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If You Like...

If you like the Lamborghini Aventador

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It has thermonuclear road presence; the horizon seems to shrivel as it approaches. There’s nothing normal about how it looks, how it sounds or how it moves down the road. When teenagers sleep, this is the car in their dreams. Of course it’s Italian. Of course it’s the Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4.

The Aventador, available in coupe and roadster body styles, is Lamborghini’s current two-seat supercar – a direct descendent of the Countach that shook the universe in the 1970s. And like the Countach, it is arguably more brutal and provocative than it is beautiful. It’s a spectacular beast, the sort of six-figure bauble a footballer buys with his Premier League signing bonus.

Like a proper Lamborghini, the scissors-style doors open upwards. Once inside, driver and passenger sit between the thick centre tunnel and doorsills. The double-clutch transmission is shifted via paddles behind the steering wheel, a break from the giant ball-topped steel rods of Lambos past, but it’s still a very mechanical place, a place for serious driving.

Find an open road and the air surrounding the Aventador churns into an oxygen-nitrogen meringue. A driver feels every vertebrae crush into the seatback as each successive gear is selected. The big V12 reaching for 8,000rpm is an acid rock version of La Traviata. The rip from zero to 62mph comes in 2.9 seconds, the quarter-mile collapses in 10.9 seconds at more than 130mph and Lamborghini claims the car won’t stop pushing until 217mph, where it can no longer bust through the air.

For all that performance, the Aventador isn’t really a track car. It’s too big and at nearly 3,500lbs, too heavy. This is a road car for which no real road is enough. There is literally no place, outside of a few manufacturer test tracks, where the Aventador’s performance limits can be tested.

Other limitations: there’s no place to carry luggage for a weekend, it’s impossible to enter and exit the car with any dignity, rearward visibility is nonexistent, driving position is alarmingly low, it’s fragile, it costs a fortune to service and it burns through fuel with impunity. Perhaps the Aventador’s greatest liability is of a more delicate nature, though. Being seen in one makes its driver look irredeemably crass. Passersby may look on with envy, but make no mistake, you are their enemy.

So here’s the dirty secret about Aventadors: their owners don’t drive them much. Sure, they take them out on weekends, but low curbs, stop-and-go traffic and too-frequent fill-ups soon push them back into whatever high-end SUV they keep in their stable. They invariably sell their exotic vanity projects with, at most, a couple thousand miles on the odometer.

That’s the bottom line with cars such as the Aventador: they’re awesome machines that are rarely given the opportunity to perform as such.

Then try…

The Trackmaster-T hot rod. (Courtesy Jerry Magnuson)

The Trackmaster-T hot rod. (Courtesy Jerry Magnuson)

The US’s answer to an Italian exotic is the hot rod. Whether it’s a 1932 Ford finished with the care and precision lavished on surgical instruments or a ’69 Chevrolet Camaro with its hind in the air, the American hot rod is an automotive species unto itself.

“Go to the National Street Rod Association Nationals meet and there will be something like 20,000 cars there,” explains Jerry Magnuson who, at 71, just opened a huge new speed shop alongside the Magnuson Products supercharger company he recently sold in the southern California city of Ventura. “And maybe 15,000 of them will be simple cars powered by Chevy 350 V8s with Turbo 350 automatic transmissions. Those are $300 engines and $200 transmissions. But those guys are having fun.”

If mention of a “Turbo 350” transmission elicits a blank stare, maybe a hot rod so equipped isn’t for you. That doesn't mean someone with $400,000 to spare should look outside the hot-rod hobby, where that kind of money would build or buy a rod that gets as many stares as any Lamborghini, minus the attendant ill will.

There are infinite ways to define what a hot rod is, but generally, every hot rod is built from parts and pieces culled from other cars, as well as racing parts and shiny bits from small, specialised manufacturers. Rods are almost always based on an existing, usually older, production car such as a ’32 Ford, first-generation Camaro, ’55 to ’57 Chevrolet or even an early Honda/Acura Integra from the early '90s. Imagination and craftsmanship rule, but hot rods are generally not so overly customised that the essential beauty of the original car is smothered.

In the showroom that fronts Magnuson’s shop stands Magnatude, an exquisite tribute to the ’32 Ford roadster. Built with the aid of famed rod builders such as Chip Foose, every dimension has been stretched and twisted, but the ’32’s DNA still shines through. Built to contend for the fabled America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) award, it cost around $1m to build.

Magnatude, at 2010's America’s Most Beautiful Roadster event. (Courtesy Jerry Magnuson)

Magnatude, at 2010's America’s Most Beautiful Roadster event. (Courtesy Jerry Magnuson)

There may be no more than a dozen cars deigned worthy of competing for the AMBR, but for far less money, a great, usable hot rod can be completed that prompts children to run up to be near it, but still be afraid to touch it.

Of course, wedged deep in the hot-rod ethos is a doctrine of self-reliance. But for those who cannot turn a wrench without killing off several endangered species, the second best way to realise a rodder’s dream is by hiring a designer and then contracting with a shop to build it. “You don’t hire the cheapest shop in town,” says Magnuson. “You hire the best. Because ultimately, that’s the cheapest, too.” If the shop rate is less than $100 an hour, chances are you’re not paying enough. And for a great street rod, you’ll need thousands of those hours.

Buying a completed car at auctions such as those conducted by  Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, Arizona, is another way. And compared to how much it costs to build a world-class car, auction prices are deeply discounted. Of course, the trade-off is buying someone else’s painstakingly realised vision, not your own.

The fourth alternative is semi-production hot rods such as the Trackmaster-T coming together in Magnuson’s shop.

Trackmaster-T project, in progress. (Courtesy Jerry Magnuson)

Trackmaster-T project, in progress. (Courtesy Jerry Magnuson)

Inspired by the 1923 Model T but containing no original Model T parts, the Trackmaster-T tips the scales at a flyweight 1,700lbs and is powered by a General Motors-sourced V8 engine producing roughly 500 horsepower. That gives it a power-to-weight ratio better than that of the Aventador, with an engine that can be serviced at practically any Chevy dealer. The few duplicates Magnuson plans to build won’t be cheap at about $250,000 apiece, so a buyer would presumably do homework before taking it in to just any dealership.

Most hot rods won’t keep up with the Aventador in a race, but there are some that could blow its dramatic doors back to Bologna. And at least in the US, you’d be beloved for it.