AS A GENERAL rule, American cities are all exactly the same. There’s a pointy bit in the middle, which is ringed by large shops selling tasteless food in vast quantities. The hotels are all the same, too, and you can forget about finding a charming, family-run restaurant in the back streets. Because it’s not there. That’s why Miami always comes as a pleasant surprise. It is different. The strip of land known as Miami Beach is home to hundreds of art-deco hotels and apartment blocks, which you will find nowhere else, and if you squint — which you will because it’s impossibly sunny — you can imagine that at any minute you will see Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard prowling past in their Corvettes.
Elsewhere in the world the late 1950s were smoky and awful and full of misery, but in America they were a time of hope and adventure and brave young men drinking and driving and drinking and balling and drinking and dreaming of going into space. It was a time of Cocoa Beach and people with shiny smiles partying. And you still get that flavour in Miami Beach today. I like it there.
Unfortunately, there is a problem. You can’t just turn up with your dowdy English hair and your flabby breasts and your pot belly, because you will look foolish. In Miami you need to make an effort. So. It’s no good just having a speedboat. It must have three big engines in the back and an enormous pouncing tiger painted down the side. Likewise, you can’t just have a motorcycle. It must be as customised as your girlfriend’s face, with 9ft-long forks, a saddle made from the foreskin of a whale and exhausts that do absolutely nothing to mute the sound of the 7-litre V8 engine around which you simply cannot get your legs.
You might imagine that all of this would come to a shuddering halt on the golf course; that it would be impossible to stand out in the excess-all-areas environment of a Florida fairway. But you’d be wrong, because in Miami you can buy a customised golf buggy with 20in chromed rims and a painting of a snake on the bonnet. Rolls-Royce grille? Certainly, sir.
I went out for dinner at a restaurant called Prime One Twelve. As this is regarded as the hottest place in town, getting in wasn’t easy. “Do you have a reservation?” said the impossibly beautiful, stick-thin girl at the reception desk. Having established that I didn’t, she looked me up and down, saw that I was fat and that my teeth were the colour of a pub ceiling and decided that, contrary to all the evidence, the place was full. Well, of course it wasn’t, so a few minutes later the waiter was running me through the menu. It was all about the size of the cut and the amount you got on the plate. The tomatoes were bigger than Richard Hammond’s head. My side order of spinach was delivered in a bathtub. And the steak? Holy mother of God. It was as though everything had been sourced in one of those Hollywood B-movie valleys where the ants are the size of men and the grapefruit are bigger than airliners.
However, I didn’t really notice the dead brontosaurus on my plate because I was way too captivated by the spectacle that was unfolding outside. Prime One Twelve attracts the crème de la crème of show-offs. The cars in which they were arriving were mad. Jacked-up Camaro convertibles with spinners. Bentleys on 24in rims. One man arrived in a neon insect. Another in a lowered Rolls-Royce. I can only begin to imagine how terrible these cars must have been to drive — cars always are when you fit wheels that could roll a cricket pitch — but that doesn’t matter. In Miami cars are not for driving. They are for arriving.
I’m not making this next bit up. Couples were appearing in the lobby of the apartment block across the street from the restaurant. They would then wait five or 10 minutes for the porter to fetch their car from the underground car park. And then they’d drive it 50 yards to the valet at the restaurant. So who cares that the ride of the Roller is ruined? Who cares that you need a step ladder to get out of the Camaro? And who cares that your Porsche’s modified exhaust system could make you deaf after five miles? You will never go that far.
Elsewhere in the world people buy cars for all sorts of reasons. Value. Economy. Speed. Space. Comfort. But in Miami people buy, or rent, cars for showing off; for demonstrating that back home in Philadelphia their shower curtain ring factory is doing pretty well. The new Lamborghini Aventador would fit into the mix jolly well. Even before you add silly wheels and a custom paint job it’s £250,000, and people will certainly see it coming. It’s 2in wider than a Range Rover — or about the same width as a London bus. Plus it has a 6.5-litre V12. I doubt we will ever see a new engine such as this again. Today, thanks to Euro emissions regulations, turbocharging is the only realistic answer.
It’s a shame, because the immediacy of the thrust is intoxicating. The acceleration is as vivid as Miami’s sea front, and the top speed is about 212mph greater than it would ever go there. But what about here? In the civilised world of old money and taste? Lamborghini is keen to stress that the engine is its first all-new V12 since that of the Miura, that the four-wheel-drive system is as advanced as technology allows, that it has carbon ceramic brakes and that Formula One-style pushrod suspension is also part of the recipe. Now the only reason you would fit this is to reduce unsprung weight. But I can’t see how that matters in a car that weighs about the same as the Empire State Building. I suspect the real reason it’s fitted is so that owners can feel that behind the vastness and underneath the flamboyant, mad, brilliant show-off styling, there’s some Ferrari-style cred.
Honestly? There isn’t. This is a brute of a car. You don’t drive it. You wrestle with it. It’s more refined than Lambos of old and less inclined to want to kill you. But when you open the taps, you are no longer driving. You are hanging on.
I drove it very extensively across Italy, and although it’s quiet and surprisingly comfortable, and although it has an Audi sat nav and Audi controls, you are never allowed to forget that it’s a raging monster. And for that I absolutely loved it. I loved the speed. I loved the styling — it’s probably the best-looking car ever made — and I loved the sheer stupidity and silliness of its dash and its face and its insane rear end. I don’t want one. I’d rather have herpes. That said, I do want to live in a world where I can sit outside a restaurant in Miami and watch some poor girl trying to get out of the passenger seat without flashing her knickers.