With inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci, and personal support from Juan Manuel Fangio, Pagani was destined to create some of the world’s most amazing supercars
Close to Modena, Italy’s home of the supercar, many of the villages look similar, their main squares starring at the centre of community life. But in San Cesario sul Panaro, there is a new building, one that looks like something Gustav Eiffel might have designed in the late 19th Century. Only there’s nothing historical here. This 5000-square-metre facility is the Pagani factory, a working environment where employees greet the owner with a smile and a cheerful ‘Ciao, Horacio’.
Horacio Pagani was born of Italian descent in Casilda, Argentina, in 1955, and developed a deep passion for cars as a youngster. Would he become a designer or an engineer? He found an answer in a Reader’s Digest article about Leonardo da Vinci, the genius of the Italian Renaissance who declared that science and art could walk hand in hand. And so the young Horacio, naturally gifted with head and hands, studied both. Balsa models, mini-moto and a Renault-based buggy were followed, in 1979, by his own Formula 2 single-seater, so advanced and impressive that the legendary Argentinian racer Juan Manuel Fangio himself became a fervent supporter.
In 1983, Pagani moved to Italy and began working at Lamborghini. Within a few months he was leading his team, and by 1984 he was part of the test and development team working on the Countach Evoluzione, a project that culminated in the Countach Anniversary (designed by Pagani in 1987) and also the basis for the Diablo.
Pagani left in 1991 to found Modena Design, a company that’s still active in styling and technological application, mostly in the field of carbonfibre. Eight years later, the launch of the Zonda at the Geneva Motor Show was not, to Pagani’s eyes, the start of a new adventure, but the closing of a circle which had begun in Argentina in the late 1960s. ‘When I was 14, I was telling my mother that I wanted to go to Modena to design cars. Reading the few car magazines that reached my village, I understood that Modena was the magic city where the most beautiful cars were built. The opening of the first Pagani factory, and now this new one, are the realisation of my early decisions.’
Leonardo remained an important inspiration to Horacio Pagani, who has constantly pursued beauty and pushed at the cutting edge of materials science. ‘We tend to search for beauty in the forms and in the details, and this is the reason why our cars “get naked” at shows, because every single detail – and there are over 700 components under the bonnet of the Huayra – is researched at its best, as per Leonardo’s teaching.
‘Having said that, I don’t know if the man would be a Pagani customer. He was very tight with his money. I fear instead he’d be a competitor, making his own supercars.’
The new Pagani factory is arranged like a Modenese village, with the main square at the centre and the offices surrounding it. ‘My workers are mostly from this area, and the concept of the square as the centre of village life, with the shops and the botteghe surrounding it, is very familiar. We used natural light, old street lights and the pale brick typical of the area to create the perfect atmosphere. There’s even a bell tower with a big clock. But the soul has to come from the people, and their skills and passion. This is the secret of our creation: every component, every car, tells the history of the men creating them.’
And what of Leonardo? ‘We don’t forget that one of the greatest achievements of the Renaissance was the passage of the idea from abstract concept in the brain, via the love for it given by the heart, to the manual skill needed for its creation. This is the secret of our success, because we are able to generate emotion in our customers. Every car manufactured by us is different, handmade to fulfill the wishes of the new owner. This is why, when customers ask me for suggestions about their new car, I simply say that they should dream about it. I’m just the owner of the bottega.’ That word again…
The bottega is traditionally the small workshop where manufacturing is carried out by hand. During the Reinassance such work was tightly linked with culture. ‘Modena, with the Motor Valley, is doing a lot in terms of automotive culture, something that Turin is unfortunately losing and Milan has already lost. There are many small shops that need to grow and maintain their tradition, and it is important to preserve them, because they have that knowledge. Classic cars, as they become increasingly valuable, are perfect for providing this help, because people invest in the restoration, creating and maintaining the culture of the period.’
Indeed, Pagani itself is now beginning its first restoration: car number 12, built in the mid-1990s, is being refurbished for its Hong Kong-based owner.
‘It is an unusual task for us, and even if our cars are young when compared to those of other manufacturers, we had to train the team dedicated to it. We preserve as much as possible, replacing only what is necessary, and we have all the necessary information and the signature of every worker who did the job back in period, yet we already want to know more. This is why, for the Huayra, instead of one book for every car built, we have three books with all the details, and we keep our most important documents – I always kept everything, including my childhood block notes – in a bunker.’
It has not gone unnoticed, even by Horacio Pagani, that used examples of his cars are often worth more than they cost new. ‘I had to face this market situation when I decided to create the company museum, or when I bought a car for my private collection. I had to pay more money than I was paid when I sold them to their first owners!’
