More Power, Trick Aero and a Track-Ready Chassis
Only the most extreme Lamborghinis get to wear the SVJ legend. To date there’s been just one, a very special Miura. Now there’s another – a V12 Aventador with more power than a ’90s F1 car. We strap ourselves in…
DID YOU CHANGE the tyres?’ laughs Lamborghini design boss Mitja Borkert as the Aventador SVJ slews sideways and he throws on a half turn of lock, first one way and then the other like he’s mixing cocktails at a swanky hotel bar. ‘It feels like it’s on Pirelli Cinturatos!’ he says, referring to the skinny, balloon-like CN12 rubber the Miura wore, as he saws at the flat-bottomed wheel, just managing to keep the car off the grass.
But not for long. The Aventador is wide and heavy, and even the quick-thinking four-wheel-drive system shuttling torque to the front wheels can’t neutralise the sickening yaw of a car that seems magnetically attracted to the crash barriers.
Reset. Fortunately, we’re saved the sound of a third of a million quid’s worth of hypercar attempting to fuse with 30 metres of barely yielding fence. Mitja is driving Lamborghini’s development simulator. But if he’d managed to snaffle the keys to a real Aventador SVJ and head out on the track, which is just a few steps away, he’d have noticed little difference.
We’re 15 miles to the west of Lisbon in Portugal, for the launch of the SVJ. The Estoril circuit has, unfortunately for Lamborghini, been the recipient of a well intentioned but disastrous bit of titivation. Without thinking to mention it to Lamborghini the Estoril team has re-laid the entire track surface. Blacker than the inside of a mole’s understairs cupboard, it looks stunning, like the whole three-mile loop has been smothered in glass. Unfortunately the surface hasn’t had the chance to bed in and it’s got the grip co-efficient to match. Teasing the Aventador SVJ’s nose into Estoril’s tighter corners is a test of patience and sensitivity, and even when you do get it hooked up the painful sound of rubber struggling to find purchase is like listening to ’73 Mustang chasing a sea lion round a multi-storey car park.
40% MORE DOWNFORCE
MORE VENTS THAN SURFACE
ENGINE: NOW WITH 760BHP
‘I have brought 240 sets of tyres,’ explains Lamborghini’s ever-smiling (but less so today) technical boss, Maurizio Reggiani. ‘Not 240 tyres, but 240 sets of tyres, for five days’ driving,’ he continues. ‘And we’ll probably finish the day with the original sets still on the cars.’ Great news for Lambo’s accountants; less so for those of us here to experience Lamborghini’s fastest, most extreme production road car yet.
Rubbing salt in the wound is the knowledge that McLaren hosted the world’s media here just a few weeks before the work began. CAR’s James Taylor discovered the Senna had so much grip McLaren’s techs almost had to chisel the tarmac from the tyres to load the cars back into the truck. Mischievous minds might wonder if the Woking boys hadn’t left the Estoril team an unusually large tip…
At £750,000 plus tax the Senna is more than double the price of the £350k (all-in) SVJ, and its 500-unit production run (versus 900 for the Lambo) will make it almost twice as rare. But at heart these two are cut from the same woven stuff.
They’re both built around a stiff carbon structure, to which are bolted aluminium structures containing the complicated bits. They both feature more aero than a Santa’s sleigh full of selection boxes, both reach 62mph in 2.8sec and are designed with track use firmly in mind. And they both feature names designed to make us come over all nostalgic.
Chances are you’re familiar with Lamborghini’s Super ENGINE: NOW WITH 760BHP V12 sticks with the same 6.5-litre capacity but gets shorter intake runners, lower-friction internals and a lighter flywheel. Power climbs 20bhp over the old SV’s to 760bhp, but the big news is the torque. The 513lb ft doesn’t arrive until 6750rpm, but the curve is much fatter in the mid-range.
Veloce tag by now. It’s been used on and off over the years to denote Lambo’s hottest big cars, starting with the Miura SV, and later the Diablo, Murcielago and Aventador SV, which lapped the Nordschleife in 6m 59sec in 2015, making it just 2sec slower than the then champ, Porsche’s 918 hypercar.
But this is the first time Lamborghini has revisited the SVJ name it applied to a tiny number of highly specialised Miuras in the early ’70s. The story starts with Lamborghini’s Kiwi-born engineer, Bob Wallace, who wanted to take the Miura racing. A former race mechanic, he began modifying one of the then new Miura Ss in line with the FIA’s appendix J regulations, creating the Miura Jota. Wider arches were riveted to the steel body, the engine was tuned to produce a claimed 440bhp, and at the front there was a racing fuel filler in the bonnet and a chin spoiler designed to curb the Miura’s tendency to lift its nose at speed like a Victorian toff striding through a street full of peasants.
But Ferruccio Lamborghini – who, old-timer Lambo engineers have told me, could barely drive, let alone put in a hot lap – wasn’t interested in racing, preferring to concentrate on selling the new Miura SV road car and preparing for its Countach successor. The one-off Jota was sold (and, unfortunately, later written off). But word got out about the mythical would-be racer and customers began requesting something similar. Never one to refuse a blank cheque, Lamborghini obliged, building between five and seven (depending who you ask) Miuras to SVJ spec. Each car retained the full road-car interior but received suspension mods, crucial bodywork tweaks and classic tuning to liberate a few more horses from the naturally-aspirated V12.
