Hype and Hypertrophy: How Lamborghini Lost Its Man Card
Let me tell you this story about a killer I used to know.
I met him when I was fourteen years old. He worked with my father. I didn’t know anything about him. He was perhaps five foot eight at most. Quiet. Shy. He played folk guitar at a local cafe. At a company picnic, he expressed concern that the pond at the corporate retreat had too many fish. “There isn’t enough food for all of them to grow correctly,” he said, and he seemed sad about it.
A few years later, I was talking to my father about the book “Rogue Warrior” by former Navy SEAL Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko. Enthusing about it, actually. “If you really want to know what the SEALs did,” the old man said by way of interrupting my babbling, “you can talk to…” and he gave me the name of the shy, fish-sympathetic guitar player.
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, he did multiple tours. Saw all sorts of action. He was the real deal.” My father was a veteran himself, and he didn’t hand out praise glibly, but… That couldn’t be. SEALs weren’t thin, quiet men who played the acoustic guitar and ended up doing paperwork in a brokerage business for the rest of their lives. Or were they?
It turns out that KRS-One was correct when he noted that “Real bad boys move in silence”. In the years since then, I have met a variety of people who have survived, or even thrived, in dangerous environments. Combat troops, high-risk workers of all kinds, hardened violent criminals, successful racers, emergency services personnel. The kind of people we used to call “real men“, before that phrase became unwelcome in the American dialogue. Most of them are notable for just how non-notable they are. Our country’s overseas misadventures of the past decade have dumped tens of thousands of these quiet bad-asses into the heartland of America. They fix your car, serve your food, and, increasingly, sit at home because nobody is hiring. You would never know that they’ve survived combat. That they have “seen the elephant”, as gun writer Jeff Cooper used to say. That they have killed, and perhaps even enjoyed the experience.
I don’t see too many of them on the rare days when I darken the door of my local “Urban Active”. Instead, I see over-muscled steroid cases, covered with as many scary-looking tattoos as they could finance, grunting, throwing weight around, and engaging in copious public displays of ass-hattery. They have skulls on their shirts, or bandannas on their heads. Their entire posture is designed to intimidate. They are often fans of MMA, an activity which simulates street fighting for people who have managed to avoid actual street fights their entire lives. Often they are cops or volunteer firefighters, endlessly braying about the dangers of their profession to anyone who will listen.
It occurred to me many years ago that the Venn diagram of “actual bad-asses” and “people who spend all their time trying to look like bad-asses” has a very low overlap. The actual “man’s work” of the world — winning wars, building businesses, feeding families, protecting the weak from the strong — is generally accomplished by men who can’t bench three hundred pounds. That’s not how Hollywood likes to play it, but that’s the way it is.
Of course, “man’s work” isn’t what it used to be. Forget the “war on women” you’re hearing about right now, although it may well exist. There’s been a “war on men” for the last fifty years, and it’s been more successful than any of the Middle Eastern adventurism which has burned up the lives of American men like so much unwanted firewood at the end of winter. A war against the ideas of manhood, fatherhood, responsibility, dependability. The traditional American man — think Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird — has been parodied, denigrated, humiliated, ironized, writen out of existence. It’s no longer pleasant or even feasible to emulate our grandfathers and their unashamedly masculine lives.
Instead, we choose one of two paths. We become “modern men”, sensitive to womyn’s needs, ashamed of our basic desires, never sure whether to hold a door or let it slam shut. Most college-educated men take this path, particularly if they want to succeed in life. The men for whom success isn’t even an option — the rural, the uneducated, the discarded — well, they choose a distended hyper-masculinity. They can’t take care of their children, but they can bench-press a small car. They can’t hold a job, but they can kick your ass under MMA rules. They’ll never ascend above the service class, but if you are walking down a narrow hallway towards them you will guaranteedly have to bump shoulders with them. It is the appearance of masculinity serving in the stead of its actuality, an unemployed gym rat living with his parents and riding a Hayabusa covered with tribal graphics to the 7-Eleven on Saturday nights.
Sports cars and supercars — yes, we are finally getting to cars — used to be real ass-kickers themselves, you know. Think of a Miura blowing down the autostrada at 170mph when the average Italian car couldn’t break a hundred. Or an early short-wheelbase 911 trying actively to kill its driver on the Stelvio Pass. Or a ’69 big-block ‘Vette snarling down Mulholland. Men’s cars. Driven by the men who ruled the world, who had built the world. And created by those men, too. Ferrari himself, sacrificing drivers like pawns and burning the essence of his life to obtain victory. Ferry Porsche, who had to build and engineer a racecar to ransom the life of his own father. David Brown, earning a fortune and then throwing it away so he could put his own intials on the Aston Martin. Ferrucio Lamborghini, who famously started his company because Enzo showed him a lack of respect (or because he found out how much the markup on Ferrari parts was, depending on which story you believe.) These were real men, building appropriate conveyances for other men of means, courage, and accomplishment.
