Where To Test Drive A Lamborghini – When Valentino Balboni needed a job, he did what most people would do: He went to the front door and asked for it. Except, in this case, the door in question led straight to Lamborghini, one of Italy’s most respected car companies and makers of exotic cars that have been pleasing for over 50 years.
Balboni’s colorful career spanned 40 years. We caught up with the charismatic 69-year-old to talk about what it’s like to deal with cars like the curvaceous mid-engined Miura and everyone’s favorite poster car, the ethereal Countach.
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The Balboni adventure began under founder himself Ferruccio Lamborghini and survived a turbulent sea of corporate upheaval, including later ownership of the company by two different Swiss partnerships, followed by the then very American Chrysler Corporation (which developed the Diablo), through the Indonesian company Megatech, and finally the German Audi and the creation of Murciélago. When Balboni retired from active test driving and assumed the role of “brand ambassador” in 2010, the company honored him by naming the special edition Gallardo “LP550-2 Valentino Balboni”. His 2015 biography is titled
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Balboni described a rarely seen side of not only Lamborghini, but the people and personalities behind it. Among them is Ferruccio Lamborghini, a wealthy industrialist who founded the company in 1963.
How does a young man in his early twenties manage to find the job of his dreams – test driving one of the fastest and most expensive cars in the world?
Valentino Balboni was born on May 13, 1949 in the small village of Casumaro, Italy, about 25 miles north of Bologna. He still lives there, a mile from where he was born. Funny, given his past, Balboni describes Casumaro as “only a 20-minute drive” from Sant’Agata Bolognese, home of Automobili Lamborghini. According to several online mapping assistants, this trip will take between 35 and 40 minutes.
As a young man, Balboni attended a mechanical school near his home. To travel back and forth, he rode a 1953 Vespa scooter given to him by his father. “It was my first car with a motor,” Balboni laughs.
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The next step in his career will require a bit of luck and perhaps divine intervention. Balboni recalls a special day in April 1968 when he hung out with his friends playing football outside a church in his village.
“A priest from my village came up to us and said: “I need to go to Sant’Agata Bolognese to see my parents. If someone wants to join me, instead of staying here and playing… you can join me.” Balboni recalls how she and a friend got into the priest’s tiny Fiat 500 for the ride — and just as the car passed the gates of the Lamborghini factory.
“I said to the priest: “Slow down, I want to stop here and look at these beautiful cars,” Balboni recalls. In a moment, he will be introduced to the magnificent Miura for the first time, a pioneering mid-engined road car and one of the most beautiful Italian sports cars of all time.
“I entered the parking lot and saw beautiful Miura bodies parked and a guy from the company got out and started pushing them inside the building,” says Balboni. “So I started helping him by pushing cars. And then when I got out, after we’d rounded up the last one… a security officer who was a good friend of Ferruccio Lamborghini asked me to fill out a recruitment form. .”
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Ten days after filling out the application, Balboni received a response in the mail asking him to return to the plant for an interview. It was April 21, 1968, and it was Balboni’s first day in a Lamborghini.
“I can’t forget: my friend and I sat in front of this director… he was the production director, financial director, commercial director, he was alone! He asked us: “What can you do, what would you like to do with the company? As soon as Balboni replied that he and his friend were in school and were ready to learn everything they needed, fate (and an avid Italian industrialist) intervened.
“Suddenly the office door opens and a man walks in, smoking a cigarette and shouting to his manager: “We don’t want to waste time talking, we need people to work. Stop talking and put these guys to work!” The director tells us: “Guys, you just met Ferruccio Lamborghini.” “
There were two vacancies: one on a car assembly line, the other in a car service. Balboni agreed – after a quick discussion with his friend – to take a position in the service department.
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His role as a mechanic’s apprentice meant that his tasks included cleaning cars, cleaning tools used by other mechanics, mopping floors, and generally being available to anyone who might need his help. Balboni was not yet 19 years old.
Asked about Ferruccio Lamborghini himself, Balboni says: “He was so charismatic. He always wanted to do more and better than everyone else. He was a special person… able to engage and motivate people.”
During the first deliveries of Miura in 1968, Balboni recalls, there were always small problems that had to be fixed before the cars could be handed over to the customer. During these final inspections, Lamborghini would personally mount his bike and pedal to a local bar near the factory to buy Coke and sandwiches for a waiting customer and last-second mechanics. “It was Ferruccio Lamborghini,” says Balboni.
Balboni also recalls how his former boss smoked all day long, every day. “He always smoked, 24 hours a day!” This included one memorable interview on Italian television in which Lamborghini sat in a Miura and smoked while talking.
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Balboni’s progress from trainee mechanic to test driver took a relatively quick and very unexpected turn. “I have always loved to drive cars,” he explains. “When I was a student, every time I had the opportunity to drive around the building, I did not hesitate. I drove around the building two or three times, just for the fun of driving!”
It wasn’t entirely justified. Balboni’s boss told him that he shouldn’t drive so much, that his job should be that of an apprentice. “My boss was always complaining,” Balboni says. “After so many times they told me ‘Stop or we’ll fire you.’ “
So he got scared when one day, while picking up a blue Miura for a customer in the service department, Balboni’s boss told him to go upstairs, where the company’s general manager was waiting to talk to him. “I was so scared because I thought it was my last day in a Lamborghini.”
Once there, Balboni ran into Ferruccio Lamborghini, Bobo Wallace — Lamborghini’s first chief test driver, a New Zealander hired outside of the Maserati racing team, and a man Balboni himself calls “mythical” for his driving skills — and Paolo Stanzani, chief technology officer company. He was told that he had been warned many, many times against driving. However, given that the company needed a young test driver, he was asked to use his driving enthusiasm for real purposes.
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Wallace personally took Balboni under his wing for a year-long course in testing and developing prototypes and production vehicles. Approximately 20 years ago, all these tests took place on public roads. The company’s practice was that every new production car was tested before it could be delivered to the customer, so the business was stable even when – as sometimes happened – Lamborghini had years between developments of new models.
In September 1973, in a black Miura SV, Balboni got free rein for the first time for a test drive. At the factory gate, the same security guard who pushed him to fill out the job application opened the gate for his first solo ride as a Lamborghini test driver. At this moment, while telling this story, Balboni collects his emotions for a moment, and the memory remains vivid and special after all these years.
“Then, alone, in a black Miura SV… [I’m] an official Lamborghini test driver, driving the roads around Sant’Agata.” He was 24 years old, and he was an assistant to Wallace, who only two years later left the position of Balboni’s chief driver. Italian labor law requires Balboni to retire in 2009; meanwhile, it is estimated that he drove 80 percent of all Lamborghini produced.
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