The Italian Junkyard

Thoughts, ideas, criticism about cars. Interesting news and facts from the world of the automobile. Events in Italy and Modena. What you can find elsewhere, filtered through the eyes of a discerning enthusiast. Design, style, everything on the chopping block. Nobody is safe anymore.

Monday, February 28, 2011

17.3 Weaving a New Story in Carbo-Titanium: an Interview with Horacio Pagani, Part 2

In case you just missed it, here is PART 1!

When the time came to start selling cars, customers became another important part of the Pagani company. There is a strong bond between the company and many of its customers, with the most standout part being the annual gathering, the Vanishing Point rally. Many customers, be them dealers or just friends bring their Zondas or even other cars, and drive around Italy for three days just enjoying each others’ company. It’s like an extended family, possibly what was happening back in the days when Ferrari was in its first years (or decades).

Make the jump to keep reading this interview with Horacio Pagani!

You may notice that Pagani’s customers are generally extremely rich personalities. Many of them are car collectors, experts and true enthusiasts. Even if presently there are also some younger customers in the mix, originally Pagani designed the Zonda with a specific customer in his mind. Deciding that the car was going to be very light and safe through the extensive use of carbon fiber and other expensive materials, the Zonda was positioned above the top of the line models from Ferrari and Lamborghini, which in those days were still using less expensive tubular frame with steel as the main material. So with such a price, who was going to buy this car? A true enthusiast, a connoisseur of the automotive industry, someone who could appreciate technology and clever engineering, perhaps to revisit childhood dreams about cars like this. Like him. So it isn’t by chance that this is exactly the kind of customer that has gravitated to the Zonda in this year, as Pagani basically designed his car according to their own core values.

As we said, Mercedes-Benz has always been extremely important in the whole Pagani venture, though it never was simply a supplier for those powerful engines, but rather a strongly supporting technical partner. Thanks to high quality facilities and techniques, Pagani could improve the developing and testing of the upcoming Huayra to the highest standards. Talking about testing, I wanted to put to rest a rumor that spread around Modena and the surrounding areas regarding an accident with one of the prototypes at the end of March 2010. Apparently someone thought it was a good idea to go ahead and start saying the driver died in the accident, adding useless details to this story. Actually, the driver was fine and well – he was back at work that very afternoon! Pagani was happy to explain me how it happened.
The car was on its way back from Stuttgart to Affalterbach, AMG’s headquarters, after a run on MB’s dynos for emissions purposes. Obviously, in order to test run the car, all the electronic aids were disabled directly by disconnecting their wires. Someone forgot to connect the steering sensor back at the end of the run, and the person in charge of bringing the car back didn’t know that. A combination of low temperatures, a slightly wet road, and perhaps a bit too much trust on the electronics of the car resulted in that accident after an overtaking maneuver. As simple as that. In related positive news, the chassis made it out safely too, so that they could even decide to use it to build a whole new car from it if they felt so inclined.

Which brings us to the next argument, engineering!

The new carbo-titanium material is quite a step forward in this field. Despite the lightness and stiffness of a carbon fiber structure, there is a weak point: lack of elasticity. Right from the beginning, Pagani evolved the basilar carbon fiber technology so that bodywork parts could sustain small impacts without developing small cracks, using also different resins so to bring a different mixture of stiffness and elasticity in each component. Later he applied these updates to the chassis itself.

By using titanium and carbon fiber together, Pagani managed to keep the structure together even after a particularly intense crash. In this way the chassis, despite being totaled, won’t collapse unto itself and will absorb the energy of the impact in a more foreseeable and controlled way, like with standard metal structures. That’s not a problem if the carbon fiber part is large enough to absorb all the energy while disintegrating, and therefore without transferring a sensible part of this energy to the driver. In regards to a lateral impact, the sill can’t be designed large enough, so it may be helpful to find a way to dissipate the energy differently. Allowing the structure to deform is an excellent way. Carbon fiber by itself can’t achieve that, but weaving in titanium wires will do the trick. Among the various tests they did, shooting a bullet against both a standard carbon fiber panel and a carbo-titanium one shouldn’t be exactly the first thing that comes to mind, but we are in Italy you know. Anyway, given the two panels are otherwise the same, if a bullet can pierce the standard panel, it won’t pass through the carbo-titanium one, despite ruining it, of course.
A similar result could have been used with kevlar, but it tends to absorb humidity and would deteriorate over time. It therefore wasn’t an option for the main chassis, despite being used in many other applications including other Zonda components.
Pagani won’t try to hide his pride for this achievement, but once again he underlines how commitment and hard work were what brought them to this point, and who knows where it will take them in the coming years. He already believes the Zonda’s chassis itself is 20 years ahead of the main competition, so there wasn’t a technical need to achieve new goals if not ambition and commitment once again. The new Huayra, codenamed C9 at the time of this interview, will manage to further highlight the value of this recent technology with a new approach to its design and building processes. The main efforts in the last part of the project were towards simplifying the car so that it will be easier to assemble and to work on.

