Speed Demon

With sound and fury, Lamborghini’s Aventador SVJ Roadster leaves everything in its dust.

Brett Berk Current PSL, Shopping


111 East


There is a Lamborghini dealership in the Coachella Valley, in Rancho Mirage. But the sight of one of the charging bull brand’s range-topping, cocaine white, roofless, Aventador SVJ Roadsters charging up the Palms to Pines Highway at full roar is still enough to cause a bit of local mayhem. Teenage boys in a Mini Cooper roll down their windows, phones in hand, and shout, “Lamborghini car!” An elderly woman walking a teacup poodle in front of her midcentury modern condo complex pulls the dog’s leash tight and the tiny furball leaps into her scrawny tanned arms. A middle-aged lady in a middle-aged Ford pickup revs her engine at a stoplight, and when the light turns green, attempts to drag race.

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She does not win. Few vehicles could. The Aventador SVJ Roadster accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in fewer than 3 seconds en route to a top speed of 217 mph. Credit the 759 horsepower produced by the screaming 12-cylinder engine mounted behind the cramped two-seat cabin. For reference, that’s more power than that produced by five Volkswagen Golf hatchbacks, a notable fact not just because, wow, that’s a lot of power, but also because the Volkswagen Group owns the Lamborghini brand.

However, the Aventador SVJ Roadster is no “people’s car,” the literal translation of volks wagen. It is, instead, an exercise in profligate and exclusive excess — precisely what makes it so enjoyable. Only 900 copies of this topless wonder will be produced globally. And the model acts as the swan song for the Aventador nameplate, a piece of wedgy, chiseled, automotive lunacy that has been the Italian carmaker’s super supercar for almost a decade.

There are few places in the Coachella Valley — outside, perhaps, the private racetrack at The Thermal Club — where one can truly explore the performance potential of such a vehicle. The Aventador is so sophisticated, powerful, and brutally quick that it makes the concept of public roads and speed limits almost laughable.

Still, it draws me in, in part, with precisely this allure of impossibility. This is enunciated in its startling, militaristic/futuristic appearance. Aggressive air intakes, vents, and strakes don’t act as carbuncular additions to the car’s body; they are the car’s body, protruding or receding from the bumpers, sides, fenders, hood, engine cover, roof structure, and rocker panels like the craggy peaks of the nearby San Jacinto Mountains, and finding their maximal exemplar in the giant fixed wing on the rear deck that resembles the black lacquer handle from some avant-garde 1970s handbag.

The limited-edition Aventador SVJ Roadster hits a top speed of 217 mph.

The Aventador’s stupefactory powers continue once I’ve found the door handle (under the creasy fold beneath the window), lifted the Lamborghini hallmark vertical-opening scissor door, and wormed my way over the thick doorsill and into the firm sport seat. I fire up the SVJ by lifting a hinged protective panel and depressing a red starter button, as if I’m launching a missile from a fighter jet — which, I guess, I sort of am. I click back the lightweight metal paddle that extends from behind the steering wheel at the 3 o’clock position to shift the automated transmission into first gear, stomp on the accelerator pedal, and, as that giant motor behind my head roars to life, immediately get in touch with all my senses.

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An internal combustion engine functions by creating precisely controlled explosions, igniting careful combinations of fuel and air. These detonations don’t feel quite so constrained in the Lamborghini. The engine spins to almost 9,000 revolutions per minute. The exhaust exits in an elephantine roar from two center-mounted rear pipes, aligned pretty much directly with the driver’s and passenger’s ears. The tires, approximately the width of the equator and wrapped around huge gold wheels with the dimensional thickness of Saran Wrap, pick up every divot, palm frond, and lizard vertebrae in the pavement, providing an often-unwelcome massage. The car, and the air around it, usually moves too quickly for any olfactory delights (or horrors) to enter the cabin. But with the top removed, in the right conditions, I could smell the icy ponderosas and lodgepoles emitting their turpintinic balm as I ascended Highway 74 into the mountains.

A bit about that top: Unlike its equally steroidal convertible sibling, the Huracán Evo Spider, the SVJ — which, by the way, stands for SuperVeloce Jota, or super-fast special performance edition — doesn’t have a power-retractable top. Those mechanisms add mass, and mass is the enemy of speed. So, in the interest of saving weight, the Lamborghini Aventador’s roof is made of a pair of brittle carbon fiber panels, which can be released by way of some confusing levers, and stored, with additional functional difficulty, in the “frunk” storage compartment under the hood of the car.

This means that if the weather turns cold, which it does as I climb 5,000 feet in elevation, the only solution is to crank up the heat. Fortunately, the heater blower in this car literally goes to 12. Even the seat warmers have six settings. One can also roll up the two side windows, and the little rear windshield — which is about the size of the clear plastic address box on a business envelope — but that cuts down on the mellifluous howl of the motor, which, to be honest, is one of the primary reasons to purchase or drive a vehicle like this in the first place, no matter how deafening it may be.

A lightweight brittle carbon fiber top releases by levers and stores under the hood.

After a number of triple-digit blasts through the plateaus at the highway’s crest, I drive into the charming mountain town of Idyllwild. I visit Café Aroma for coffee and pastries, and gallantly allow restaurant patrons to take selfies with the car. Then, I drive into town, parking on the edge of the central square in order to get some photos. It’s a weekday, and the park is not too crowded. But, whilst circling in search of an ideal angle, the arctic SVJ still creates quite a stir amongst the locals and visitors. This agitation is only enhanced when I move to get out of the car, opening the kooky door. A young boy who was playing in the park points and shrieks.

Almost as soon as I step out of the Aventador, a waitress comes running over from the nearby Gastrognome restaurant (always delicious), her order pad and pen still in hand. “I have a bet with one of my co-workers,” she says, “about how much you paid for that car.”

I’ve found that explaining my job as an automotive writer and convincing people that the cars I drive are not mine often ends up being too complicated (and dispiriting) for this kind of brief interaction, which often takes place at a gas pump, a parking lot, or an airport curbside pickup lane, so I just say, “This model starts at around $575,000, but with the options on here, it’s well over $600,000.”

The woman’s face falls. “Damn,” she says. “He won.”

“I could lie to make you right,” I say. Then, I reconsider. “How much was the bet for?”

She smiles. “A dollar.”