That engine, originally designed by Giotto Bizzarrini for the front-engined 350GT in 1963, died with the Murcielago in 2011. But some things don’t change. There are still 12 cylinders. Still zero turbos. That makes the Aventador a rare beast. You can count on the fingers of a Simpson hand the number of European sports car makers still cranking out naturally-aspirated V12s, and once Aston’s Rapide has switched to EV power Homer could have an accident with a band saw and he’d still be able to list them.
By the end of Estoril’s 985-metre straight with the kitty litter approaching rapidly between the elephant’s-leg A-pillars we’re pulling an indicated 173mph and I’m feeling slightly yellow myself. Modified cylinder heads with titanium intake valves and new port runners have helped lift power to 760bhp, compared with 740bhp for the old SV and 730bhp for the still-current Aventador S. There’s a lighter flywheel and 8700rpm redline. If it wasn’t for the need to turn right after the start-finish line you could wind the SVJ out to 217mph. If it weren’t for turbochargers every supercar would still sound this spectacular.
Turbo’d supercars try to kid you that volume is enough. Lamborghini reminds us it isn’t. Pushed to call it I’d say Ferrari’s V12 sounds even better, but this is still one of the best noises on sale today. And that sound adds so much to the experience every time you stretch out your right leg, you barely care that you can go quicker, and for less cash, in other cars. Helped by its four-wheel-drive system the Aventador can reach 124mph from rest in 8.6sec. McLaren’s £209k 720S, with only two wheels earning their keep, does it in 7.8. The Senna, which is packing another 29bhp over the SVJ and weighs 327kg less, cleaves another second off that.
Neither sounds anything like as exciting, but with their slick dual-clutch transmissions flitting between ratios as effortlessly as an Oscar nominee working the crowd at a Hollywood party, both remind that the SVJ’s clunky sequential gearbox (no dual-clutch here) is as retro as that name. On track the auto mode is unbearably ponderous. Switching to manual is a must. Switch to Corsa mode and you’ve got no choice. It’s manual or go home. As with lesser Aventadors you still get the choice of Strada or Sport driving modes, though unlike on the S the instrument graphics remain mostly unchanged with each press of the button. Since we didn’t get to do any road driving we skipped straight to Corsa, which is punishing in every sense. Gears slam home brutally and the steering feels onerously weighty. But stung by whinges (from press, not punters) about the variable-ratio steering system, Lamborghini has fixed the steering ratio in Corsa for more consistency.
The tyres might be struggling for grip, but the steering certainly doesn’t struggle to let you know about it. The feel and response are both excellent; the traction too. And as the day wears on and the track dries out, it gets even better. There’s more bite from the front tyres, more clue to what it must feel like in ideal conditions. But not enough to get the full SVJ experience, to get a feel for exactly how the new four-wheelsteer system inherited from the Aventador S really works, to appreciate the active aero that can channel downforce left and right across the rear spoiler, or to get comfortable with the way the rear can move when you barrel hot into a corner on a trailing throttle and climb onto the hugely powerful brakes.
SUPER VELOCE HALL OF FAME
THE FIRST ONE: MIURA SV
THE SERIOUS ONE: MIURA SVJ
THE TERRIFYING ONE: DIABLO SV
THE AWESOME ONE: MURCIELAGO SV
THE LAST ONE: AVENTADOR SV
Lamborghini has killed the S’s safer, stabilising understeer by opening the centre clutch to cut drive to the front wheels in those situations. This gives the SVJ a much more dynamic, edgier feel than the S, and makes it harder for the average driver to get the most out of it. But it gives it a depth of character. This isn’t the kind of car that gives up all its secrets in the first few minutes.
Even if the surface had been perfect, the car would have felt different to the ’Ring record car. That time was set using the optional Trofeo R rubber, whereas we’re running the standard Pirelli P Zero Corsas. Think syrup versus treacle. Sticky, but not stickiest.
An engineer tells me the Trofeo is worth about 10sec on a lap at the Nürburgring. For the first half of the lap, their performance is similar, but beyond that point the Trofeo R maintains its performance while the Corsa begins to fade.
That the SVJ is the current Nürburgring champ gives both the Aventador and Lamborghini credibility. But Nordschleife records seem to tumble so regularly that by 2020 it’s reasonable to assume some hypercar will actually be able to cross the finish line before it’s even set off. And if, as seems likely, McLaren dismantles the SVJ’s record like a toddler stumbling into a half-prepped game of Domino Rally, what will that mean for the SVJ?
LAMBORGHINI AVENTADOR SVJ
For all the focus on lap times, there’s more to the SVJ than numbers. It’s about the absurd emotional connection a man can make with a machine. The SVJ is a big, bad caricature of a car that’s as much about cruising round Knightsbridge as it is helping owner set a new PB at the ’Ring. (‘Just did a nine-fifty seven, brah. See you at the Pistenklause!’)
It’s about looking the part in a way the Senna doesn’t, about giving the finger to forced induction and turbo lag and so what if its 542g/km CO2 output makes it so filthy the official Lamborghini car cover ought to be a grubby raincoat?
That figure will fall when Lamborghini replaces this car with a new-generation supercar, hybridised to keep the naturally-aspirated V12 alive, and with a much-needed twin-clutch transmission. Until that arrives the best-driving Lamborghini you can currently buy is the smaller, cheaper Huracan Performante. But it doesn’t stop us wanting this one any less.