Pagani Zonda S

Martyn Goddard
Rear Exhaust View

The engine is subdued compared with shrill Italian twelves, the road noise from tires and suspension is minimal, and it is easy--apart from the financial considerations--to imagine using a Zonda as your commuting car. It is relaxing if you want it to be, exhilarating when you push it to its limits. It would be a tour de force from any well-established factory. That it comes from the creative impetus and organizational efforts of just one man is almost unbelievable.

There are 106 individual pieces of carbon fiber in the Zonda, so with chassis number 21 in the jig when we visited, thousands of carbon-reinforced parts have been turned out, each and every one documented in a double bookkeeping system as used in the aircraft industry. Every part of every car is traceable. The company is not yet ISO 9001 certified, but "it will be, soon." Some mechanical elements are made outside, of course, but to Pagani designs. The six-speed gearbox is one such component, made locally. The steering rack is another, but made by TRW, a major industry supplier. The taillights come from another vehicle, not surprising when you realize that the tooling costs for bespoke lamps run to about $350,000 per unit, but everything else you can see, and a lot you cannot, is specific to this car. Every casting is X-rayed, every part carefully inspected by nondestructive but exhaustive methods. Nine Zondas have been delivered, and if the letters Pagani showed us mean anything, they are trouble-free and delight their owners.

In many ways, Pagani's ultraclean, hyperefficient, 20,000-square-foot operation is the prototype for car companies of the future. Only twenty-five people are employed within the building, as subassemblies are made and painting is done outside. Ferrari and TVR are probably the smallest-volume car companies making their own engines, although we would not put it past Pagani to decide to make his own one day. For the moment, Mercedes has ensured a supply until 2004, for up to 100 units. They are already working on a bigger twelve, a 7.3-liter unit that will turn up 7000 rpm against the present 7010-cc unit's 6000. Of course, you can buy the plain Zonda C12 with only 394 horsepower from six liters if you want to be excessively reasonable.

The one mystery of the Pagani story is how this near-miracle is financed. No one in the company wants to talk about that, although Pagani would have you believe that the capital all came from his little plastics molding shop, which seems improbable. At the same time, it is clear that money has been put to good use, not conspicuously wasted, as it was in the Bugatti adventure.

Certainly, there are big savings in personnel costs: Pagani makes his own styling sketches and presentation renderings, does blueprints, gets his hands into every bit of the project. He is chief stylist, chief engineer, chief executive, and head of public relations, in which capacity he does not fail to tempt visitors to the sin of Gluttony, offering a huge platter of Modenese specialty sandwiches for lunch and, as his baking background demands, wonderful cookies with the selection of exotic teas he prepares each afternoon in the Argentine tradition.

Christina and Horacio Pagani have two sons, Leonardo (of course), age thirteen, and Christopher, who is twelve. They now live in a house fine enough to receive the millionaires who buy their cars as overnight guests, a long way from their extremely humble beginnings in Italy.

And the last deadly sin? Lust has no place here. This is a family business.

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