I’m on a rent-a-ride, from Oakville to Campbellville, Guelph and Terra Cotta and back again, in the sprawling Greater Toronto Area of Canada.
Along with me are a score of anvil-ankle warriors and we’re sharing wheel time of five pretty tasty, if far from the latest, supercars and performance sportsters.
Ahead is five hours’ driving venturing into what is known as Escarpment country, where the grid pattern of backroads promises a little bit of everything.
2006 Dodge Viper SRT10 roadster
I yearned to drive a Dodge Viper ever since it broke cover in 1991. Not just because of the all-American hero muscle, but the story of its 8.0-litre V10 is right out of Hollywood.
It goes like this – an engine originally built to power a pick-up truck gets sent to Lamborghini (at that time, part of the Chrysler family) for a series of steroid injections. It comes back bristling with alloy block and heads and 90 more ponies or, put another way, 100 greater than the base-model C4 Corvette.
In 2009, nearly two decades on, here I am, duking it out with a 510hp, 8.3-litre SRT10 roadster, the fat rears tattooing the asphalt as I shift from 1st to 2nd then, going from 2nd to 3rd breaking into wheel spin. With everything twitching I’m getting mixed messages – each corner of the car seems to be telling me something different. It’s a handful, just as I always thought it would be.
The Viper has plenty of venom, alright. How’s this for vital statistics: 0-100km/h) in 3.7 seconds, 11.77sec. for the standing 400m and 100km/h to zero braking distance of less than (30m. But it’s the big V10’s ability to pull from just above tick-over in any gear that’s truly impressive, thanks to titanic torque on tap peaking at 725Nm @ 4200rpm.
Street cred is further enhanced by an absence of driving aids. And this particular car has been set up for weekend drifting, so word among our group has it.
The SRT10 has set one helluva benchmark for the rest of the pack.
Basic price: US $81,895
Engine: 8.3-litre pushrod 20v V10
Power: 370kW @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 725Nm @ 4200 rpm
Transmission: 6-spd Tremec T56 manual
0-100km/h: 3.7 secs
1995 Acura NSX-T
After 20 years of fantasising about Honda’s debut supercar, I was expecting a near-seminal drive experience. Was this not the world’s first production car of reasonable number to boast an all-aluminium body? Advanced aero package, and interior styled on an F-16 Fighting Falcon cockpit? And development input from no less than one Ayrton Senna?
What I got instead was compromised ergonomics bordering on confidence-sapping cabin fright. The pedals were so close together I feared the throttle running on, to the point where I took my driving shoes and socks off. A stink very much like that of Fishoilene (not from my footwear) pervading the cabin confirmed my thoughts that take-up of the clutch was at the absolute top of travel. The steering wheel, even in its highest position, was set too low and the electric power steering felt inert.
Determined to take away some positives, I searched deeper into the targa-topped Acura’s (Honda’s prestige brand in the US) on-road portfolio. Rolling the throttle on at about 4000rpm extracted an induction growl, 5500rpm summoned eager and rapid response and by 7000rpm the alloy, 3.0-litre VTEC V6 was on full song and the NSX in flight.
The overall driving sensation is directly related to the engine’s mid-mounting. Optimally balanced, the car pivots behind you in exploitable, manageable mild oversteer rather than pushing under hard cornering. (It should be mentioned that this particular example was lowered and sported after-market wheels/tyres and non-standard brakes).
Bit by bit, I adapted yet never felt truly comfortable nor convinced I was at one with the NSX. I’d love to drive another example. Any takers?
Basic price: $US60,000
Engine: 3.0 DOHC VTEC V6
Power: 201kW @ 7100 rpm
Torque: 285Nm @ 5300 rpm
Transmission: 5-spd manual
0-100km/h: 5.6 secs
2003 Ferrari 360 Modena F1
I don’t always subscribe to the theory that familiarity breeds contempt; but I’d have to admit that the 360 Modena fell short of exciting me to the stratospheric levels the way previous Fezzas did. By now (2009), I had lucked into steering the 112th Ferrari built (1951 Type 212 Export Touring), pair of 612 Scagliettis, F430 and, only a couple of weeks previously, 430 Scuderia.
