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Lamborghini Legend Valentino Balboni Reflects on EVs and the Future of Cars

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/3/2020 Motor Trend Staff
a man wearing sunglasses driving a car: Lamborghini Legend Valentino Balboni 4 © Motor Trend Staff Lamborghini Legend Valentino Balboni 4

Valentino Balboni was Lamborghini's chief test driver for 33 years, testing everything from the Lamborghini Countach to the Gallardo. For fans of the brand, his name is synonymous with driving 12-cylinder cars nearly 200 mph on public roads (legally). Lamborghini even built a special Balboni edition Gallardo after he retired from the company. When we caught up with him, though, he was test driving and consulting on a very different kind of performance car: an electric vehicle called the Drako GTE.

MotorTrend: I think this will surprise a lot of people because you are so well known for your time with Lamborghini, and this is very, very different than what Lamborghini does. The question people will ask is: Why are you interested in EVs?

a man standing in front of a car © Motor Trend Staff

Valentino Balboni: Good question. I am here because I like to experience every day. I want a little something. I'm still keen to learn something. I never said, "OK, now I don't care [about] anything." I read. I am updated. I drive. I enjoy. Everything which is car is part of my life. I have to update myself to that. I have to follow the line. Of course, I understand that it is strange for me being a Lamborghini nut and being a lifelong Lamborghini [employee]. Being here today, it may sound strange. It may, but it's part of my nature. It's part of my character. Learn, and be updated with my world, which was this way and now is that way. Just be there.

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I said, "Why not? I am still in love with cars and still in love with my job. I still work on the cars," so I still keep on with my passion and my love. Why not experience new things? Why not? I am respectful of this future, and I left [Lamborghini] on the best [terms].

It's a very positive experience. Meeting people. Learning, because this is, for me, it's new. When I listen to the technician explaining, it makes kind of sense. It's connected with the car. Electric or not, but it's a car that we are talking. I find this good. It's a new world; we have to understand that there's a new world. Lamborghini today is developing a limited number of cars which will be I think 10- or 12-car [run] with a 12-cylinder engine but with additional electric motors. It brings the power to 780 to 800 hp. This is the direction. We have to learn.

a group of people standing in a parking lot © Motor Trend Staff

There are still points where they have to be improved. Weight, batteries. This is weakness. It's a point where there's a lot to do, but let's say, even a car of 100 years ago was not a car compared to the modern car. It's this kind of progress, we have to pay for it and take it.

Pleasure of driving an electric car: it's a pleasure. Driving another car with a carburetor or with fuel injection, same power, less power, is a car. Is a beautiful feeling. Different feeling, different situation, but it's always a pleasure. I don't know if I'm explaining myself in the right way, but a car is a car. This is electric and I am an old-fashioned guy, but I respect and agree with the future. I respect that.

MT: This feels like the future to you?

VB:  This has to be the future. See, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ferrari, they are always keeping as long as possible the petrol engine, whatever, but on the side, they're developing [electrics]. They are now increasing the other one. Lamborghini with the Sian: 800 horsepower, 700 from the petrol engine, and 100 horsepower more with an electric additional engine. With EVs, we are completely opposite. We have no compromise. It's a way of seeing, going with a certain progression or going from zero to boom, EV.

MT: Do you think it will be difficult for companies like Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini to make this change when they have so much history and so much passion for the petrol engine?

a man driving a car © Motor Trend Staff

VB: You're right. This is another good question. Well, it will be difficult. Probably it will be more difficult to change the mentality of the users, but I am sure the new generation, fortunately, they're not so aware of the past. They will take it easier. The transition is more difficult for us. Even if you are very young, you experienced what it was, and you are experiencing what it will be. It's always a matter of finding the right balance, the right way of approaching this kind of modern situation.

MT: Do you think that young people in the future will be able to have the same passion, the same sort of emotions for their cars that we had in the past for our petrol cars?

VB: This is even more difficult to answer. I think the passion in the culture of the cars will always stay. I think over the years, but many years to come, it will probably balance, but at the beginning it's difficult. Too much contrast, too much culture. You know, time always helps recovery from previous injuries.

It's a good question. I really don't know. I mean, from my point of view, I will always say, "Geez, I experienced the best time of my life." I'm very lucky, but I'm sure people will have fun also driving this kind of car, they'll show a different way of approaching or viewing this situation. It's a good question.