Today we see supercar manufacturers growing by enlarging their offering, with models far from their tradition – witness the rise of the SUV. Pagani has built only a single model at a time, and allowed it to evolve before replacing it with the next version. The strategy is to manufacture no more than a third of the cars requested, making a three-year delivery time acceptable for customers. And there are no plans to broaden the range.
‘We are young and we still have to work hard to establish our brand,’ says Pagani. ‘You have to transmit the values of your company, satisfying your customers, allowing your work to move forward, facing a bright future.
‘In today’s market the Paganis are seen as high-level, refined supercars, not competing directly with others. We can’t compare our production with other manufacturers. We are a small firm, creating fewer than 50 cars per year – it will be 47 in 2017 – and a grand total of 250 since our debut. What we create in one year is less than a day’s productions for others.
‘We all know of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini and of their hypercars, and I read a lot the history, the life, the struggles and the turning points of the founders of these firms, but I only ever tried to be the best possible me. If there is an inspiration in the car world, probably the one I feel closest to is Ettore Bugatti, because of the mix of technology and form shown by his pre-war cars. This is why we don’t race, because our cars are not made for this.They are too refined to be trashed in competition, where beauty is often made second to the speed and success. Our cars are one-offs, custom-built to fulfill dreams.’
That’s not to say his cars aren’t capable of blistering pace, of course. The current Huayra is powered by a 789bhp 6.0-litre biturbo V12 and, as Pagani says: ‘When we went to the Nürburgring and set a record time, it lasted for a good decade. We prefer to invest in improving a small detail rather than taking off a tenth of a second from a lap time. We can do everything the owner with a budget could dream of, but he has to accept our product as a start, because that is what we have the knowledge of.’
While visiting the factory, we spotted a Porsche 911R with manual gearbox and a Ferrari F12tdf, both with special paint. Is this part of the knowledge, too? ‘Yes and no,’ Pagani smiles. ‘These are my private cars. When I go visiting my customer’s garage, I always find other thoroughbreds sharing the space with Paganis and my garage is the same. I love cars and I tend to buy the cars that I love the most, exactly as my customers do. On the other hand, it is, of course, important for me to see what is made from other top manufacturers. But in my garage are only the cars I dream of owning.’
Those dream cars include seven Paganis, naturally enough, but also that Ferrari F12tdf (painted in Gold Leaf colours), plus Porsches 918, Cayman GT4 and the 911R. There are some classics too, including a Jaguar E-type, Mercedes 230SL Pagoda, and for his sons a Mustang ‘Elinor’ replica and a Ford GT. ‘We are waiting for the new one. I’d love to have the Porsche 917, to me among the most beautiful, amazing and fascinating cars ever, but it is impossible for me to buy one. Which is why I have more than 100 models of it, Scalextric and Polistil, to use on my electric racetrack, a present from my sons.’
While other favourites include the 1955 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, the Miura (‘the most beautiful road car ever made’) plus Ferraris P4 and 250 LM, Pagani’s holy grail is a highly personal choice: the Mercedes W196 Stromlinienwagen driven by Juan Manuel Fangio.
‘It’s a wonderful car linked with one of the most important men in my life. When, thanks to Formula 2, I had the privilege of meeting Fangio, spending time with him and getting to know him deeply, I discovered the man behind the myth – and he is that rare case of the man being far superior to the myth. He did not open doors for me at a professional level, though many at a human level. My only regret is that the Zonda arrived when he was no longer with us, but I’m proud to think that it is exactly as we imagined it.’
And if someone thinks Paganis are not made to be driven, a tour of the company’s museum is enough to clarify the situation. Nonna – ‘grandmother’ in Italian – is the furthest-driven Pagani ever, the test-bed for every Zonda’s development, new transmissions and suspensions for both Zonda and Huayra, and the highly advanced advanced carbon/titanium frame used in the Huayra which is manufactured entirely in-house. It has more than 550,000km on the clock and proves that the cars made in San Cesario are not only beautiful, but reliable and usable.
And if you ask Horacio Pagani himself what his everyday car is… ‘I don’t have an everyday car. My everyday transport is a bicycle that I always use to commute from home to the office and back. I love to ride at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, when I come to the factory to have a calm look at what has been done during the previous day, and leaving a note written on tape if I spot something I’m not 100% satisfied with.’
We wonder if Leonardo might have done similar at his bottega, back in the late 1400s.
Words: Massimo Delbò // Photography: Roberto Brancolini