club. As well as some great bends, it leads to a Roman road that’s perfect for testing out the Gallardo’s cardiac-arresting acceleration – all the way to 60mph in four seconds, and then definitely not beyond to, say, 140mph or something. (Apparently it will hit 124mph in 13.1 seconds. I couldn’t possibly comment.) It’s here where you realise just how quick the new e.gear transmission is, flicking up through the gears with the reassuringly sturdy steering wheel paddles.
All this fun doesn’t have to cost the earth, either – despite the considerable increase in performance, there has been a staggering reduction of 18 percent in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
"As US artist Akon sings: “I feel you creepin’, I can see you from my shadow. Wanna jump up in my Lamborghini Gallardo”. W H Auden, eat your heart out."
When you want to pull over to let the brake discs cool, seek out The Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge. Not only does it sound – and look – like something from The Wind in the Willows, but it has also just won AA English Pub of the Year among a raft of other accolades. For a starter, I plumped for the Cornish crab, avocado and home-cured gravadlax on toasted brioche with caviar dressing. The main-course draw for me was the Gressingham duck with spinach dauphinoise and caramelised peach, but to be honest, whatever you pick here, you can’t really go wrong.
After lunch, choose the most convoluted route you can – ensuring maximum country-road quality time – before stopping off at Bicester Village. This retail outlet is possibly the most pleasant shopping experience in England – even men can enjoy it. For a start, there are very few teenagers. Also, as it’s all outside you don’t have to suffer the claustrophobia or artificial luminescence of a shopping mall. And you don’t have to use the word ‘mall’.
Instead, the New England colonial style architecture, the wide avenues and the clean layout, makes it all very welcoming and ensures that you can shop swiftly and efficiently without wanting to kill one or all of your fellow shoppers. There’s even an outpost of Villandry (of Great Portland Street fame) if you do need a respite.
Sadly, the Lambo doesn’t have a great deal of room for your shopping bags (especially if you already have a weekender in the boot) – so it’s only really good for small, sparkly things. Perhaps another reason women like it so much.
If you can’t stand to return to the city just yet, it’s worth booking a night at the magnificent Eynsham Hall. A huge Jacobean mansion with 3,000 acres of parkland, I felt it to be a suitable overnight parking spot for the Gallardo; I’d go so far as to say my car took pole position on the gravel driveway. A favourite for conferences and weddings, it also boasts a new award-winning bar, The Gun Room, which is worth the stay alone.
I drove to Oxford to see Oxford. And it was lovely. (Although, still not as nice as Cambridge.) But when I look back at the trip, I won’t think of it as the ‘Oxford Trip’; it will always be the ‘Lambo Trip’. It doesn’t matter where you take it; the Gallardo is always the star of the show.
The honey-coloured dreaming spires of Oxford might seem a strange destination to take a fiery Italian such as the Gallardo. But it makes sense. Like England’s oldest university (sorry, Dad), the Lamborghini is rich, eccentric, and simply in a world of its own.
Click here for more Hardware stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook