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  • When Pagani builds a new car, we jump to attention, but not because it comes from a brand that carries the momentum of glorious heritage or racing success or the patronage of royalty and stars. Pagani doesn’t have those things to fall back on. The non-petrolhead world doesn’t know about Pagani. It’s our secret, and absent all that branding stuff, it’s the car itself that has to do all the work.

    Words: Paul Horrell
    Photos: Justin Leighton, Ripley & Ripley

    This feature was originally published in the February 2011 issue of Top Gear magazine

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  • Shouldn't be a problem. The new Huayra (the main syllable is wire, with an ‘h' before and an ‘a' after) is a substantial step upward from the only Pagani so far, the Zonda. Just let's think about that extraordinary idea for a moment. When it began life, the Zonda was a Ferrari 550 competitor. In its more powerful mid-decade F form, it went up a gear. Because it was so light, it comfortably outperformed a Murciélago and hit the stratosphere occupied by the headbanging razor hardcore like the Enzo and Carrera GT. But unlike them it didn't demand your mortal remains in return - it was refined and easy, and a breathtakingly extravagant luxury good. Then it hit another level with the end-of-line Cinque versions. The potential of the Zonda's original concept meant it could evolve far beyond even what its creator Horacio Pagani himself had envisaged. So there was no need to rush the Huayra.

  • But now it's here, the Huayra leaves even the Cinque in the dust. Let some raw numbers set the scene. Beneath a pair of golden-finned intercooler covers and carbon-fibre intake boxes, there lives and breathes a brand new 6.0-litre AMG V12 making 730bhp, and a mountainous 811lb ft of torque. All this to propel a car of just 1,350kg. That's slightly lighter than the most powerful Porsche ever, the certifiably insane 911 GT2 RS, but with rather more than one-and-a-half times the torque. Or the same torque-to-weight as a Veyron. Veyron Super Sport, that is. Right, now we've got your attention...

    This car is, like the Zonda before it, the obsessive work of an individual, company founder Horacio Pagani. He says he started work on the Huayra in 2003, because he feared the Zonda would seem old beside the Carrera GT and Enzo and Veyron. It didn't, so while the Zonda kept growing up, he continued to whittle away on the Huayra. Perfection won't be rushed.

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  • The body design went through five years of work and loving rework. And he resolved that nothing should touch it that wasn't worthy: he insisted every single component would look good enough to be mounted in a case in a museum. Just look at that gear selector linkage, or the pedals. Or the instrument faces: he says he could have got them made by normal automotive suppliers for a tenner, but instead he commissioned Swiss watchmakers, at about £2,000 a car.

  • From a hundred yards away, it could only be a Pagani. The shovel front and bubble cockpit melt into a tail end long enough to launch a fighter plane - long enough to cover that huge V12, a race-type pushrod suspension and a set of storm-drain exhausts. From closer, the surfacing is far more modern than the Zonda, though the singularity of the man's vision and the sheer length of time over which it was designed means it's never faddish. The four tailpipe exits, the sharp-eyed little headlamps are nothing but Pagani. Same goes for that stretched-oval motif, which is all over the car, inside and out. And composite structure and panels, Horacio's trademark, laid out with micro precision and joints so perfect you'd think they were printed on, if they didn't have such a shimmering 3D beauty.

  • So it carries on a line from the Zonda. But it is absolutely not an updated Zonda, it's an all-new car: tub, engine, gearbox, transmission, oh and it's switched to gullwing doors, so you get the idea.

    The tub is made, as was the one in that hyper-expensive, road-illegal, Nürburgring-crushing, Jeremy-enrapturing Zonda R, from Pagani's exclusive carbon-titanium, in which the composite's reinforcing fibres are a weave of carbon with strands of titanium too. It's stronger for its weight than even regular carbon-fibre composite and it happens to catch the light even more alluringly. The wheelbase is 70mm longer, so there's more room from which to stretch out and enjoy that extraordinary cabin. At the front and rear, cro-mo steel frames support the suspension and absorb a crash.

  • Pagani himself calls the engine the heart of the car. How could such a piece of thunder not be? AMG's engine code is M158, a number unique to a Pagani. While the base block is a borrow from the Maybach S engine, the M158 has its own dry sump, its own top end, turbos, intake, heads, and exhausts. To improve reliability, reduce weight and keep it looking beautiful, many of the hoses have been run inside the main castings. Talking of beauty, those fins on the top-mounted intercoolers are there because the same housings serve as expansion tanks for the coolant. This sort of neat integration and multi-tasking of components can be found all over the car, and it happens because one man knows every detail of it and so can pull it all together.

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  • The engine design brief called for an epic noise too, which it'd need if it's to follow that wonderful, naturally aspirated 7.3-litre in the Zonda. The exhausts will help. With typical Pagani obsession for the best materials regardless of cost, they're titanium for lightness, with Inconel sections to resist where it's most furnace-hot.

    The transmission is completely bespoke: a seven-speed paddleshift unit from one of the best race suppliers, Xtrac. The same people did the Zonda R box, but this one is different. It was OK for the R to drop-kick you when shifting, but this one has to be able to be gentle too. It's mounted transversely to avoid having weight hang too far back, and to open up extra space for the crash structure to do its job. Why no twin-clutch? Because it would be 60kg heavier, Horacio says. It's certainly not a cost-saving measure. "I could buy a very good V8 engine for the price of this gearbox," he shrugs.

