Fate has never had a clumsier moment than when it decided that I should be the first journalist in the world to drive the €1m Lamborghini Reventon. At the time it was the only finished example in existence and it had already been sold. So no pressure.
Scary enough for a skilled supercar pilot such as our own Chris Chilton, but there’s never a Chris Chilton around when you need one. In fact, there was only me. We didn’t have the heart to tell Lamborghini that we were sending someone to drive its priceless piece of sculpture who is less well equipped than a polar explorer wearing short trousers.
Still at least it was dry when I woke up on the appointed day in Bologna. At least I wouldn’t have the absurd task of placing 641bhp through the wheels onto a greasy track. I managed a croissant.
At the secret test track a ten-strong team of Lambo engineers wearing black uniforms unloaded the shimmering beast and began polishing it earnestly ready for its first-ever drive by a mortal. They did a fairly decent job of not looking worried when the mortal arrived, looking more like an American tourist than someone a bit handy.
'Are you familiar with ze track?' I was asked. I confirmed that I was not. 'Ok. We show you, yes?' Yes.
An Italian called Carlo, weighing approximately three times less than me then hopped into the driving seat of a handy Nissan 350Z and, with me holding the shotgun, executed three dreamily perfect laps, complete with commentary. I tried to concentrate. Then we swapped seats, while the black-swarm of Lambo blokes eased the Reventon across the apron to the start straight. My first lap in the Nissan was a bit scruffy and rather slow, but by the second I had plucked up enough courage to enter turn three stupidly fast, giving me the opportunity to demonstrate oversteer and understeer in a blurred succession before fishtailing onto the grass and setting off on a massive excursion which ended in a sickening crunch against a grass bank. It took me and Carlo almost five minutes to walk back to the edge of the track (we could have done with a car really) where the Reventon crew were standing in awed silence. In the rain.
'Right,' I said. 'Think I’m ready now.'
The Reventon takes 3.4 seconds to hit 62mph but it didn’t do so that day. It can manage 210mph, but not on my watch. With Carlo’s boss sitting beside me I completed four laps so rubbish that even Force India won’t want to know about it. And all in agonising silence, heavily laced with the sound of Carlo’s boss wincing, shadow braking and endlessly re-gripping the handle of the scissor door.
The 48 valves in the V12 engine still sounded life-changingly glorious though. And the extraordinary liquid crystal instruments made the experience fighter-pilot sexy. Crap though I was, I knew I would never forget the elation or the sense of sheer privilege.
I remembered to thank Carlo’s boss when I got out, as my mother taught me. His mother, to judge by his silence, didn’t teach the same stuff.