Take a ride with Lambo's legendary test driver
Casumaro, Italy - Valentino Balboni says he applied for a job at Lamborghini because he’d seen brand-new Miura bodies, made for Lamborghini by Bertone, being delivered to the factory, and immediately decided he wanted to work for the company that made such beautiful cars.
He started work as a mechanic’s apprentice in April 1968 - sweeping floors, cleaning tools and moving the cars around the works as required. That, he says, is how he learned to drive a Lamborghini.
He must have shown some talent, because just five years later he was asked by Ferrucio Lamborghini to become a test driver. This was just at the end of Miura production and the beginning of the Countach era; his first test drive, in fact, was in one of the last Miuras off the line, making Balboni one of the few living links to Lamborghini’s first generation of front-engined, rear-wheel drive Gran Turismo cars.
But Balboni has become synonymous with the Countach, the futuristic mid-engined supercar designed in 1971 by Marcello Gandini of Bertone (the name is a Piedmontese slang expression best translated as “Phwoar!”).
Balboni was instrumental in developing the chassis dynamics and after the new model Countach entered production in 1973 it is said that he personally test-drove more than 80 percent of all the Countaches ever built, and the same percentage of the models that followed it, until his unwilling retirement as chief test driver (forced by Italian labour regulations) in 2008.
And even then he stayed on as a consultant and brand ambassador; he speaks fluent English and German, and has become something of a cult figure among Lamborghini enthusiasts at model launches and car shows.
In July 2009, Lamborghini announced a special edition of 250 Gallardo LP550-2 "Valentino Balboni edition" models with rear-wheel rather than all-wheel drive in deference to the maestro’s old-school preference.
In this video, Balboni shows that he’s lost nothing of his passion for driving beautiful, sensual cars, as he describes what makes the Countach so special, and takes us for a drive in a one-off 1986 Countach QuattroValvole that was built for Patrick Mimran, then CEO of Lamborghini, with special paintwork, ivory leather interior and headliner, an additional oil cooler and hot camshafts that pushed the power output of the 5.2-litre V12 from 335kW to 345kW.