LAMBORGHINI DIABLO REVIEW

Why would you want a Diablo? It's obvious: styling like no other, that legendary Lamborghini badge and a gargantuan V12 connected to an open-gate manual gearbox; road presence still beyond that of most cars; doors that open scissor-style; engine noise from an orchestra beyond the clouds; a 200mph-plus top speed; values on a steady upward slope... Need I go on?
The question of whether it's right for you is more difficult to answer, not just because of the significant initial outlay to acquire one, and potentially, more alarming sums to keep one running sweetly, but also because Diablos require a skilled hand at the wheel along with a willingness to be the centre of attention wherever you go.
'There's a very good reason why a lot of early Lamborghinis are low-mileage,' says Neil Singh of Buckinghamshire High Performance. 'For a start they're not the most comfortable of cars; and where do you park it? They're also very wide and rear visibility is not good. And then there are the running costs...'
The Diablo was in production for 11 years, and over that time morphed from being the ultimate car made by cottage industry Lamborghini to a more polished product of the Volkswagen-Audi Group (VAG). So there's a wide range of models, although given how few were originally sold - and the fact that some have been shipped abroad - even finding one can be difficult.
'They can deteriorate quickly if they're left unmaintained,' says Neil. In fact, if there's one common theme from talking to Diablo specialists and owners, it's that these wonderful cars demand that any maintenance jobs that arise - whether routine or unexpected - are dealt with.
Owner Phil James sums is up perfectly. 'You've got to be prepared to do whatever it needs, whenever it needs it, and not worry about how much it will cost. If you can't afford that, don't buy one.'

VITAL STATISTICS
Engine 5707cc-5992cc, 48v, DOHC, V12
Power and torque 492-567bhp, 428-465lb ft
Top speed 202-210mph
0-60mph 3.9sec
Gearbox 5-speed manual, RWD and 4WD
 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR


PAPERWORK
It's easy to be seduced by a Diablo, but it's crucial to keep a level head when buying one. And the most crucial thing of all is to conduct a thorough examination of all paperwork.
'Try to find one that's been to a reputable specialist,' is Neil's advice. 'Don't just be satisfied by service stamps in the book - you've got to look beyond the stamps and into the paperwork to see if the right jobs have been done at the right time. And don't worry too much about which model - always try to buy the very best car you can afford, but be prepared to accept a few niggles and constant fettling.'
A Diablo should have been treated to the best over the years, and you'll want to see lots of evidence that it has enjoyed a money-no-object lifestyle. A big-ticket failure such as a worn-out clutch in inevitable at some point in Diablo ownership; but if there's no proof of a recent change, budget accordingly and ask more searching questions.
Given the potential for financial carnage, it makes sense to invest in a pre-purchase inspection. BHP charges from £300 to carry out this which, given the thousands of pounds you could potentially save, seems like a no-brainer. Amazingly, many go into the purchase blind.


ENGINE
The crowning glory of the Diablo is the scintillating, naturally aspirated V12 powerhouse located just aft of your shoulder blades. A development of the original, 3.5-litre V12 first seen in the 350GT of '64, by the era of the Diablo it had grown into a 5.7-litre, 48-valve monster, producing 492bhp and 428lb ft of torque. Outputs then grew progressively, culminating in the 567bhp 6.0-litre GT of 1999.
The good old V12 is a tough unit if looked after, so maintenance is the key to avoiding big bills in the long term. Neil concurs. 'Any issues here [with the engine] and this is where the money will mount up. They do burn oil, and it varies from car to car, so check it out thoroughly. If the engine required a rebuild, you're looking at £14,500-£24,000.' Gulp.
You'll also want to check the servicing paperwork with forensic precision to see evidence of the valve clearances being set at the major service: it sometimes gets skipped. The big service is £1980 but to do the shims costs £270, with the shims themselves costing from £3-£20 each.


CLUTCH AND DRIVETRAIN
The Diablo's clutch is perhaps its single greatest weakness. Wear depends on how the car is driven as much as mileage: not riding the clutch while driving in town is a very good idea. The complete clutch kit is £2142 (you can change just the plate at £468 but it depends on wear and is not really advisable), with BHP charging £2700 for fitting. If a Diablo's clutch slips on a test-drive, you take it seriously.
Gearbox problems are rare, but a rebuild will be £4800 so check carefully for worn synchromesh. Abuse a 4WD VT - full-on standing starts, trackday heroics and suchlike - and the next items to wear will be the front driveshafts. The front differential can get noisy, but some VT owners remove the front driveshafts altogether to make their cars rear-wheel drive. Remember that four-wheel-drive cars rely on correct, matching tyres for the system to function properly.


CORROSION
While a serious engine fault is the headline fear of Diablo ownership, the hidden menace is corrosion. Diablos are made up from a relatively crude steel frame and box-section chassis, and exposure to the UK climate in particular can rot them alarmingly.
It can be very hard to spot the onset of rust if it's within the car, but there should be some telltale signs if you take a close look underneath: that's why a pre-purchase inspection is so important. If you do end up with a rotten car, BHP charges from £480 for labour in sorting surface corrosion, with materials on top, but a complete chassis restoration starts at £6000 and can be a lot more. Then there are body panels to think of, and while these are easier to sort out they can still suffer corrosion - particularly the doors.
Paint quality from new wasn't great, but remember that if it does need painting there's an awful lot of surface area to cover. Obviously, that means you'll need an awful lot of paint: BHP reckons on £420 per panel for a good-quality repaint.


SUSPENSION
Unsuprisingly, given the forces involved in keeping this supercar on the straight and narrow, the Diablo's suspension does wear out. And parts prices aren't cheap. Bushes perish, wishbones can corrode and dampers leak, although BHP is sometimes able to rebuild the latter if they're not too far gone. A repair costs £720 per damper, but replacements are £1920 and ideally you would replace them in pairs. You'll also need to factor in labour at £450 (for changing all four) and a subsequent alignment check at £300. Some later Diablos have electronically controlled variable dampers with different settings - but if the actuators fail inside they're fit only for the bin.
Some cars have a lifting kit on the front suspension to clear speed bumps, but the system can leak - and given that it uses the power steering fluid it needs fixing quickly.


ELECTRICS
The Diablo is the sort of car where an engine light appearing on the dash every time you drive it is nothing remarkable. They can suffer from a whole gamut of electrical niggles, and are prone to tripping sensors on the engines.
Any coil pack failure on later cars will mean buying all 12 from Lamborghini or finding singular Audi A8 items - they're exactly the same part.

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