Arts: Lamborghini Splendor

A classic Italian sports car shows us superb design. Bellisimo!



After World War II, Italian auto maker Enzo Ferrari started to manufacture his elite passenger cars in order to generate cash for his existing racing pursuits. Most people think it is the other way around – that Ferrari was going merrily along building his passenger cars and then decided one day to go racing with the profits.

Not true.

Ferrucio Lamborghini is known as father of the “other” Italian maker of elite sports cars. Lamborghini, who was a wealthy manufacturer of farm equipment, purchased several Ferraris for himself but considered them too noisy and rough, and likened them to race cars. He started his own company in 1963 to make speedy touring coupes and today his brand is considered superior to Ferrari in many ways.

Lambos today are some of the most highly prized vehicles on the road, and are assembled by hand, one-by-one, in a factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese Italy. The company produces less than 3,000 cars per year with only about 600 employees.

The sight of a Lamborghini Murcielago on the streets of Upstate New York is rare. I spotted this canary masterpiece in Rhinebeck, a chic little tourist town 100 miles north of Manhattan. The plates said Florida, where Lambos are said to be a dime a dozen on the streets of Palm Beach.

Murcielago is named for a bull that survived 24 sword strokes in an 1879 fight at the arena of Cordoba, Spain and whose life was spared by the matador in a rare act of honor.

Lamborghini today is owned by Audi. The Murcielago model, which was rolled out in 2002, is designed by Belgian Luc Donckerwolke. Murcielago's V12 engine produces 940 horsepower and the car has a top speed of 210+ MPH. It costs $350,000 new.

Murcielago oozes style. No matter what you think about the socialist Euros and their slacker/siesta culture, they do have an awesome and historically developed sense of design, which comes out of centuries of art and architecture dating back to the Renaissance. Perhaps we can forgive the Italians their loafer lifestyle as long as they continue to produce gems like Murcielago.

Earlier in the same day that I spotted the Murcielago, I was in Manhattan visiting one of my favorite places, the Park Avenue Ferrari Store. Inside the store was parked one of the latest offerings from the company, the F458. I did not have my camera and so I was disappointed. The moment I saw the car, I wanted to photograph the milk-white beauty and write an essay about its elegant lines.

Then when I spotted the Murcielago that afternoon, I knew that God was smiling on me. Several other locals on the streets of Rhinebeck joined me in photographing the car and we hoped that the owner would happen along and offer us all rides. Not to be. But just having the pleasure of seeing this piece of sculpture was enough for me.

European auto designs always have been top notch. And certainly Mr. Lamborghini wanted to set his cars apart from those of Ferrari and so Lamborghini seems always to take a more assertive and 'masculine' stance toward styling.

The notorious Lamborghini Countache model looked like something out of a stealth fighter hangar and the Murcielago has an aggressive posture, as the picture shows. Does it not simply look like it wants to eat the road in front of it at very high speed? But the interesting paradox is that there is nothing overtly dramatic about the Murcielago; its glory is in its cumulative nuance, the sign of a genuinely talented designer.

Look at that rear wheel, set way back of the engine, which is situated under the louvers on the car’s rear deck, where its weight can give the car maximum stability. Cool… And yes, the luggage goes up front. But if you drive this rod, you don’t need any luggage.

Murcielago is composed of a symphony of subtle curved and straight lines. Curved lines are considered feminine, while straight lines are called manly. The 20th century artist Piet Mondrian, who used only straight lines in his masterpieces, once said that "curved lines are too emotional".'

The ample curves of the Ferrari are wholly apart from the stingy, spare curves of the Lambo which appear to be struggling to be straight, and this certainly looks like an intentional counter to Enzo Ferrari by Lamborghini, with form always leading the way to function in the most cunning ways.

In fact, some of the Lambo's curves look like the designer made them by just barely bending a stiff metal rod so as to create the most minimal curve possible that is just a tick away from being a straight line. They are 'manly' curves.

So how does a designer use straight lines and angles married to the subtlest of curves to create a geometry of pure beauty?

Indeed, that is an interesting conundrum. But a great designer indeed can do it through the four principles – order, proportion, harmony and balance.

Just look at the Lambo’s taillights. They appear almost clumsy if taken out of context, as if they belong on a truck or one of Mr. Lamborghini’s tractors. Yet set within the overall montage of forms in the Murcielago, they appear completely dynamic and at home, as if they are among the fastest taillights in the world. Which they truly are.

Indeed from the rear, the Murcielago looks like something that will be pulling away real fast. Check out all the cacophony of rectangular forms in the rear section. How does the designer create such beauty with a straightedge in such a counter-intuitive way?

Sheer genius, friends. Artful genius. It’s almost as if the designer did some magic, making us forget the trees for the integrated beauty of the forest.

Look at the details like the elfin running lights behind the rear wheel and in front of the front wheel. Taken by themselves, you would not see much elegance in them. They look like something awkward out of a geometry book, perhaps the definition of a humble trapezoid. And their placement seems almost random, not lining up symmetrically with anything else. But integrated into the overall car, they become part of a dazzling puzzle

Ditto the mirrors, the boxy front air dams, and the 'scissor doors' that pivot forward in an arc, not out. No parking lot dings there.

This all adds up to a sly and intelligent design that you will find in objets d'art like the Lamborghini. The whole thing is understated, as if playing a cosmic joke on the observer and causing him to embrace the design despite its inconsistencies.

The Lamborghini’s design is so spare as to be almost deceptive. And that proves that once again that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, and that the maker needs to use every tool at his disposal to create synergy. And that once integrated, it becomes a gazelle of a machine.

What makes great design?

It comes from artists who understand things about form that most of us do not. You cannot explain it. Talented people just do it, and do it very, very well.

Note: After I had written this post, I was in New York City and saw a yellow Ferrari 458 in the showroom. And the people there would not allow me to photograph it! So I took the picture (below) from outside. And notice the distinct difference between a Lambo rear end (manly) and a Ferrari's (curvy and feminine). It shows how two very different men expressed themselves in contrasting ways through visual form alone.




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