I am sitting inside the “cockpit” of a Lamborghini Aventador and I am suddenly remembering a Countach poster I had on the wall as a kid. Most of my friends had some type of relationship with the Italian spaceship on wheels that helped define an era of automotive lust in the 1980s. It was silly and impractical, but it was the stuff boys’ dreams were made out of. Back to the present, I am in Lamborghini’s replacement for the highly successful Murcielago, which was the flagship supercar that brought Lamborghini into the modern era. Even though the Murcielago was actually the “bat car,” the Aventador is the automobile that Batman (Bruce Wayne) himself drove in The Dark Knight (a stock model no less). I later get a chance to drive the Aventador and boy, am I impressed.
On my wrist is a Blancpain L-Evolution Chronographe Flyback Grande Date–among the more recent L-Evolution collection timepieces. Why this watch? Well because Blancpain and Lamborghini have an interesting relationship, and for the last few years the timepiece collection has been highly inspired by the design of the Italian mega-road machines.
Blancpain’s Relationship with Lamborghini
Blancpain is not Lamborghini’s official watch partner, but they do sponsor the car maker’s private race series known as the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo series. I am here with the two luxury brands at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca (which most people still just call Laguna Seca) near Monterey, California for the second time the Super Trofeo series has been held in the United States. It made its American debut last year at Lime Rock in Connecticut and later at Sebring.
What is the race exactly and who participates? Most of the team owners are Lamborghini car dealerships, of which there are about 30 or so in America. The teams purchase specially made race cars from Lamborghini which more or less cannot be modified aside from some small tweaks. They choose their own drivers and race against one another in each series. The drivers are a mix of professional racers as well as amateurs. In some instances it is the people who own the dealerships themselves who are in the cars.
Of course the idea of the Super Trofeo is to win, and to highlight the performance of Lamborghini cars. For 2014, the series still uses modified Gallardos, but starting next year they will begin to phase in the new Huracan as production on the Gallardo has ceased. The Laguna Seca track is famous for the beautiful scenery of central California near the coast, as well as for some of the most difficult turns on any track around the world.
Super Supercars: The Lamborghini Aventador and Huracan
Lamborghini is amazingly loyal to Blancpain even though the brand is not their official timepiece maker, and even though the watches themselves do not bear any Lamborghini branding. Watch lovers know that while the analogues between cars and timepieces are many, co-branded watches that leverage a watch lover’s automotive passion are difficult to get right, at least commercially speaking. In a sense, I consider the automotive inspirations of the L-Evolution collection to be experimental at best. In a sense, they are–because Blancpain is free to play with design at will, given their low production and because Blancpain CEO Marc Hayek is a race car lover who continues to find ways of combining his work (watches) and personal life (cars).
The newest Lamborghini, and one that I am seeing for the first time here at Laguna Seca is the Huracan–and boy is it gorgeous. While I love the looks of the Murcielago (and Aventador), the Gallardo never did it for me. The Huracan does it for me and so much more. It replaces the Gallardo as the brand’s entry-level model (which still starts at about $240,000 and contains a V10 engine. Smaller than the Aventador, the Huracan has a distinctive look that is purely Lamborghini, and very indicative of futurism and elegance. It is probably one of the most incredible looking supercars in the world, and makes a Porsche look about as handsome as a coffee mug.
If you need a reason to love supercars then look at the Italians. They know how to get your blood pumping properly. The Germans have a totally different philosophy to not only design, but driving dynamics. In fact, you need to be a driver to appreciate German luxury cars because they focus on a lot of stuff that isn’t visible. Special systems and fancy luxuries meant to make the driving experience wonderful, but little that a 12 year old boy can grow to love from afar. With that said it is important to mention that Lamborghini is owned by the Germans under the Volkswagen Group umbrella. Does that dilute the stuff that Italian cars are made of? Not at all. If anything, Lamborghini products have greatly benefited from the relationship because the cars combine masterful engineering marvels with an in-your-face sense of design and performance that one comes to expect from an Italian supercar.
I don’t get to drive the Huracan unfortunately, but better yet, I get some time behind the wheel of an Aventador LP 700-4. This is Lamborghini’s flagship car and contains a V12 engine that is naturally aspirated to make 700 horsepower. It also happens to have butterfly doors, four-wheel drive, and a driving personality that you will never come to expect.
I’ve had the opportunity to drive cars with massive amounts of horsepower in the past, and frankly I am not in love with most of them. While they sound good on paper, people call them a “beast” for a reason. Too much power makes a car really a pain to control, and just touching the gas can make you lurch forward like you are in a roller coaster. That can be fun on the track in a controlled driving experience, but on normal roads it isn’t fun–especially when you are in a submarine hatch style seat with comfort designed for someone the size of a 14 year-old boy. Well, none of that applied to the Aventador, to be honest.
