The beginner’s guide to Pagani
The emporium of carbotanium and unobtainium since the turn of the millennium: welcome to Pagani
Who’s Pagani, and when did it start making cars?
Honestly, with the way Pagani arrived on the scene at the turn of the millennium, we’re surprised you’re even asking.
Pagani is an absolute rarity in the automotive world: a brand-new manufacturer that not only survives the take-no-prisoners world of top-end sports cars and supercars, but absolutely thrives. Cast your mind back over the past 20 to 30 years and try to remember all the new supercar brands that were going to cook up something massive, only to become mere flashes in the pan. Then think about how many turned up, made a proper name for themselves – both within and beyond the car-nerd niche – and still make amazing machines today. If you need more than one hand to count, you either have far too lenient definitions, or possibly not quite enough fingers.
In 1983, Horacio Pagani got a job in the body shop at Lamborghini. There, he experimented with composite materials – carbon fibre and so on – at a time when Lambo was a) not doing so well, money-wise, and b) not exactly keen on moving away from ‘traditional’ supercar construction. Odd for a company that made its name by changing the game with the Miura, but there you go.
Things were not looking good for Lambo during the late Eighties. With the writing on the wall, Horacio founded his own consulting business – Modena Design – which paved the way for Pagani Automobili in 1992. The first car to arrive – the Zonda C12 – debuted at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show.Advertisement - Page continues below
Where are Paganis built, and how many does Pagani build a year?
Paganis are built in a place called San Cesario Sul Panaro, which is to the southeast of the city of Modena. And if you’re thinking, ‘Modena, eh? For some reason, that’s ringing a bell’, then yes, it’s right on top of Italy’s other household-name supercar manufacturers.
In fact, if you drove directly from Pagani to Lamborghini, swung by Maserati and headed on to Ferrari, you’d only have covered 33 miles in total. Even if you push the boat out and punt on to Dallara from there, the total distance is still only 90 miles. For that matter, if you start the whole day at Ducati, you’ll a) drive a total of 104 miles, and b) likely not have enough time to appreciate any of what you’re seeing.
Now that we’ve laboured the point hard enough to likely owe it reparations, let’s move on to the nebulous issue of how many cars Pagani makes a year. All up, including all the special editions and one-offs, Pagani’s total build numbers since 1999 are still in the hundreds – about 450, to be precise. Even now, in full swing, Pagani builds about 40 cars a year, with each taking about six months to make. Such is the irony of supercars: going fast takes time.
What cars does Pagani build?
There’s a certain sadness that comes from not being able to say ‘Oh, probably some special edition of the Zonda if you ask nicely’ – that ship finally sailed back in 2018. So at the moment, Pagani’s building the last (y’know, probably) of the Huayras and the first of the Utopias.Advertisement - Page continues below
What’s the cheapest car Pagani builds... and what’s the most expensive it builds?
Ha. Good one.
What? You were serious? OK, so absolutely no Pagani has ever been cheap – you’re well into seven figures regardless of which one you pick. How close you come to brushing eight-figure territory is between you and Horacio.
In terms of most expensive... well, the most expensive Pagani we know about is the final, ultimate, no-we’re-really-serious-this-is-the-last Zonda: the HP Barchetta. It cost €15,000,000 (or about £13,500,000 at the time), was limited to just three cars and only two ever went to customers. The final Zonda, nearly 20 years after the original, not only bore its creator’s initials, but the final car went to the man who created both the car and the company.
What’s the fastest car Pagani builds?
The more interesting question would be to ask what the slowest car Pagani builds, or has ever built. Because we’re not sure if you’ve been paying close attention, but Paganis all tend to be rather quick.
But as we probably need to answer the actual question (instead of suggesting better ones), the fastest among them has to be the Huayra R: a piece of rolling insanity that looks for all the world like a track-readied Huayra, and yet only shares its wing mirrors with it. Although out on track, we can’t imagine the super-limited, Huayra-based Pagani Imola would be too far behind it...
What’s been Pagani’s best moment?
It’d be easy enough to pick a certain car, moment of financial success or the way the supercar world went from ‘Pa...gahni?’ to ‘Dude, the Zonda is my dream car’ in the space of three and a half heartbeats. But while we think the best moment for Pagani definitely involves all of these, it’s what these successes actually mean that makes it so great.
Remember how we said Horacio was absolutely adamant that carbon fibre composites were the way of the future? Well, we didn’t mention that he was so sure that, while working at Lamborghini, he took out a massive loan on his own steam to buy an autoclave. That was his personal money, and his neck on the line to repay it. And after Chrysler-led Lamborghini dropped the whole idea of composites, he went out on his own to pursue them. Such was his belief in what carbon fibre could do.
As much as we really take it for granted these days, Horacio Pagani (and in one of life’s uncanny parallels, Christian von Koenigsegg) was an absolute pioneer in carbon fibre composites. Pagani’s continued success is as much a vindication of Horacio’s vision as it is an affirmation of his ability.
What’s been Pagani’s worst moment?
Pagani’s hardly famed for missteps or misfortune. An incredible feat to keep up for 30 years – just look at how Lamborghini was doing at the same anniversary. So if we were going to pick the worst moment, it’d be the death of Juan Manuel Fangio.
Messrs Fangio and Pagani had become close friends, and it was on Fangio’s recommendation that Horacio got a job with Lamborghini in the 1980s. There’s even Fangio’s when it comes to the Mercedes-AMG V12s that have powered Paganis from the first C12 to the upcoming Utopia – Juan Manuel not only drove for Mercedes back in the black-and-white days, but was also helped broker the deal to use Merc’s extraordinary powerplants.
Fangio didn’t live to see the supercar built in his honour, passing away four years before Pagani Automobili made its massive debut in Geneva. Out of respect, Horacio removed Fangio’s name from the C12, calling it the Zonda instead.Advertisement - Page continues below
What's Pagani’s most surprising moment?
The easy one here is to say ‘that it ever flourished at all’ and move on – after all, supercar brands tend to fall over at one hurdle or another, or limp along well behind the pack before giving up long after people forgot they were in the race.
But for our money, the real surprise is just how well the upstart supercar company is accepted in Modena’s Motor Valley – there’s mutual respect between Pagani and the established supercar brands. Not to get too sappy, but that’s not the sort of thing that happens without a genuine, unreserved recognition of each party’s talents and achievements. The whole thing feels collaborative, in a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ kind of way, that brusque big-noting and braggadocio would never have achieved.
What's the best concept Pagani built?
So, Pagani isn’t really in the business of building concept cars. And we get it – why should Horacio bother showing the world how future Paganis could look when can knock the world off its axis by showing how they do look?
With that in mind, we’re going to pick the original C12 show car that debuted in 1999. It announced exactly what Pagani was about and precisely how it went about its business – that is, lavishly, expensively and brilliantly. Way to plant the flag with a whacking great Mercedes V12.Advertisement - Page continues below
Tell me an interesting fact about Pagani.
Technically, the C12 wasn’t the first car that Horacio Pagani ever built. In fact, it’s not even close.
The very first was in 1972 – a Fibreglass-Reinforced Plastic dune buggy kit car, while the very first vehicle was a custom-built minibike based around an busted old 125cc Sachs engine from the Fifties.
Oh, and before joining Lamborghini, Horacio built camper vans and converted pickup trucks, as well as redesigning and reengineering an open-wheeled race car. Almost like he was really into the whole ‘automotive’ thing, no?