What a fantastic year 2007 was to be a petrolhead
A year to complicate the answer to the perennial question, 'what's your favourite car'? I don't have a favourite. What I'd choose would depend on whether it was free, my only car or not, and whether I have to pay for fuel and tyres myself, on my current income.
Ask the question when the car's a gift, with some unseen benefactor paying the costs and a sensible car in the garage, and last year's more exotic offerings take on new flavour. Because quite apart from extraordinary 'ordinary' cars like Mitsubishi's Evo X, some of them have been truly spectacular.
It'd be hard to beat the joy of fanging a $285,500 drop-top Aston Martin V8 Vantage over a set of alpine swervery; of listening to the howl of that delicious 4.3-litre V8 soaring past the 7000rpm at which the power peaks. But being offered the keys to the new DBS at Fuji Speedway was better.
The company's performance experts weren't keen to let me floor it, but that track is something else - a swooping, curving tangle of tarmac with most bends blind and overlooked by the soaring snow-clad slopes of Mt Fuji. I was much too busy tickling this $540,000 leviathan's barking V12 engine to admire the scenery, of course - and too frustrated at the understandable reticence of my co-driver, given a handful of actual owners were awaiting their turn. Men who've paid money try the only DBS to arrive in this half of the world, and who wouldn't take lightly some journo scratching it.
That car's 569Nm of torque offers punch aplenty - but not as much as the 650Nm offered by the Bentley GTC's W12. That car was much less exciting, exuding stylish waftability and the sort of engine wuffle more usually expected from an expensive launch. I loved the car's classic lines, the way light rippled like water over its gleaming blue paint and richly-glowing cream leather, but this isn't a petrol-head's car. Though staying ahead of it in the bigger Arnage had its moments - 1000Nm of torque makes light work of almost six metres and 2.5 tons of car, until a corner comes up when it wallows like a supertanker in a hurricane.
Mind you, you expect that from an Arnage - it's also a wafting car, not a sportster.
What I didn't expect was to find the Lotus Europa not as nimble as I'd like. Seems a bit odd among the other power-meisters on this page, but this $120,000 car is still very much a toy, albeit softened over the Elise and with handling, not power, as its main strength. Trouble is, the compromises made to enhance everyday drivability blunt the strengths that make the Elise a favourite.
What else? The Jaguar XKR lifts the basic XK recipe with sexier detailing and more power. Maserati's right up there - the $290,000 Gran Turismo rather than the Quattroporte. Both offer more than a whiff of history, of bad Italian vibe, of that special bespoke feel enhanced by rarity. Both are fun to drive, GTs with character. And the Gran Turismo offers looks that will turn heads anywhere, plus a suitable hedonistic soundtrack from its V8 - but no, I'm sorry. I prefer the similarly-priced V8 Vantage, and not just because Aston Martin's argumentative boss wouldn't stand for anything else.
Would I park an Aston in my drive? Perhaps - though I couldn't drive up it. Which is where Audi's R8 comes in. Sleek lines, gorgeous detail, heady balance; an engine with a banshee wail on song that's just as happy cruising to the shops - and four-wheel-drive. Plus a massive array of the sort of comfort features sports cars have traditionally gone without, and all for a mere $279,000, as tested.
And yet, none of these cars sing to the bad-girl in my soul; none quite peel the years off, sloughing the sensible skin of maturity like the Lamborghini LP640 Murcielago.
There's absolutely nothing sensible about this car, from its 28l/100km thirst onwards. It's too wide for cities, too low for almost any driveway. The interior's leather quilting has the tasteful subtlety of an ageing bordello and all the squeaks, rattles and sighs of a boarding-school dorm. The engine's a throwback - hell, the whole car's a refugee from the excesses of some 1980s rock video. But drive one, and you don't care.
It's heavy, but there's so much power it'll muster 281kW per ton - 33 per ton more than the skinny Lotus.
Prod the throttle and that 6.5-litre V12 pours 471kW and 650Nm to the road via all four fat tyres, for a zero to 100 time of 3.4 seconds. There are quicker cars. For the money, you could buy 25 or 30 superbikes that'll nudge the limit faster. But none will do it with this sense of occasion; with the joyous, rampant excess of the Lamborghini. There is no other car like this. No other car which so suits this car's name and history. And none which tops this year's memorability stakes quite like the LP640.
I couldn't own one without demolishing my house; I couldn't get it in the garage. But when the Christmas fairy comes along - with the fuel and tyre vouchers to match my purchase - I know which petrol-snorting, tyre-burning supercar will top my list.