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We’ve entered the twilight of combustion-engine vehicles, but Lamborghini is going all in on the gas-burning tech in the form of its Aventador supercar, the LP 780-4 Ultimae, with its naturally aspirated, non-electric-assisted V12 engine. 

Decoded, the name “LP 780-4 Ultimae” means “Longitudinale Posteriore,” which indicates that the engine is situated longways and mounted behind the driver. The “780” is the car’s metric horsepower rating, and the “-4” represents its all-wheel drive. “Ultimae” is self-evident as “final,” even to those of us who didn’t spend much time in Latin class, indicating that this Aventador is the last in the line.

The Aventador is the flagship Lamborghini V12 mid-engine missile, descended from the sultry 1966 Miura, through the menacing 1974 Countach, the oft-overlooked 1990 Diablo, and the stupendous 2001 Murcielago. The template for this model gained flip-up scissor doors with the Countach, and the engine has gotten progressively larger over the decades, nearly doubling in size from the Miura’s 3.9 liters and 430 horsepower to 6.5 liters and 770 hp.

Lamborghini’s V12 model gained all-wheel drive with the Diablo VT in 1993 to help put the V12’s power to the road. The 2017 Aventador S debuted four-wheel steering to aid the agility of the car, which has gotten bigger and heavier over the years.

For the Ultimae edition, the Aventador’s 6.5-liter V12 gains 10 horsepower, bringing the car’s final peak output to 770 naturally aspirated, non-electrically assisted horsepower. At full throttle, the engine’s song is nothing less than appropriately thunderous. This is the theater that buyers are paying for when they purchase such an overt machine, and the Aventador delivers.

However, when driven gently, the engine can relax and step into the background a bit, letting the driver burble around town on its 531 lb.-ft. of torque. In combination with the power steering and four-wheel steering (which aids the ability to maneuver through traffic) the Aventador Ultimae is surprisingly docile when driven like an ordinary car.

Shifting gears

This vehicle features a traditional single-clutch Graziano 7-speed transmission that the car shifts automatically. It also operates the clutch, so the Aventador has no clutch pedal. However, single-clutch transmissions require the engine’s power to be interrupted for gear changes. With a traditional manual transmission, drivers become proficient at easing off the accelerator before a shift and easing back into it, to smooth the shift process rather than lurching the vehicle’s occupants.

Driving the Aventador like a regular automatic transmission car, holding the accelerator pedal steady during acceleration as you’d normally do, produces noticeable driver’s-ed lurches as the computer disengages the clutch, changes gears, and re-engages it. 

This seems to be most pronounced in casual driving using the car’s Strada (Street) mode, until the driver masters the art of participating in gear changes as they would while driving a manual transmission car (because this actually is one) and eases off the gas before the automatic shift and eases back into it after. Sport mode driving is similar.

I’ve noticed when driving Aventadors on the track in Corsa (“Race”) mode that the problem mostly disappears because the shifts happen mostly at full throttle and are blazing fast at 50 millisecond. For street driving, the Aventador requests some involvement for best results.

A tug on the right-side steering column-mounted shift paddle engages first gear. A touch of throttle application and I’m underway on V12 power, with the Avendator’s wonderous exhaust note emanating from the anachronistic engine behind my right shoulder. Half an hour later, the Ultimae is slicing its way through the mountain roads outside Bologna, the engine’s power seeming to flatten the steepness of the mountain and the four-wheel steering is straightening switchbacks that look too tight for the Aventador to carve in one try.

On a racetrack, the Ultimae rips to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds and then keeps on going all the way to a top speed of 220 mph. At elevated speeds, the rear-wheel steering system provides enhanced stability rather than agility by reversing its function and steering the rear wheels in parallel with the fronts. 

Behind the wheel of the thunderous Lamborghini Aventador
Carbon fiber is strong and light, but can be a challenging material with which to work. Lamborghini

Working with carbon fiber

The Aventador’s lightweight carbon fiber chassis helps the vehicle achieve its maximum performance, and its strength should help keep occupants safe at the car’s terminal velocity. 

Lamborghini let me participate in a hands-on carbon fiber workshop so I can appreciate just how difficult the labor-intensive process of creating carbon fiber parts really is. Verdict: very!

The first step is to don protective equipment. That means cut-resistant Kevlar gloves and a Kevlar sleeve on your non-dominant arm (because the knife will be in your other hand), and some rubber gloves topping the Kevlar gloves for protection from the resin in the carbon fiber.

Lamborghini technicians lay out molds on a table for us to make various parts. I work on a simple tray and a more complex vent. Each part is made of pre-cut sections of carbon fiber fabric that is pre-impregnated with resin and kept refrigerated. These sections are cut to the right shape by a computer-controlled fabric cutter that works sort of like a plotter, but rather than drawing a defined pattern on the material, it cuts the material into that shape.

After peeling the backing paper off, I press the carbon fiber pattern pieces one at a time into their correct positions in the mold using a white plastic tool. Their resin adheres them in place, and I trim away any excess with a razor knife. After I think I’m finished, a technician attempts to correct my most egregious mistakes to get the fabric into the best possible position.

Then, I wrap the whole project in blue release plastic that serves as a layer between the carbon fiber and the white batting fabric that goes on top next. This is called “breather” because it facilitates the removal of air around the carbon fiber.

I slide this entire assembly into a vacuum bag, bleeding trapped air out through the vent valve. When I’m done, I connect a vacuum pump to the valve, and after about 20 minutes the sloppy mess has contracted down to a smart-looking object about the shape of the intended final product. This is what will go into the autoclave for curing at high temperature and pressure to produce the final part.

The Aventador’s chassis tub is made this way, along with nearly all of the parts bolted onto it. Metallic parts are pretty much limited to powertrain, suspension, brakes, and a few impact structures. The rest of the car’s parts are made using this laborious process, leaving me to marvel not at how expensive the Ultimae is (at $498,258 for the tested coupe), but at the fact that it doesn’t cost more. Lamborghini is building 350 Aventador Ultimae coupes and 250 of the $546,847 roadster convertibles.

The light weight of the carbon fiber parts contributes to the Aventador’s shocking speed. The rest comes from the ability of the V12 to extract power from exploded gasoline without the aid of turbocharging or electric motors.

Hybrids are the next step for hypercars, as Lamborghini seeks to preserve the traditional character of its cars until we finally convert entirely to power by electrons rather than hydrocarbons. It may be a necessary change, but we’ll have the Ultimae to remind us of the combustion-engine theatrics that came before. 

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