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Gran turismos: An Italian tale

By Wahid T Khan

Gran Turismo (GT), literally converted from Italian to English, would be “Grand Tourer”. It's more of a tradition of car racing rather than inspiration of an entire class of cars. The Italians love to travel countryside, and GTs are made for this purpose. GTs allow long-distance driving in style and comfort, but with a high yield of automobile performance nonetheless. Although the most common format is the two-door two-seat, most modern models incorporate the “2+2” accommodation as well.

Grand tourers differ from standard two-seat sports cars in typically being larger, heavier, and emphasizing comfort over straight-out performance. The first GTs have been front-engined with rear wheel drive, which leave more space for the cabin than mid-mounted engine layouts. Softer suspensions, greater storage, and more luxurious appointments add to their driving appeal. Some very high-performance GTs, such as the Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano, and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren make various compromises in the opposite direction while rivalling sports cars in speed, acceleration, and cornering ability.

Take a look at three of the most exceptional GTs, in no particular order:
1. Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren:
The SLR stands for Speed, Lightweight and Racing. It was designed by the Mercedes-Benz team and McLaren Automotive at Surrey, England. Due to the presence of the automatic gear box and front engine placement, the SLR is considered as a GT than a sports car and rivals models like the Aston Martin DBS V12 and the Porsche Carrera GT.

The SLR was tested at Nardo and performed the 0-100 km/h (62 mph) exercise in 3.8 seconds, 0-200 km/h (124 mph) in 10.3 seconds and 0-300 km/h (190 mph) in 30.4 seconds. Their 400 meter and kilometre times were 11.4 seconds at 128 mph (206 km/h) and 20.6 seconds at 270 km/h (170 mph) respectively. They also reached its claimed top speed 365 km/h (227 mph).

On the BBC show Top Gear, the SLR and the Carrera GT were put against each other during a race special in Abu Dhabi. After multiple attempts, the Porsche was able to beat the SLR by only a fraction of a second, but by far in most other race tracks and terrain, the SLR defeated the Porsche by a large time margin.

Although sales of the SLR fell well below Mercedes' target of 500 units annually 2005 onwards (in 2007, only 275 units were sold), the car nonetheless achieved great popularity among car enthusiasts. With no compromises on luxury, the SLR had the finest interior (leather!), complete with entertainment systems. The base price of the SLR was at $395,000.

2. Lamborghini Diablo GT:
The Lamborghini Diablo GT was a limited edition high performance GT from Italian carmaker Lamborghini in 1999. Since then, only eighty models have been built and sold. Today they are regarded as one of the most attractive variants of the Diablo series. While the Diablo GT was originally sold at an estimated price of $300,000 only in Europe, today they stand as a collector's car at $495,000. Quite an investment, actually.

As the SV (Sport Veloce) was already a near race-ready version of the Diablo, the limited run GT model went even further in the same direction. It boasted a modified version of the V12 engine, bored out to 6.0 litres and producing 575 hp (429 kW), while enlarged brakes, an improved and lower-riding suspension and owner-specific gearing were other mechanical changes. More aggressive bodywork with flared fenders and wider wheels was introduced. The Diablo GT was available in only four colours; black, titan silver, garish orange and yellow. Ah, raw, tamed and Italian. So beautiful.

3. Jaguar XKR:
The Jaguar XKR is a grand tourer produced by British car maker Jaguar since 1996. The car was introduced in Geneva Motor Show on 5 March 1996. It is the replacement of the XJS, and is available as a coupé and convertible. Currently in its second generation, the XKR was the first 8 cylinder vehicle produced by Jaguar, when the Jaguar AJ-V8 engine was introduced.

The XKR had four variants, all “Limited Editions”; the XKR 100 (only 100 units made), the XKR Silverstone, the XKR Portfolio, the XKR 4.2-S (only for the European market) and the XKR-R (a more “souped-up” version, if you will).

The XKR-R was actually a concept car and it never made to the production line, but boasting a more powerful 450 bhp (340 kW) engine, a manual gearbox and improved handling. The naming convention is similar to that of the S- Type R special edition. Unlike the S-Type R, it will never be realized on a Mk.1 XK chassis although a model of the same name could appear on the Mk.2 XK later this year.

Readers will notice that although the GT was an Italian concept, foreign automobile makers preferred to continue the tradition. While the 250 GTO from the Ferrari stables showed the world the entire concept of Grand Tourer, most car enthusiasts would really only prefer to give it the historical importance it deserves and nothing much more performance wise. As of this writing, BMW is busy rolling out its brand new (albeit low performance) Gran Turismo line of cars with a base price of $60,000. Look out for the 550i.


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