MT: Do you think it's the same for racing?

© Motor Trend Staff

VB: Racing? For example, Formula One from '50s, '60s. Wheels like this [skinny]. 200 miles per hour. Compared to a Formula One of yesterday, I don't want to say today. Say yesterday. The entire wings, computer, electronics, we still love it. We still love Formula One. We still love what it was 50, 60 years ago because you, me are passionate. We are confident, let's say. New generation, when they see eventually a movie or a video of Formula One car with the guy with the goggles flying with driving, do they accept it or not? Do they think it is a Formula One?

We are the most lucky of this time of life because we know what we had, and we respect what is coming. I think like this. Lucky to have experienced this best of my life. I never thought one day to be here talking or judging or giving impression of EVs. I thought a lot before taking this kind of engagement today, "Geez, am I doing the right way? Am I saying the right things," because I am so much respectful of what I did on my life and consideration I have, but this is the future. This is the future. If you see the scenes from a right way and a correct way, this is the future. Lamborghini is doing the same thing. Ferrari is doing the same thing. Here, we have an extreme. We have a total car, but history is history.

MT: Can you get the same feelings from EVs as gas-powered cars?

VB: You have to fit to every car, to every different car, its specific purpose. Our attitude is today, driving as a professional, has to match with the car. Has to get immediately in symbiosis to appreciate it. I never found a car in my life which I say, "Oh, I will never drive this car again." Each car makes you, gives you different feelings. I like it. I can't say this is bad or not. As long as you feel the push and the braking, it's nice. The sound, well ... Today, I mean, the concept is the same. Car is the same. What changes is the relation we have to have with the sound, which is there or not there. I think it's not a big deal. I think it's not a big deal. You feel the power. You are comfortable. You feel the wind. Ok, you don't feel an engine, 8000 revs or 12,000 revs, but ok, but you have other positive reactions.

MT: A lot of car enthusiasts complain computers are getting in the way of the driving experience. That it breaks the connection between you and the car. Do you feel that way?

VB: No, no. I am always against this kind of opinion or feeling. Computer apps, today we have ABS. Let's say, take this as the most easy, ABS, electronic stability program. More than same. We can avoid that. We can avoid those devices, but they are important.

MT: Do you like having so many controls to change the car or would you prefer that the car just be set up one way and no twisting knobs, no playing with buttons?

VB: Well you know, being grown up with none of those things, I still like it, but I understand with this kind of power it may be useful for a normal driver to have this kind of opportunity to feel more relaxed. I think they are good in terms of, I don't know if it's correct to say, normal driver, but making people comfortable.

MT: There's another common complaint against electric power steering, as opposed to hydraulic power steering, that the electric system doesn't have the same feel as the hydraulic system.

a group of people sitting at a table © Motor Trend Staff

VB: Not with me really. Not with me really. I drove many, many modern cars with electric power steering. Other cars with hydraulic power steering. Honestly, I think is more marketing and commercials than really affected. Commercial and marketing is important. For me, electric or hydraulic makes no difference. I mean, the feeling behind the wheel, I never felt... I can tell you this is electric and this is hydraulic? No. Honestly not.

MT: What is your philosophy for evaluating cars? What are you looking for when you get into a car for the first time? What's the test for you whether it's a good car or not?

VB: Well, when I sit in a car the first time, I'm always kind of afraid because I'm expecting something different than [before], expecting new experience and every time is something new. It's something motivating to see, to feel different reactions or feel different. I am kind of afraid, respectful I would say.

I am respectful of the car because I don't know the car. It's completely opposite growing up with a company, growing up with a prototype, developing the prototypes so you know step-by-step. It's easier. When I sit in a new car, it's a new technology. It's not intimidating, but it's something that I want to learn. I am initially respectful of the car and then slowly, slowly you appreciate and you get on the car, which is good.

a car parked in a parking lot © Motor Trend Staff

MT: Is there a certain behavior that you hope that a car will have, something that you expect from a good car?

VB: I think my attitude is to get familiar and appreciate what the car does, what the car gives. Because every car has his own temperament and character. I don't know which is the best car of the world, but it's because I appreciate every car and his character. I think a lot about this.


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