Those men are all as dead as Caesar now. Their famously fragile businesses, which often held together simply on the faith of their workers that “the old man” would find a way to pay them next week, have been plucked from uncertainty and nestled safely within the bosoms of monstrous corporations or the accidentally oil-rich.
And the cars those men made? They’ve been replaced by products, which are branded and marketed to “high net worth individuals”, our infamous one percent, existing within a safety net of corrupt banks, protective governments, and barriers to entry. The “heritage” those men manufactured on the fly has become a precious resource to be doled out by turtleneck-clad designers timidly riffing on the tracks cut by their betters long ago, like a club DJ spinning Parliament in scratches and squeaks because he never learned to play the bass himself.
Worse yet, the “products” themselves have ceased doing the man’s work of the company. Porsche used to live or die by 911 sales, the same way Lamborghini relied on selling the Countach to keep the doors open. No longer. Today, the Panamera and Cayenne drive the business. They trade on the image of the 911 to move the metal, but the 911 itself has become irrelevant. It’s a trophy wife on the arm of the Panamera. It’s there to make the Pano look good.
As the 911 has dwindled from Porsche’s core product to something which is briefly shown in advertisements for mommy-mobile SUVs and offensively-bloated luxo-barges, it has responded the same way your local gym rat has responded to being cut out of the world economy. It’s become hyper-masculine. Each new version of the 911 is more of a parody than the one before it. Spoilers, slats, airdams, monstrous wheels, stickers, an entire lexicon of nonsense vomited across the rear deck in plastichrome. No doubt the time will come when the 911 simply disappears and is just used in advertisements, the way Chevrolet occasionally trots out a Bel Air on television to distract you from the Korean offal they wish to offload now.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when I started preferring Lamborghini to Ferrari. Probably around the time the Murcielago arrived. I like that car: it’s an honest descendant of the Countach, even if it was done with German money. The flat-black ambience and gorgeous detailing of the current cars doesn’t hurt either. Mostly, however, I enjoyed the consistent purity of the product. Everybody knows what a Lamborghini is. You don’t have to explain it. Res ipsa loquitir.
I forgave Lamborghini their corporate ownership because the corporation didn’t seem to want to mess with it. True, the company had gone from a (not quite) self-sufficient operation to a bauble on the arm of a larger company, but you couldn’t sit in a Murcielago and tell yourself it was a corporate effort. The cars always felt individual, special. It would be an achievement to earn and own one. I’m stressing the end of that phrase the way Robert Ringer used to stress “earn, and receive income” in his books, because I think it’s important. When it’s earned, rather than given — by parents, oil wealth, criminal activity — ownership of something like a Gallardo or Murcielago can be enormously, thoroughly satisfying.
I had my concerns, however, when the Reventon arrived, followed by the Aventador. They weren’t beautiful any more. They were merely aggressive. And the Stealth-fighter look of the Reventon wasn’t promising. It had the whiff of an Affliction T-shirt to it, or the former Subway employee getting a tribal tattoo. Somebody was trying too hard. Somebody was about to become somebody else’s bitch.
Which leads me to the new Lamborghini SUV. I think it’s called the Urus, which is some kind of contraction of “Ursus”, which means bear, and “Anus”, which means rectum. Naturally, it’s a complete joke, a pathetic attempt to make a Russian mafia wife’s shopping cart look like Batman’s Murci. It pisses all over the face of everything for which Lamborghini has ever stood, and before you mention the LM-002, I will stop you and say that was ridiculous as well. We forgive the LM-002 because it was a piece of garbage. It earned its Italian stripes by being a completely useless accessory. The man who drove a Miura wouldn’t bother to raw-dog the accessory who drives a Urus in a roadside bathroom somewhere.
And yet the Urus will soon be the man of the house at Lamborghini, the way the Cayamara runs the show in Stuttgart. It will sell to the one percent. The Aventador is now, officially, living in Mom’s basement. It may pump up further, it may experience steroidal 240-mph rage or thousand-horsepower gym prowess, but we all know the deal. Lamborghini is dead. They can’t say that at the color rags, because they still want to fly to Italy so they can drive this piece of shit and pretend the waitresses at the press dinner find them attractive, but you read it here first. Lamborghini is dead, just like its founder. Anything else that happens is just theater, as fake as the “SEALs” that flex their muscles in television dramas and pretend to be related, in some way, to my father’s quiet killer of a friend.
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"Korean offal?" As a Korean I find that highly offensive. *waits to see how many people will guess I am joking, and how many people will guess I am not*