The days of rough riding in a Lamborghini are long gone. The Aventador is a two-faced machine that you could easily drive on your daily commute. In the right mode, the car is as smooth on the road as the most cushy of German luxury sedans, but when you want to push the revs you get an amazingly satisfying experience that launches you forward with a feeling of excitement but also safety. Never did I punch the gas and down-shift using the steering wheel paddles to pass a car in front of me and think “I am going to die or lose control if I don’t really pay attention.” The Aventador has a multitude of stability and control systems at work to keep the driving experience fun, but none that seems to take away from having a connected experience that makes the driver feel at one with the roaring engine sitting just a few inches behind their head.
Oh yes, the Aventador has a sweet engine note. The almost comically small rear window (that surprisingly allows for a decent rear-view) has a button to raise and lower. Why? So that the driver can lower it to hear the engine growl just that much better when they want to. Furthermore, the Aventador Roadster has a removable top that comes off in two pieces. It is even designed to stow in the front cargo bay, but don’t think there will be room to store anything else. Luggage needs to be portered around separately.
It used to be the fact that looking at the outside of a supercar was wonderful, but once you sat inside you more or less felt like sitting in a race car with some wrapped leather. Over the last decade or so, more ultra-wealthy people started to buy supercars as lifestyle versus performance items and they began to improve the look and feel on the interior. The Aventador and Huracan look fantastic on the inside, with parts, of course, coming from cousins such as Audi–specially made with a Lamborghini look and feel. The dashboard is mostly (or totally) digital with a video game aesthetic that adds to the experience. There isn’t the pure ergonomics of a Japanese car, but neither is it a terribly frustrating experience that Italian UI has been known for in the past. Aesthetically, the Aventador looks gorgeous on the inside, and the Volkswagen Group team has ensured that it is fully outfitted with all the bells & whistles you’d need mixed with the passion-fueled Italian design you want to look at.
Few cars attract a crowd like a Lamborghini, and there is good reason for that. One of the things that Italian cars are known for is a certain design philosophy the screams “here I am.” That applies to their visual design, driving dynamics, and even the systems at place in the car. For example, drive a German car and the best ones have transmissions that magically shift without the driver knowing anything happened. A Lamborghini takes a different approach. Again, being subtle isn’t their style. When a system kicks into effect or the transmission shifts (it has seven gears in the Aventador) the driver knows it. Not in a bad way, but more in a way where the car is talking to you. An Aventador is like a performer and it wants a reaction from its audience. It is not a cold, calculated performance machine that isn’t interested in praise or attention. Which you prefer is a personal choice, and sometimes as a driver you want to feel like you are in control of the entire experience and that your car is a mere tool. Perhaps a powerful and amazingly engineered tool, but still just a tool. In a Lamborghini you don’t get that, you get a driving partner. It is you and your Italian pet car who share the experience. Be good to it and it will be good to you, it has a personality, and it is your friend… and it is truly amazing whether you’ve never driven one before of it you’ve been driving top cars for decades.
L-Evolution Timepieces On The Race Track
So let’s get back to the watch. The Blancpain L-Evolution Chronographe Flyback Grande Date. For this mission, I chose one of the most subdued modern L-Evolution watches to date. It is perhaps a collection that is still searching for its soul, but there is a lot of potential. In this collection gone are the large “12” and “9” o’clock hour markers, and this particular version is devoid of carbon fiber on the case (though there is some on the dial and movement) or bright colors. It is the Ref. R85F-1103-53B, and is perhaps among the most understated L-Evolution watches yet.
One of the reasons that the L-Evolution collection is a Blancpain underdog is because the Fifty Fathoms dive watch collection is just so darn desirable. When looking for a sporty Blancpain it is almost impossible to overlook them as an option, and there are tons available from the classic 45mm Fifty Fathoms 5015 (reviewed here) to the new for 2014 Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph (hands-on here). Nevertheless, for a racing inspired daily-wear luxury watch these are worth a look.
The Blancpain L-Evolution Chronographe Flyback Grande Date is more-or-less self explanatory. It contains an in-house made Blancpain caliber 68F5 automatic movement with a 12 hour flyback chronograph, big date complication, and of course, the time. The movement is sweet looking, finished in dark tones with a sporty strip of carbon fiber on the automatic rotor. However, it only has a 40 hour power reserve, which falls a bit short of Blancpain’s longer 5-8 day long power reserves on other models. Having said that, this isn’t uncommon for chronograph movements.