The Gallardo LP560-2, Lamborghini’s white ghost

“If you just want to know the time, buy a Seiko.” That was my late father-in-law’s justification for owning a beautiful, if anachronistic, mechanical Rolex wristwatch.

The 2013 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-2 50˚ Anniversario is a stripped-down, rear-wheel-drive, manual-transmission, limited-edition mechanical watch of a sports car. And it is the last of a breed according to company executive Michael Lock, who confirms that all future Lamborghinis will only have Formula 1-style paddle shifters.

Vital Stats

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-2 50˚ Anniversario

  • Base price: $204,895, inclusive of $2,995 destination charge and $3,000 gas-guzzler tax
  • As tested: $212,840
  • EPA fuel economy: 12mpg city, 20mpg highway
  • Powertrain: 552hp, 397 lb-ft, 5.2-litre V10 engine, six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Standard equipment: 19in aluminium wheels, 14in Brembo disc brakes, GPS navigation, thermostatic climate control
  • Major options: Red-painted brake calipers, suede-wrapped steering wheel, HomeLink garage door opener

Drivers hold fast to their manuals. It isn’t garden-variety Luddism that keeps them hanging on, rather it’s the love of the shift action, the push and pull, the stab and release. If your clock has a mainspring, if your amplifier has tubes, if your keyboard has hammers and strings, if your bike has a single fixed gear, if your motorcycle is air-cooled or if your baseball bat is made of wood, you could be a manual transmission person. With this established, and with $200,000 unearthed from between your sofa cushions, the Gallardo 50˚ Anniversario is built for you. Or 100 of you, for that is the worldwide production cap.

This special-edition Gallardo is dominated by its shrieking 552-horsepower 5.2-litre V10 engine (the “560” in the car’s name refers to its metric horsepower rating). Its windowed engine cover is fitted with LEDs that spotlight the engine when the cabin dome light is on, to ensure passersby notice its magnificence. All the system lacks is a choir of heralding angels.

Inside, the black Alcantara and carbon fibre-trimmed cabin is dominated by the central six-speed shifter, which gleams like an idol atop an altar, light playing off of its spherical aluminium knob and steel shaft. In the Italian tradition, the shifter protrudes from a steel cage formed by an H-pattern gate.

This device ultimately lets the driver choose how to apply all that power, and which exhaust notes to strike. The Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni – whose name appears on a special-edition Gallardo – plays the gated shifter like the maestro he is, but it is something that even mere mortals can do in this LP560-2. The unit slides slickly through its gears in a way earlier Lamborghini designs never managed.

After seeing Balboni drive, it helps to cheat off his paper. One doesn’t grasp a Lamborghini shift knob as if it were a classic Hurst pistol-grip unit. Instead, to push the shifter upward for the odd-numbered gears it is better to press on the large, smooth sphere of aluminium with the palm of the hand, which guides the shifter but mainly lets it find its own way. To pull back into the even-numbered gears, hover hand above the knob, pulling back just with fingertips. Try to force a stick shift through a metal gate and you’ll surely lose the dispute.

For a car as raw as the Gallardo, it tiptoes around uncannily well. Keep the revs below 2,500, go light on the throttle and the car is as docile around town as a 200hp Scion FR-S. Get it rolling a little harder in the 2,500rpm to 4,000rpm range, and the V10 emits a low rumble that would pass for a V8 muscle car’s note. But approach the 8,000rpm redline, and the sound turns to a sharp bark, one that actually froze a Doberman in its tracks when I downshifted at an intersection. The dog knew a threat when it heard one.

When in need of sudden stopping power, the gigantic Brembo brakes act like an aircraft-carrier tailhook on an F-16, yanking the Gallardo down with fade-free precision. The Brembos regrettably do the same at very low speeds, feeling a little grabby when the car eases into a parking space or slides gently to a stop behind traffic at intersections. It isn’t terrible, just enough to remind drivers of the racing-grade brakes under their right foot.

Those three pedals down in the footwell are crowded close together because the left-front wheel well consumes nearly half the space. Most drivers will not mind it, and for serious driving, glove-like racing shoes would solve any pedal-overlap problems. Then again, wearing race shoes to the supermarket would fuel unflattering stereotypes about Lamborghini owners.

The rest of the cabin is Spartan, all wrapped in black Alcantara. (Tip: pack a travel lint roller in the glove compartment.) The steering wheel is as blessedly simple and clean as the shifter, unadorned by knobs, switches or buttons other than the horn. It is meant for steering the car.

One worthy bit of cabin tech? The navigation display is connected to a back-up camera, addressing the longstanding supercar bugaboo of poor rearward visibility.

But as my father-in-law might have said, if you want to drive backward, buy a forklift. The Gallardo LP560-2 50˚ Anniversario is for driving forward, with your eyes scanning ahead, even if its transmission will soon be left behind.