Lamborghini Diablo: The Devil Wears Pirelli

Pirelli and Lamborghini. That’s not just a business partnership, it’s a marriage of Italian soul mates that has lasted ever since Automobili Lamborghini was founded back in 1963. An extremely intimate history lesson, accompanied by a stunning V12 orchestra.
Text Matthias Mederer
Photo Matthias Mederer ·

Italian fashion rule number one: The belt isn’t so important. What really matters is that your Lamborghini has the right tires for the job.

This has been an unwritten law so far, which is why we are using this opportunity to claim a copyright right here and now. The only thing that is certain is that the origin of this little bit of wisdom can probably be dated to sometime in the early 1990s in Switzerland. Lamborghini was just delivering its answer to the Ferrari F40 and the Porsche 959. Though “answer” is the wrong word. “Attack” would probably be more appropriate. The model, with the internal designation of P132, was a declaration of war, intended to be the fastest production car in the world. And as a way to offend all potential doubters, Lamborghini called its response the Diablo.

The devil was loud.

Too loud for the bureaucrats at the Swiss traffic authority. One cause for the extra decibels were indeed the tires and their rolling noise.

Pirelli tires, as they have been delivered since Lamborghini was established in 1963 and as, almost without exception on pretty much every model, they continue to be delivered to this day. Rear wheels 335 mm wide, 18 inches in diameter, developed and tailor-made for the Diablo’s performance. The stated 325 km/h top speed was exceeded in several independent tests. The matter was serious. So serious that ­Lamborghini wasted no time in acting. In collaboration with another manufacturer, a tire was developed especially for Switzerland that significantly reduced rolling noise – albeit at the expense of performance. The result convinced the authorities, and the Diablo received approval for Swiss roads. Buyers immediately fitted their cars with Pirellis before the first outing, however, in keeping with the sacred oath: What Italians have joined together let no Swiss authorities put asunder. Amen.

The Pirelli P Zero stands for ultra-high-performance tires that have been the benchmark for over thirty-five years. Their special high-tech level and performance make them the preferred original equipment tire for many super sports cars, sedans and luxury SUVs from leading automobile manufacturers worldwide. With innovations such as ultra-flat profiles, the low-profile tires set standards time and again.

The thermometer shows 37 degrees in the shade. The heat radiates over the golden Lamborghini Diablo VT 6.0 SE even before I start the V12 with a classic ignition key. It’s the last Diablo ever built, from 2001, No. 42. No rear spoiler, fixed headlights integrated into the body instead of flip-up ones (yes, they’re from Nissan!!), ­perforated rims, open five-speed manual ­gearbox and under 5,000 km on the odometer. Normally, this car is at Mudetec, Automobili Lamborghini’s museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese. But today the twelve-cylinder engine can breathe freely. In the truest sense of the word. Nevertheless, I hesitate. It’s the Diablo! Top trump in Top Trumps. Automotive poster fantasy. Legend. Adolescent dream. A shame they usually only take women as models for the world-famous Pirelli calendar.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against women nor do I have a problem with getting in a modern Lamborghini Aventador and driving it according to its purpose. Even with an SVJ, the process is almost routine. But the Diablo? It’s a bit like being introduced to Ana de Armas. You just sheepishly say “hello” and don’t immediately plant a kiss on her lips.

On the other hand: It’s the Diablo! A ­Lamborghini! With a design by Marcello Gandini. A body that jumps out at the eye. No restraint. Never. So off we go. The stiff clutch alone demands a strong lower leg, as if you’re trying to kick open a locked door. The starter gurgles neatly, you feel the mass that needs to be pushed from its cold resting state into the mechanical movement of a good 1,000 revolutions. Is the engine smooth? More or less. Compared to the almost synthetic harmony of the twelve pistons of an Aventador, the Diablo V12 grumbles with a certain unrest. Is it displeasure, engine rage? Who could blame this Diablo, after all it spends most of its time comatose in a museum. Decades. That’s nothing short of blasphemous. Or what is the hellish equivalent of blasphemy?

First gear. Release the clutch. The pressure point is easy to feel, and the first few yards are ­pleasantly confident. From then on there’s only one thing I have to do: drive the Diablo. I have to think it through clearly and take everything as it comes. And not brood so much. Brooding is just as bad as feeling fear. It makes everything more difficult. Especially in this car. Second gear, clack-clack.


→ The author's soon-to-follow Italian-Japanese moment of realisation and the entire photo spread can now be found in ramp #58.

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