As we struggle with the sluggish economy and an uncertain job market, it’s good to know there are still some pretty cool gigs out there. In fact, it’s never a bad idea to aim for a true dream job, because some folks have not only experienced but excelled at what could be called the ultimate occupations.
One of these rare, enviable individuals is Valentino Balboni, who until his recent retirement was the chief test-driver for Automobili Lamborghini, S.p.A. Balboni didn’t just put the latest top-shelf exotic machinery through its paces; he was also one of the few selected to help develop the ultimate supercars by Ferruccio Lamborghini himself, the architect of one of the most exotic sports-car lines in creation.
Lamborghini could have hired just about anybody in his quest to secure the marque’s name in the history of high-performance automobiles. He chose Balboni because he’d watched him develop as a mechanic’s apprentice and noticed the young gun possessed the rare ability to interpret exactly what a car does at the outer limits—and to control it safely when he pushed it past the tipping point. Balboni was also adept at communicating his impressions to Lamborghini designers and engineers, thus playing an integral part in the formation of some of the finest sporting exotica in the world.
Imagine getting up for work every day knowing you’re going to be flogging the hottest four-wheelers ever conceived, and putting your mark on how they handle at the ragged edge. Balboni did this for about 40 years, until Italian labor laws dictated he had to retire. He drove pretty much every Lamborghini prototype ever developed, and most production cars were test-driven by him before they were delivered to customers to ensure they were correctly prepared. To show its appreciation for Balboni’s work, the company built a special-edition (limited to 250 units worldwide) Lamborghini Gallardo that bears his name—fitting since the Gallardo is the most successful model the Italian car manufacturer has ever produced.
Body style Two-door coupe
0–60 3.9 seconds
The Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni is the stuff wet dreams are made of, and a fitting tribute to a very accomplished man. The “550” stands for the horsepower and the “2” is for rear-wheel drive, selected because of its ability to drift under power (so you can use controlled oversteer to safely launch the powerful car around the sharpest corners). This makes it the only Lamborghini in the lineup that’s not all-wheel drive, and further enhances its exclusivity and desirability.
The engineering is remarkable. Not only is the V-10 mill amazingly powerful, the design of the chassis is tuned to make the application of all that muscle as efficient and userfriendly as possible. Balance in the Balboni edition was optimized by moving the transmission to the rear axle, and everything from suspension rates to the aerodynamics of the body have been altered to achieve Balboni’s highest seal of approval. The Electronic Stability Program is adjustable and includes a Corsa setting that “permits greater drift angles, thus enabling drivers to enjoy the dynamics of the LP 550-2 to their full extent.” Translation: You can hang out the tail under heavy throttle while screaming “Yeehaw!” yet avoid sliding this raging bull into your neighbor’s front porch.
This car’s mission in life is to be hardwired to all your senses, from the visceral, auditory glory of the engine to the svelte, sensual lines of the body to the way the car’s driving dynamics peg your personal G-meter when cornering or accel erating. It’s the best of all worlds, and no one says it better than Balboni himself: “A Lamborghini must always combine the precision of a race car with the reliability of a good friend.”