Horacio Pagani is a genius. That’s not just my opinion; it is also the view of several other designers I talked with on a recent five-day drive across northern Italy, home to most of the world’s outstanding exotic car builders. That designers would be as lavish in their praise of the indefatigable Argentinian is amazing to me. In general, designers are like all other professionals: they are happy to criticize their peers, sometimes savagely. I’ve seen that with doctors, lawyers, engineers, and architects, often accompanied by subliminal suggestions of their own superiority.
Not in this case. Every one of the people I talked with about Pagani genuinely admire him and — like me — find him really likable. Pagani may be ferociously driven by ambition, but he is quite modest, a charming personage who is deceptively laid-back, for all the intensity that must be present for him to have accomplished so much in so little time. He has been in Europe for 29 years and has been building his own cars for just 12 years. When I visited the Pagani works ten years ago, only nine Zondas had been delivered to customers, not a bad output for a 25-person operation that had been running for just a couple of years. Now there are 55 employees, still a tiny operation. Engine supplier AMG has more than 67 people dedicated to the Pagani project alone, which bemuses Horatio.
Since my first visit in 2001, another 109 “stradale” (or road-going) Zondas have been made and delivered, along with ten Zonda R models, which despite carrying the same name are completely different and usable only on tracks. A good part of Pagani’s success comes from his grasp of the psychology of his customers. They don’t want to race in public, they just want a car that is incredibly fast and safe and easy to drive in private. That insight also explains the elaborate detailing on all his products — unimaginably rich people like complexity and visibile signs of cost-to-make. Talking with an experienced Torinese designer who agreed with me that there was a lot of unnecessary superficial intricacy on a Zonda, noted that “I’ve talked with Pagani about it, and he says, ‘yes, it’s true, but it’s what my customers expect,’ and you have to admire that as a sensible attitude.”
Pagani’s main efforts right now concern the Huayra (pronounced “Why-rah”). There are six prototypes in existence now, but when I was at the factory in April, two of them were in Arizona for certification trials, two were at the Nardo track in southern Italy for high-speed running on the huge circular track (and Pagani was leaving within a couple of hours to go there), and two more were in far northern Europe. Pagani says American certification is difficult, but it’s necessary for him to can access the rich market the U.S. represents, although China and India are also capable of absorbing million-dollar-plus cars in great numbers. One of the extra conditions Pagani imposes upon himself and his cars is assuring that each of the qualification tests he uses is identical to those of Mercedes-Benz. That’s a tough standard, but it allows Pagani to rest easy knowing that he has surpassed all potential rivals in the rarefied part of the market in which he operates.
“Come back soon to drive one,” he invited. I will.