The 360 I’m about to fire up is lowered a little, has a few scuffs on its yellow paintwork and, I’m told, undergone an engine rebuild at some stage. It’s an F1, which denotes single-clutch automated transmission.
We’re last away from the vehicle changeover, which means plenty of cars to chase. With 100 more kW and Nm and less than 50kg heavier than the NSX, little wonder the Ferrari feels instantly responsive and flighty. First impressions on encountering a set of twisties is the quickness of its tiller and how reactive the front end is to even small increments of steering input.
That said, once turned in and with ASR (traction control) putting power to the ground seamlessly, the 360 shows itself to be sweetly balanced through the turns and corners. At times a little clunky, the F1 transmission does an otherwise good job of keeping the 3.6-litre V8 in its sweet spot, up-shifting 150 milliseconds quicker in Sport mode and automatically blipping the throttle on downshifts.
And so, it goes. At the end of my driving stint, the 360 hasn’t elevated itself above any of the Maranello quintet I’d driven, but I exited it with adrenalin level bubbling nicely. Job done, then.
Basic price: N/A
Engine: 3.6-litre DOHC 32v V8
Power: 300kw @ 8500 rpm
Torque: 373Nm @ 4750 rpm
Transmission: 6-spd auto/manual
0-100km/h: 4.5 secs
2003 Gemballa GT 550
Not telling you anything new, but the answer to just about any question is a few key strokes and a click away on the Internet.
Take Gemballa. The aforementioned font to all knowledge informs that Gemballa is a stinktier funktioniert – a German skunk works – headed by founder Uwe Gemballa; much lauded for its ability to take a Porsche and endow it with the capability of soaring from a standing start to 300km/h in less than 25 seconds. Or lapping the Nordscheife 30 seconds quicker than the fastest factory Stuttgart stormer of the day.
But try as I might, online information about this particular Gemballa, a 2003 GT 550, is pretty much non-existent apart from being a 996 twin-turbo worked over by Gemballa to produce 410kW. It’s a real mystery ship.
From memory, this bad boy had more miles on it than the other four on our drive. And it showed – some interior trim loose, an airbag warning lit up on the dashboard and the black leather sports seats, while still supportive in typical Recaro fashion, revealing wear.
But all this went to back-of-mind the instant the twin turbos spooled up with a whoosh, tacho needle soaring past 3000rpm and on towards redline. Second gear … 3rd … 4th … keeping pace with the manual shifter was a challenge.
I’d heard that you can feel a forced-induction, all-paw 911 moving around, its broad hips wriggling, the whole car pitching slightly side-to-side and then squatting on corner exit. And as the power goes down at all four corners, weight transfers and the front-end lifts. Damn right.
Drive over, I’m left to wonder in awe just how good this car might have been straight out of Gemballa’s skunkworks.
For much of the drive I’d been behind the Gallardo and watched, almost mesmerised, by how well it sat on and inhaled the road. Under late braking, scribing its line or powering on exiting a corner, the Lambo walked the torque; even when a summer thunderstorm dumped down. And now it was time to experience it for myself.
Unlike the Viper, NS-X, 360 and GT 550, the Gallardo is standard. So, what Sant’Agata intended is what you get. Good. First impression is the all-paw’s tenacious bite into the bitumen and unflinching traction. The V10 pulls ultra-smoothly, the grunt spread wide and flat and acceleration linear. here’s genuine punch to the mid-range, so the Gallardo carries serious speed through the bendy bits and trowels on the power when you get to point its snout towards the horizon.
The steering, not as quick as the Ferrari, is a good communicator and devoid of bump or roll steer. The soundtrack ain’t bad either, induction roar overlaid with gear whine which gives way to the roar of 10 bent cylinders and their mechanical accompaniment.
What’s not to like? Okay, the automated, single-clutch transmission is a little jerky, especially moving off, brakes feel too top heavy and ride stiff at low speed. But overwhelmingly, the Gallardo is the one of our drive five to deliver a complete supercar experience.
Lamborghini would go on to produce more than 14,000 examples in an unbroken run from 2003-13, almost matching the total of all other fighting bulls built to that time since the marque’s foundation in 1963. One drive and it’s easy to see why.