Breaking into the supercar elite is no easy task for a new marque. To not only do so, but produce an instant classic with a first attempt is almost unheard of. Back in 1999, however, that’s exactly what Horacio Pagani achieved with the Zonda.
Of course, some might expect little else from a company run by a man with a CV as distinguished as Pagani. The Argentinian started his automotive career in the Lamborghini bodyshop in 1983, and within four years moved on to become the head of the composite materials department. After unsuccessful requests to the management for an autoclave to further his carbon fibre research, he broke away to form his own businesses; first, Modena Design in 1991, and Pagani Automobili one year later. Seven years of work resulted in the Zonda.
Thanks to his extensive experience in composites, the Zonda featured a carbon fibre tub clad in striking carbon body panels forming anchor points for bespoke suspension components. Its exotic construction and the incredible attention to detail placed on every component resulted in a kerb weight of approximately 1250kg. Some achievement, considering the source of power behind the driver’s head.
A close friend of Juan Manuel Fangio - a man who sadly never lived to see the finished car - Pagani was able to use the F1 legend’s close relationship with Mercedes to secure a deal for AMG-tuned V12 engines. Initially producing 394bhp from a naturally-aspirated 6.0 litre displacement it allowed for a claimed top speed of 208mph. Later iterations of the V12 grew in size, with power almost doubling during the Zonda’s 16 year life.
Which one to buy?
After the initial C12 and S, the Zonda later evolved into the F. The F - taking its initial from Fangio - brought about extensive changes in 2005. Revised styling consisted of reshaped door mirrors, new headlight units, three circular tail lights in place of the previous two, plus an aerodynamic package which included revised cooling and a full-width rear wing instead of the existing two-piece item. New intake and exhaust systems and a revised ECU for the AMG V12 lifted power to 594bhp. A roadster version made its debut a year later, which thanks to the strength of the carbon tub, needed no additional chassis bracing. As a result, it only suffered a 5kg weight penalty relative to the coupe.
Next came the R. The ultimate expression of the Zonda formula, the track-only machine - despite its resemblance to road going Zondas - shared only a fraction of componentry. Power again is by AMG, but this time from a dry-sumped 6.0-litre V12 lump closely related to the unit used by the Mercedes CLK GTR GT1 racer. Power stood at 739bhp, and kerb weight just 1070kg. Later, the Evolution and the Revolución refined the R further, the latter offering close to 800bhp, quicker shifts from the sequential gearbox and a Formula 1-style Drag Reduction System.
The next road-legal step beyond the F resulted in the Cinque. Five coupes and five roadsters were produced, distinguished by their white paint/bare carbon finish and a single red stripe running through the center of the car. A deeper front splitter, new bumper canards, a more aggressive rear diffuser and a roof scoop improved aero efficiency. Under the skin, a new carbo-tanium chassis construction (a form of carbon fibre incorporating a titanium weave) added extra strength and reduced weight, while redesigned suspension components were constructed from magnesium. A six speed sequential gearbox replaced the previous manual option and power climbed to 669bhp.
The Cinque was initially intended as the Zonda’s swansong, but sufficient demand meant that several special editions followed over the next six years. A trio of Zonda Tricolores featured a blue/carbon paint job and Italian flag pinstriping, matching the colour scheme of the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian air force aerobatic display team. Mechanically, the Tricolori is largely similar to the CInque, but reduced drag allowed for a higher top speed.
From there, numerous one-offs were built. Notable models include the 760 RS; a 750bhp, bare carbon, paddleshift-equipped road-legal Zonda R, and the 760 LH; a six-speed manual version of the RS a car produced for Lewis Hamilton. The absolutely, definitely, final Zonda of all, the 760 LM, was released in 2015. The 7.3 V12 produced almost 800bhp, and it gained a unique faired-in headlight design and a huge rear wing.
Buying a Zonda today a will come down largely to which of these ultra-rare machines is on the market at any particular time. Of course, if you can’t find the exact spec you’d like, Horacio Pagani has been known to accommodate owners who wish to equip their cars with upgrades from later editions.
Performance and specs
Engine 7291cc V12
Power 594bhp @ 6150rpm
Torque 560lb ft @ 4000rpm
Top speed 214mph
Fuel consumption approx 16mpg
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• The Mercedes-derived engine has proven to be utterly reliable so far. Keep it serviced regularly and it should cause little trouble. Recommended intervals, which include oil changes for the engine, gearbox and differential, are stated at 10,000km (just over 6000 miles)
• Unsurprisingly replacement and upgrade parts are expensive. A replacement gearbox for the F comes to over £12,000, a set of four wheels around £10,000
• Another expense which should be considered is the fuel tank, which must be replaced every 10 years
• Cabin quality is nothing short of immaculate, so there should be little to worry about inside beyond which colour scheme you’d prefer
• There’s little excuse for such an exclusive car to have anything other than a full and detailed service history, carried out by Pagani itself.
• Predictably, several Zondas have suffered accident damage in their time, so check for any evidence of repairs in the documentation
Mar 1999: Zonda C12 revealed at Geneva Motor Show. Five units produced
2001: Zonda S sits above C12 with larger, more powerful 7.0 litre engine. 15 produced
2002: C12 S debuts with uprated 7.3 engine. Traction control and ABS now equipped as standard.
2003: Zonda Roadster revealed. 40 units built
Mar 2005: Zonda F revealed in Geneva, gaining uprated engine, revised styling and slightly reduced kerb weight. 25 built (three right-hand drive). Roadster version revealed one year later, with the same 25 unit production run.
Mar 2007: Track-only Zonda R revealed, on sale in 2009. Just 15 produced
2007: Zonda F Clubsport revealed. Based on the Zonda F, but V12 tuned to produce 650bhp
June 2009: Zonda Cinque revealed. Features carbo-tanium construction, power output raised to 669bhp. Five coupes and five roadsters built.
2010: Three special edition Zonda Tricolores built in tribute to the Frecce Tricolori aerobatic display team
2011: Zonda F Roadster Final Edition sold
2012: Zonda 70RS bult, closely followed by the 760LH
June 2013: Zonda Revolución revealed, a more extreme version of the Zonda R
2015: Road-going LM becomes the final Pagani Zonda ever built
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
With such a small number of Zondas produced, the trickiest step might simply be finding one available for sale. On the rare occasion one crops up, values are usually significantly higher than when they were new. A Zonda F Clubsport, a car which cost £440,000 back in 2007, today commands an asking price in the region of £1,750,000. Many one-off Zondas sold for comfortably more than £1million from the factory, so many will likely have increased deeper into seven-figure values.
Words: Alex Ingram