By Justin Lifflander
28 August 2016
Frankfurt, GERMANY— What was I thinking? That's the question I posed to myself Thursday afternoon as Baldur shifted gears and pressed the pedal of his salad-green 1969 12-cylinder Lamborghini Espada. We rocketed away from Frankfurt, heading eastward on the autobahn. I don’t enjoy fast driving.
He had just met me at the airport. I had agree to join him at the LCCG (Lamborghini Classic Club Germany) rally taking place for the next 3 days in Poppenhausen – a quiet (until our arrival) hamlet in the Rhon countryside. For Baldur, this was serious fun. To prove it, he wore matching green pants and sported a briefcase and wallet of a similar hue.
Exactly what is a “Baldur” you ask?
I have described him as an Italian trapped in the body of a German. He is a man of much passion, who gets the most out of life – in a well-organized manner. For this event he was able to stuff his not-so-small German body into the not-so-big driver’s seat of his Italian sports car. His sister Barbara, who had served as Ferruccio Lamborghini’s personal secretary in his final years, is an honored member of the car club. She was brave enough to ride shotgun. I cowered in the back seat behind her.
I first met Baldur in 1990. He was standing in the kitchenette of the Hewlett-Packard office in Moscow with a portable humidor tucked under his left arm, waving his right index finger and explaining to the locals the nuances and joys of smoking cigars.
His knowledge was as broad as his belly, and his enthusiasm infectious. We termed the portable humidor his “grandfather,” since one observer noted the reverence he had for the little box, and said it was as if he was carrying around a deceased relative’s ashes.
I had hoped that the driving lesson he got from a Cuban cow during our 1996 trip to that island would have remained in his consciousness…but it didn’t. We were travelling in a rent-a-car, along with our friend Vova. At first I was behind the wheel. The quality and speed of my work was not satisfactory to Baldur, which he let me know through a barrage of criticism and finger waving from the back seat. For the sake of harmony, I pulled over and we switched seats. Baldur gleefully began to pick up speed as he continued to explain to me the inadequacy of my driving skills.
Though the pavement quality was miraculously satisfactory despite decades of neglect, the bushes in the median hadn’t been trimmed since the revolution. Unbeknownst to us they concealed a cow with no road-crossing inhibitions – understandable since Cuban highways are generally deserted. In the heat of lecturing me Baldur failed to notice the blundering bovine.
Luckily, all we lost a side mirror. The cow didn’t even lose its temper. It ambled on its way and, fortunately for our friendship, there was no more bragging from Baldur about his driving skills. At least not on that trip.
On future occasions when I had found myself in his passenger seat, I would express my dissatisfaction with his speeding—either in words or via a gently nostalgic “moo.” But he had developed a logical maxim I could find no counter for: “The faster I drive, the less time I spend on the road, so the less likely I am to get in an accident.”
Now, as we sped across the German countryside, I realized it made no sense to complain. In fact, it was dangerous to distract him. If he turned his head to address his sister in the passenger seat – for example, to criticize her directions — he took his eyes off the road for about 4 or 5 seconds. If he turned further to denigrate my whimpering from the back seat, it would double the time of his distraction.
I sought solace by trying to make a calculation, but the result was as scary as I expected: we were travelling at between 140 and 200 km per hour, maintaining a distance of 5 to 10 meters from the car in front of us. If that car in front of us should suddenly slow down or stop while Baldur was looking elsewhere then it would only be a few milliseconds before….
Better not to think about it. Sanity was now an exercise in mind control and free will. I had managed to stop looking for the seat belt after the first few minutes. Even if there had been one it would not have preserved any part of my body in the event of impact at that speed. I stopped looking at the dashboard, too.
Of course Baldur didn’t want to be so close to the car in front of him. He wanted the road in front of us to be devoid of any other vehicles. But he had no choice, since there was a car in front of him, and no amount of cursing would change that. He demonstrated a variety of multi-lingual, quasi-jocular road rage, insulting the drivers ahead until they got out of his way—in a mixture of German, Italian and a version of English of his own devising: "Why are you in my way you country pumpkin?” he would exclaim as he turned his head toward the driver of the car which recently retreated to the middle lane. “The world is only for the brave, not the cowarding!” he would shout, passing another. His insane cackle could actually be heard above the clamor of the engine. A particularly slow driver would get the finger wave — which meant another terrifying few seconds of eyes-off-the-road and one hand off the wheel. At least he never took the time to glance in the right side view mirror. The car doesn’t have one.
To distract myself from thoughts of premature death I tried taking in the sights. I did my best to record what was visible through the window, practicing “high-speed” photography. I think I saw windmills and some quaint villages pass by, but mostly it was all a blur.
After we got off the autobahn, curves and towns compelled a reduction in speed and the features of the countryside came into focus. Solar-powered homes, castles, apple trees and, rather oddly,
porto-potties placed randomly in the middle of fields—for the comfort of shepherds? or as a form of avant-garde advertising?
A pause to refill the twin fuel tanks helped ease my tension further. The backseat of the car is inundated by gasoline fumes when the twin tanks are full—providing the scent of classic-car legitimacy that acts like an anesthetic. By the time we rolled into the hotel parking lot I was quite sedate.
By evening about 18 Lamborghinis had assembled, along with another half dozen classics—allowed under club rules if the driver now or in the past has owned a Lamborghini. These included a Bentley, a Cobra and an Audi speedster. Even one Ferrari was permitted—despite the antipathy between the two legendary car makers. Total value of the collection was between 5 million and 10 million euros, depending on whose opinion of the market you listened to.
