Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Lamborghini Gallardo has cost me dearly in the pub bragging stakes

“WHAT’S the most powerful car you’ve ever driven?”

There is, in the days when top speed is considered a bit un-PC, still a certain validity about asking what’s the highest amount of bhp you’ve ever handled from one engine. Well, at least there is if you’re two petrolheads and it comes down to pub bragging rights! If you’ve ever wondered what those strange three letters – bhp – stand for, then wonder no more.

The standard way we Brits measure power goes back way beyond the dawn of motoring itself, and hails from the days when James Watt needed to show the world how brilliant his steam engine was. One horsepower – which was always measured at the steam engine’s brake, hence the b in bhp – was equivalent to the work one pit pony could do. It’s a measure which migrated from steam to petrol and, as a result, has obsessed Top Gear presenters ever since.

Naturally, I’ve got my most powerful car to date clearly jotted down in my mental notebook – the Jaguar XKR-S Convertible, which I drove last year. Its 5.0 litre, supercharged V8 churns out no less than 542bhp. Which, in pony terms, means it's enough to keep a discount supermarket supplier in business for several months.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been enough to stop me getting outhorsepowered by my mate. He was treated to one of those ‘try a supercar for a day’ presents for his birthday and, as a result, got given a Lamborghini Gallardo to play with for a morning. I’ve been outgunned – by eight piffling brake horse power – and he hasn’t let me live it down since.

There are, of course, less childish ways to express a car’s oomph. If you want to be intelligent about it there’s the issue of power-to-weight ratio, which is why said mate is hard at work cramming no less than 170bhp into an old Rover Metro, which in theory, should give it the same sort of punch – if not cornering prowess – as a Porsche Boxster. Then there’s the mysterious world of torque, which would take the next three weeks of motoring columns to explain properly but is why so many not-that-powerful turbodiesel cars are so good at overtaking.

Raw power, however, has a certain mine’s-got-more-than-yours childish appeal which still appeals to petrolheads (and probably explains why I like TVRs so much). The best thing about horsepower, however, is that you don’t need to be a motoring journalist to outgun Yours Truly.

All you need to do is get given a certain birthday present, turn up at your nearest racing circuit, and have a blast!

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