For reasons superfluous to warrant explanation, I found myself strapped into the right hand seat of a remarkable slice of automotive genius early yesterday morning. And because I was in Sydney, rather than most of Europe or the US, that meant I had a steering wheel in front of me. Which made the experience all the more buttock tightening.
If you’re not a petrol head, which I’m not, the letter and number sequence, LP 560-4, will mean little to you. If, however, you know a thing or two about cars you will likely have goose bumps before you get to the end of this sentence. See.
The LP 560-4 is Italy’s contribution to contemporary art. If that sounds incongruous, it shouldn’t. Bolted onto the back of this particularly exquisite masterpiece is an engine with lots of impressive statistics, a four-wheel drive system that makes the stability of a mountain goat pale and more technical acronyms than our IT department would use in a week. But surrounding all of that is the most beautifully sculpted piece of pearl black carbon fibre you could possibly imagine – a crisp section of granite rock, nurtured into the form of a searing arrow by a man whose tool kit must have been comprised of silk, oil and feathers.
It is because of its form, not its purpose, that this car has so little to do with travelling from A to B. I defy anyone to walk up to it, open the door and slide into its seat. You don’t do that. It would be like giving the Pope a high-5. You walk around it. Slowly and with reverence. And you open the door with fingertip precision. For something that is apparently built around the principles of nuclear fission, this car is humbling before anything happens. It is reassuringly still.
Inside the cockpit (apparently, that’s what they call it) all is calm. There are two seats, a steering wheel and some foot peddles. All good so far. But underneath the discreet navigation screen to the left of the driver sit eight buttons, forged out of steel, in a neat single row. Two of them, when pressed in the right sequence, initiate something called thrust control. Another, slotted neatly next to the spot where you’d expect a gear stick to be says, CORSO. I refused to touch any of them.
Behind the steering wheel are two slim paddles. Neither activate the windscreen wipers or indicators. Both change gears. An important point when you’re about to turn left. Near your trembling right knee, tucked away in the dark folds of the leather dash, is a small round button that simply says, ‘Reverse’. Going backwards is discouraged.
So you get the picture. This is not your average motor. It’s not even your average Italian motor. This is something that demands eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead, no fumbling for the radio button when in motion and an absolute need to ignore the stirring sound track in the back of your head.
I drove the LP 560-4 for a full 60 minutes, through city streets and urban freeways, twisting roads and curling slip lanes. The sun was warming and the rush hour had yet to begin. It was mesmerising, exquisite, captivating and all the other incredibly over-used adjectives that you’d expect to hear. None of which do anything close to justice to the experience.
It is, instead, the closest thing you can get to controlled horizontal free-fall. The ultimate in forward projection in a very comfy seat (discounting anything with NASA stitched into the arm rest). It is an experience of contradiction too. Slo-mo and rapid-fire in a single moment. Detached from anything else on the road because it can make anything else disappear with the most delicate squeeze of the right foot. William Shatner would be impressed.
When the journey came to an end and I parked up, both the car and I breathed out. I felt liberated. I think she felt bored. I, the blushing schoolboy. She, the seasoned hooker. It was pathetically, gloriously rewarding and something that will stay with me for years to come. If I was religious, I’d move to Sant’Agata Bolgnese with immediate effect.
Of course, I am very well aware that this bloated, unpolished gush of autophilia goes against the very grain of this little blog of mine. And so, with purpose, I have since tried to find an analogy that neatly dovetails this experience into something, anything, justifiably communications or social trends related. But my best efforts have failed me. I simply can’t. And I’ve come to realise there’s little point in trying. So I’ll just say this.
If anyone, ever, gives you the opportunity to spend an hour in an LP 560-4, look them in the eye, take a deep breath and say, ‘Yes’. And if they don’t, find a (legal) way to make them. Good communications has its benefits.
Next week, Glass House services will return to normal. In the meantime, watch this.