Most of the product line was present. Ferruccio Lamborghini’s passion for bull fighting—he was a Taurus himself— was evidenced by the model names he gave most of his vehicles: Miura—a Spanish breed of fighting bull; Islero—a bull that killed a famous bullfighter; Espada—Spanish for sword, and sometimes used to refer to the bullfighter himself; Jarama—the region in Spain; Jalpa –another bull breed; several Diablos—the name of famous and ferocious bull; Aventador—named for a bull that fought and died heroically. The only car present whose name deviated from that tradition was the Countach – pronounced “Kun-Tash!”, an exclamation of astonishment used by the men of Piedmont, Italy, upon sighting a beautiful woman.
An eclectic bunch of German men crave such bulls. In the middle-aged category there was Michael, a Ford motor executive who started out in life as a mechanic-apprentice and moved up the chain through crash-engineer to service manager; Olaf with a ponytail, who spoke some Russian—he would have come in his red Espada, but he had been rear-ended by a star struck driver at a gas station the previous day, so for this rally he was merely a copilot. Marcus, a classic car dealer from nearby Rupboden, was there with his wife Krisitina.
The retirees were a breed of their own. Each seemed to own several Lamborghinis and other classic vehicles as well. Ziggy from Bavaria owned a collection of 70 tanks. Walter, a 78 year old former real-estate mogul from Freiberg arrived in his Countach, but promptly parked it in the hotel garage for the duration of the event. “I’m feeling a bit anxious,” he said, and admitted that a couple of years ago one of his cars had been stolen from a hotel lot.
Club president Peter Wolf was comfortable with the Prokofiev association. He functions as chief organizer, evening MC, sommelier and car parking assistant (Lamborghinis rarely have more than one side mirror, and sometimes none.)
In case you are wondering how one becomes president of a Lamborghini club the answer is simple. You are born into it…At the age of 6 he got his first Matchbox Lamborghini and knew then it would be a relationship for life. At 7 he camped out next to an Espada he found on a Nuremburg street and waited all night for the owner to show up so he could hear the sound of the engine starting. “It’s the same sound as Ferruccio’s voice…” Peter said with misty eyes as he remembered his conversations with the late industrialist. Sixteen-year-old Peter got on his moped, crossed the Alps, and pitched a tent not far from the Lamborghini factory in Bologna. After his request for a tour was rejected by the director and then the chief designer, Lamborghini himself came out and invited the boy inside. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
On the first day of the rally we roared through the countryside at relatively low speeds and headed for Fulda, a medieval town close to the former East German border, famous for its Baroque architecture.
But the pace was too slow for Baldur, so we exited the procession and paused for coffee.
This allowed for the accumulation of enough distance in front for us to achieve hair-raising speeds and still pull into the garage of the hotel where we were lunching at about the same time everyone else did.
After lunch and a city tour, all the Lamborghinis in the garage ignited their engines at the same time, setting off the smoke alarm. We then headed to Marcus’s show room for cake and coffee in the lounge which he has lovingly turned into a 1950s American diner, complete with Wurlitzer.
Back at the hotel, dinner was augmented by Lamborghini wine supplied by Peter. Ferruccio Lamborghini retired from business in 1974 and moved to Umbria to tend to his estate, hotel, golf course, vineyard and private museum. This phrase, with its double entendre, used to adorn every bottle of his wine: “I have always tried to do the best in my field. This is my wine.”
The following morning, we set out for Meiningen castle, where a “lineup” (photo op for cars) was planned. About 10 minutes out, as we started up a hill, I could feel a vibration coming from the bottom of the rear of the car which seemed out of place. It was accompanied by a clanking sound. I considered warning Baldur, but I could see from the concerned expression on his face that he had felt it too. Shortly, after the next downshift, a sharp noise from below was followed by a loss of power to the wheels. Baldur managed to pull the car as far to the right as possible without going into the ditch. Smoke bellowing from behind the rear tires helped convince us to exit the vehicle.
Having endured much unsolicited consultation from club members as they passed us by, Baldur, Kristina and I stayed with the stricken vehicle while Marcus drove to his shop to get a towing trailer. In the course of the 90 minutes that we stood by the side of the road about 30% of cars and motorcycles passing by stopped to ask if ‘all is gut.’ Yet I couldn’t help suspecting a glint of Schadenfreude in their glances as they realized it was not a Trabant fanatic but a Lamborghini owner that was in distress.
The sun beat down, the birds sang in the trees and Baldur remained impressively unruffled, except for minor grumbling about his mechanic’s inability to resolve a problem with the differential he had suspected for some time.
“I heard the noise before we left the parking lot this morning,” Baldur commented philosophically.
“So why didn’t you check it out?” I asked.
“Akh,” he said, with a dismissing wave of his hand, “Some classic car owners pull over to check out every strange sound they think they hear. But what can they do about it if they don’t see anything out of the ordinary? It’s pointless. So I keep driving until something happens.”
Baldurian logic prevailed once again. He always got the most out of life — today it was an extra 10 minutes of driving before our brake down.
As the winch sucked the ailing Espada into the trailer, Baldur sat in the driver’s seat and kept the wheel straight. Through the open window he offered his humble estimate: “Now we are moving along at a top speed of 30 meters per hour.” No finger waving accompanied the statement.