We were supposed to use the silver development car when its test driver came back from Bergamo in the afternoon, but, as that worthy did not want to work on Saturday, simply repeating the same route, he just kept going to Munich, so we had to take the yellow car that was sitting ready for delivery to an American customer. From the first turn of a wheel, it is easy to see that the brief--making a daily-driver supercar--has been met, not least because of the AMG Mercedes engine, surely as bulletproof and practical a V-12 as has ever been made, despite having 550 horsepower. The gearbox, a Pagani design, is particularly light in operation; only fingertips are needed for each quick, silent change. Not that gearchanging is really vital in a light car with a ton of torque.
Leaving the modern Pagani works (Horacio Pagani, architect), Pagani charges away with furious acceleration, obliging photographer Martyn Goddard, following in a Corvette Z06, to use all of that car's ample performance to keep the Zonda in sight. As we approach an S-curved bridge over railroad tracks, Pagani slows not at all, just turning the wheel and getting off, on, and back off the throttle as the car lifts at the top of the ramp. It seems anodyne, but Goddard, a skilled rally driver in his own right, says he had his hands full keeping the Z06 on the pavement at the same speed.
Rural Italian roads can be utterly terrifying. They tend to rise above surrounding fields with sharp-edged dropoffs. Put a wheel off the side, and the whole car is likely to follow, probably not right-side up. So, when Pagani starts whipping the Zonda helm from left to right and back again at around 100 mph, for all the world like a Formula 1 driver warming his tires, there is every reason to be apprehensive. But the Zonda simply darts from one side of the road to the other and back again with no tendency to break traction, another manifestation of the otherworldliness of this extraordinary and quite improbable automobile.
Stopping for a driver change and photos, we examine the car in the light of that brief, initial on-road experience. Interesting features and thoughtful details abound, such as the matching-leather suit bag that hangs behind the seat, hooked over the headrest, or the luggage carriers in the rear flanks, beautifully made from carbon fiber and held in place with elegant straps that make you think of a Bugatti Type 35.
It is easy to imagine one of these cars fifty years on, a lovely rich patina on all the original parts but nothing looking shabby. One sees that look of time-proven quality on unrestored 1930s Bentleys sometimes, but most modern cars with their plastic bits and approximate fits announce their imminent deterioration before you drive them off the showroom floor. In the Zonda, every weld, every bolt, is done to aircraft-quality standards, and there are no loose ends, sloppy dabs of sealer, or other indications of mass production.