  • As with the carbotanium material, the suspension was given a final prove-out in the Zonda R, though the geometry is different here. The wishbones are forged from a fancy copper-rich aluminium alloy called Avional. The pushrod-operated Öhlins dampers are adjustable, but I'll take whatever setting the factory deems correct. I can't imagine anyone could do it better.

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  • Apart from the weight distribution, the suspension and specially developed Pirelli tyres, there's another element to the handling: the aerodynamics. The body looks clean because there's no rear spoiler, but that doesn't mean aero has been forgotten. As with any supercar, radiator positioning and feed is vital, because of the gusts of low-density hot air they pant out. Pagani has inclined the engine rads at the front, their venting ahead of the windscreen so it doesn't cause lift. Radiators for the intercoolers flank them at either side of the nose. Here's a cunning ruse: air for the Brembo carbon brakes is ducted through these intercooler rads - which means not only is it cooled in hot weather, but in cold air it's warmed because cold carbon brakes don't work that well.

  • But where were we? Ah yes, downforce. The base drag coefficient is just 0.33, but there's one very special trick that means that figure varies. The car has a set of four individually computer-controlled flaps on its upper surfaces, which allow the downforce of each corner to be controlled. If it was on a racing car it'd be banned forthwith.

    Horacio himself has done much of the development driving, along with company test driver Davide Testi, as well as the AMG and Bosch people. He wanted to set it up as a road car, even though he knows lots of his buyers go to tracks. So we can be hopeful the Huayra has inherited the sublime feel of the Zonda's steering, and the way the chassis gave you so much warning of the limit, as well as the easy way it dealt with bumps. But yes, of course lots of buyers go to tracks. It's the only way they could floor this throttle for more than an achingly tantalising instant.

  • Acceleration figures aren't out there yet, but it's clearly going to be extraordinary, especially once it hits its stride - Horacio admits 0-60 won't be record-breaking, because from a standstill all that torque will make a mockery of the two driven tyres. Maybe that's why Bosch has been working on the traction control and ESP since 2007 and hasn't given the prototype back yet. The tyres are rated to 370kph. I asked, yes, but what will the car do? Horacio replied 370. That's the far side of 230mph. The tyres are also rated for 1.5g lateral. Enough to pull your arms out of their sockets.

  • Here's a thing, though. The engine is efficient as well as brutal. It can meet the clean-air requirements all around the world, so this is the first Pagani to be properly sold in America. Over here, the CO2 rating is just 300g/km and official economy 23.5mpg, figures which are the same as the less powerful V8 supercars from Ferrari and McLaren. It's ridiculous to think Pagani buyers care about the running costs, but they will be interested in a car that is so good at turning fuel into forward action.

    OK, let's lift that gullwing door. The carbon-titanium composite that is the Huayra's flesh and bones dominates the view. Cars for we ordinary people use carbon decoratively; it probably adds weight as it's stuck on to an existing plastic substrate. Not here. The carbon is the actual stuff. But doesn't it look decorative too, not an atom of its little threads out of line.

  • But Horacio Pagani wants the soul of traditional materials too. So the leather would keep a polo team happy. Aluminium is crafted into human forms; the central console is machined from a solid billet, and set into it is a set of switches designed to look like clarinet keys.

    Above those keys is a multifunction screen taking care of the usual hi-fi, phone and nav business. Pretty well everything else is controlled from steering-wheel buttons and switches. It seems cruel to call them that. They're works of jewellery. As are the instrument faces. Expensive ones, as he mentioned.

  • In the cabin as everywhere, creative thinking keeps everything light. Things have a double function; the air vents are plumbed through the structure of the car. It's another example of Horacio's integration. If he just had an aircon engineer working away in a separate cubicle, the climate unit would have been dropped into the car as an isolated system. The gear selector and instrument binnacle are naked because they're beautiful, and because if he'd allowed himself to be less perfectionist and made them less gorgeous, he'd have had to cover them in cladding, which would have added weight and subtracted soul.

  • The first time TopGear saw one at all, it was in bits. With a new Ferrari or Porsche, the form is to arrive at the factory for a grand unveil, for which you wait in a hushed, marbled reception area. Beside a huge trophy cabinet will be giant plasmas showing footage of their cars taking the chequered flag at Grands Prix or Le Mans, segued into shots of them in Casino Square or Sunset Boulevard, the brave and the beautiful taking the wheel. Because Pagani doesn't have all that, we simply arrived at the little factory, gawped at the Zonda R wedged just inside the front door and met Horacio in his enchantingly cluttered office. Then, like a child who needs to show you his Christmas present even before the batteries are in, he took us to a cramped corner of the cramped workshops (they're being expanded in the coming months.) And there was this car, its elements and organs exposed.

  • You couldn't see the styling because the panels weren't on. There wasn't much of that eye-catching leather, and the interior parts were unbolted, waiting the attentions of the small team of engineers. Now even a Veyron is a bit higgledy-piggledy if you see it with the panels off, all its organs and veins and nerves having been jammed wherever there's space. But it was clear the Huayra is tidy and beautiful to its core, like the McLaren F1. That's because both of them were thought through from end to end by an individual as a consistent entity. It's a vision made real.

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