Speed's a scream

P-plater Shaney Hudson gets a little racy when she steps on to the Lamborghini assembly line.

WHEN the needle pushes past 220km/h, I at last get what all the fuss is about.

I've never understood the appeal of cars, considering them simply as a practical way to get from A to B. But a trip to the Lamborghini Museum has sorted me out.

The Lamborghini factory, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, near Bologna, produces one of the world's best-known and most exclusive sports cars.

While I expected its manufacture to be shrouded in secrecy, the factory is, in fact, open to the public for tours.

Stepping through what feels like a secret hole in the wall, we're met with two lines of Lamborghinis pointed towards us.

There's no denying their wow factor. The sun catches their slick bodies and the holding area is a riot of candy colours: glossy greens, metallic oranges and canary yellows offset against sleek, white racing stripes. Veering right, we enter the part of the factory where the Gallardo Balboni models are produced. The cars are lined up at their stations and we arrive just in time to see a motor being married with a body. The motor is a huge silver beast that stretches the length of the vehicle and it takes three mechanics to slide it into place.

I had expected a bustling, mechanised production line and a disciplined, serious workforce; instead, the atmosphere is relaxed. The cars are propped on four-wheeled trolleys and moved by hand between stations; mechanics and engineers walk casually around the floor, taking time to greet us. This is not an industrial megafactory. These are handcrafted cars - I am watching artisans at work.

Our guide explains each car is built to owner specifications. We go into the upholstery room, where hanging on racks are swathes of leather dyed in various colours.

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We're shown the machine that imprints the Lamborghini logo on the upholstery and, carefully wrapped in plastic, the seats and interior panels finished that day and ready to be fitted.

The factory also has an on-site museum that consists of two floors of vintage models and concept cars, showing the make's physical and technological evolution. There is a five-seater Lamborghini built during the 1970s oil crisis, a police car built for the fast transport of organ donations, a prototype model with separate compartments for the driver and passenger - perfect for the feuding husband and wife - and Lamborghini's first production model from 1963, the 350GT.

The walls are lined with photographs of Ferruccio Lamborghini and the original vehicle: a humble tractor.

The story behind the Lamborghini legend is a good one. Ferruccio may have manufactured farm equipment but his passion was collecting sports cars. He owned a Ferrari and approached Enzo Ferrari to discuss how his little red car could, in Lamborghini's not-so-humble opinion, be improved. Ferrari wasn't exactly receptive to someone who built tractors telling him how to make sports cars.

Scorned, Lamborghini decided to build a rival luxury car.

Within one year, land was bought, a factory built and the legend was born. Tours of the factory and the museum aren't actively promoted by the company - they exist simply for people who, just like Ferruccio Lamborghini, are passionate about cars.

The best bit of our tour is saved for last: I'm given the opportunity to go for a ride in a black convertible. While I buckle up, an older Italian gentleman comes over and banters with my driver in Italian. He introduces himself as Valentino and motions to my driver.

"This guy" he jokes, "he doesn't know how to use the brakes."

"Whatever you do, don't get in a car with this guy!" my driver shoots back.

"Maybe I'll get behind the old wheel, show you both how to handle this car," I chime in. They laugh.

Later, I find out the joke is on me. I'd been speaking to Valentino Balboni, the test driver in whose honour Lamborghini has named the Gallardo model I'd just seen being built. And me, still on P-plates and scared to drive in Sydney traffic, had just told him I'd show him how to drive.

"We'll go for a short time but we'll go very fast," my driver warns.

He puts his foot down and we accelerate with all the power a car that has been clocked at zero to 100 kilometres in seconds can do.

I squeal with uncontrolled delight.

We turn down a country road parallel to the factory. It's old and cracked and potholed and free of oncoming traffic. He pushes it and we're flying.

The needle keeps going up. But

I don't know and don't care how fast we are going. I feel a sense of freedom I haven't felt before. Now

I know what all the fuss is about.

The writer travelled as a guest of the Italian Government Tourist Office.

Trip notes

Getting there

Qantas flies from Sydney to Rome via London Heathrow from $1997. Phone 13 13 13, Qantas.com The nearest tourist centre to the Lamborghini factory is Bologna, easily reached by train from Rome (2½ hours) with multiple services daily. The museum is best accessed by car from Bologna, about a 45-minute drive.

Touring there

Lamborghini is restructuring its production line and will reopen for factory visits early next year, by appointment. Book before you leave Australia. Factory tours cost from €39 ($54) and include entry to the museum. Museum entry is €12, opening hours Monday to Friday, 10am-12.30pm and 1.30-5pm. See visit-lamborghini.com or email visit@lamborghini.com for further information.

Staying there

The Hotel Porta San Mamolo (Vicolo del Falcone 6/8, Bologna) is in a great position in Bologna, with rooms from €140 a night. +39 051 583 056, hotel-portasanmamolo.it.

Further information

www.emiliaromagnaturismo.it/english

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