How a small supercar company built one of the most extraordinary cars of all time.
Having already covered the way not to start your own boutique supercar company, we'll now cover the king of the small automakers, Pagani. The company's current model, the Huayra, is a follow-up to their much-loved debut, the Zonda. Much of the most difficult work of designing such stunning and extremely fast cars is done by the company's owner, and his name is now a byword in the world of hyper cars.
The company was founded and is still owned by Horacio Pagani, who moved from his native Argentina to Italy in 1983, figuring it was the best place for his single-minded pursuit of a career designing supercars. He came armed with a letter of recommendation from his countryman, racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio (in truth, the word "legend" seems inadequate when talking about Fangio), and he ended up working for Lamborghini on a number of special projects. These included the design of the Countach Evoluzione and the corresponding pioneering work in automotive applications for carbon fiber.
He left Lamborghini in 1988 to found Pagani Composite Research, but he continued to work closely with them, and helped with the design of the 25th Anniversary Countach as well as the Diablo. Pagani would begin work on his own vision of a supercar in the late Eighties, but with the large design workload he had from other manufacturers, it wasn't until 1993 that the first prototype was built. This was originally to be called the Fangio F1, in honor of Fangio's five Formula 1 World Championships, but Fangio died in 1995, before production began, and Pagani thought it would be in poor taste to keep the name.
Renamed the Zonda, the production model debuted in 1999 at the Geneva Motor Show. Powered by a Mercedes-Benz AMG V12, the Zonda had a flamboyant but aerodynamically functional design. It was one of those rare boutique cars which didn't require much effort on the part of the company which built it to show the public that it deserved to be considered alongside more established marques. The Zonda spoke for itself, its unique design and impressive performance figures were proof enough that Horacio Pagani knew what he was doing, although his Lamborghini credentials probably didn't hurt.
Frequent redesigns or new model rollouts aren't really practical for a boutique brand, so the Zonda had a production run which was longer than most models from bigger companies. It was tweaked and upgraded, most notably the engine, a number of times over the years. But eventually the time came when Pagani thought it was better to go with a whole new model. This new model is the Huayra, a marvel of aerodynamics and composite technologies. The engine is once again an AMG V12, but displacement is lower than that of the most recent Zonda, coming in at 6.0-liters, rather than the 7.3 of the Zonda.
The engine is twin-turbocharged and produces 720 horsepower with very little in the way of turbo lag. Pagani took a different route from their competitors when they chose the transmission. While most supercars come with a dual-clutch automated manual, Pagani went with a single-clutch dual-plate setup, much more similar to those found in F1 cars. The idea of this was to save weight, and Pagani says that the savings comes to a total of 154lbs versus the dual-clutch. The transmission is built by Xtrac, a British firm whose other clients use the transmissions for F1 and Le Mans prototype cars.
Like the Zonda before it, much of the design is inspired by jet fighters, but here Pagani took it a bit further. The Huayra makes use of much more active aerodynamics, with computer-controlled flaps which direct air over the body in different ways according to speed, steering angle, roll and g-force. The Huayra is big, 181 inches in total length, 8 inches longer than the Zonda, but it is still remarkably light. This is thanks largely to Pagani's obsessive devotion to advanced materials, and the Huayra weighs 200lbs less than a Ferrari 458 Italia. A Bugatti Veyron weighs a full 1300lbs more than a Huayra, although it will still beat the Pagani to 60mph.
Not that the Huayra's 3.4-second 0-60 time is anything to scoff at, and neither is the 230mph top speed. An interesting byproduct of all this turbocharging and weight saving is that the Huayra is one of the most fuel-efficient supercars there is, capable of getting 21mpg on the highway. The 24mpg Porsche 911 Turbo has it beat, but we're reasonably certain that fact won't sway anybody's decision concerning the purchase of a Huayra. The Huayra also has an impressive interior. This might not sound terribly important, but it tends to be a weak point of boutique supercars.
Quite often they're hastily thrown together scraps from bigger manufacturers' parts bins, and are aesthetically quite unpleasing. This is not the case with this or any Pagani. Real attention is paid to all of the details of the car, including the amazing interior, and it is because Pagani pays this kind of attention to details that they have become the respected brand that they are. Pagani is proof that a small boutique manufacturer can run with the big boys of supercar makers, but they also demonstrate just how hard these companies have to work in order to do so.