Now that we talked about carbon fiber, it was clear that I had to ask his opinion on the recent gravitation towards these “fancy” materials, inciting interest also from “everyday car” builders. A new and more sensitive ecological approach demands lighter and more efficient cars, and carbon fiber is often involved in these discussions, as if sooner or later it will be featured also in your city car. He reckons that there have been a lot of advances these days. The upcoming Lamborghini V12 car, supposedly named Aventador LP700-4, features a composite chassis, which despite being simpler and less performing than what Pagani adopts for his cars, it will surely be a significant step forward compared to the Murcielago’s traditional steel frame. So many other companies keep on adding carbon fiber parts to their cars that this diffusion will both provide more knowledge and cost-reduction knowhow. Not to be underestimated, carbon fiber finds many applications also outside of the automotive industry. At the moment Pagani is completing a patent in the architectural field, relatively to the use of carbon fiber in restoration of historical buildings.
Despite current high costs of materials and manufacturing processes, back in the days when Pagani bought his first autoclaves there were five or so of them nationwide, while now there are probably 500. The same rate of growth could be seen globally as well. So there is definitely quite a margin for improvement, and he goes on comparing this technology to electric cars. Presently, and we talk about summer 2010, he believes they aren’t ready for everyday use, but it’s a positive development because there are companies pushing for this solution and governments asking for more eco-friendly ways of transportation that we will eventually see something absolutely worth it emerge in the coming future. Furthermore, it would extremely help in reducing the weight of cars, regardless of their category.

Once again related to emissions and the environment, it is no more a secret that the Pagani Huayra features a turbocharged V12. This wasn’t exactly a choice, but rather a consequence of Pagani’s request to AMG to have an engine capable of being registered in the US market, in relation to California’s strict laws on emissions, but also capable of delivering 1.000 Nm of torque. The only answer was using turbocharging technology. Pagani still prefers naturally aspirated engines though, so the new Huayra was developed trying to achieve power delivery comparable to that of an aspirated engine. That is useful also because when you’re dealing with such a light car (the Huayra dry weight is 1.350 km, compared to the Zonda’s 1.250 kg) and so much power, you definitely don’t want jerky reactions from the engine.
It wasn’t very easy for Mercedes-Benz as they are used to heavier, electronic-ridden automobiles, while Pagani didn’t want any sort of filters between car and driver. His own words: (and quite fitting too I must say) having those kind of electronics on your car is like making love to your woman while wearing a wetsuit. You definitely would want to avoid that, wouldn’t you?
On a more technical note, the new Huayra also features active aerodynamics, with four independent wings balancing the car in every situation. The reason boils down to efficiency. At lower speeds a traditional wing will work against the aerodynamic flow, thus worsening mileage, without giving any downforce advantage. When reaching higher speeds, however, mileage concerns will literally fly out the window when you approach that tight corner on your favorite track, because all you need now is downforce. And that’s exactly how a traditional wing works. When we are considering active wings though, we don’t have to deal with a worsened drag because the wing isn’t deployed until it’s necessary, and we can still rely on the much loved downforce. All you need to pay attention to is the weight of your active system, even if I’d dare to say the level of advantage it gives you isn’t going to be sensibly diluted by its own weight.

Another technical aspect of the car we have yet to talk about is its gearbox.
The Pagani huayra won’t be available with a manual gearbox, but for those hardcore enthusiasts out there, don’t despair. First of all Pagani went for a now common electro-hydraulically actuated standard manual gearbox, often mistaken as sequential gearbox (which is actually a completely different mechanism). The good news is that the car won’t adopt one of those modern and mostly over hyped dual clutch transmissions, which were initially faster than the actuated gearboxes. Now not only the speeds of these transmissions are getting more similar, but a DCT gearbox is also generally 60-70 kg heavier. That may not be enough to make the car as fast as one not equipped with a DCT, but it definitely influences its dynamics, especially when it counts for about 5% of the overall weight.

Another piece of interesting trivia, one of Pagani’s customers lent him his Veyron for a few days and he very much enjoyed it. On the other hand the gearbox was so quick and precise he often thought he was driving something more like a Bentley rather than the fastest car on Earth. What happens is that the gearbox works so well that the driver will just leave it in automatic mode, rendering the DCT kind of superfluous.
If the gearbox can do exactly what you are supposed to do, automatically and most likely better, then what’s the point of operating it yourself?

Pagani personally still prefers a more traditional manual gearbox, which is also why the Zonda is equipped with the actuated transmissions that still feature the gear lever between the seats. For the new Huayra this approach will be taken a step forward. He proudly explained the new car features an exposed mechanism that will revolutionize the seemingly banal act of gear-changing. The gear lever is still there, but it does not simply trigger an electronic device. It’s an elaborate mechanism with visible gears, springs, and rods, and it requires physical effort to move the lever and to engage the reverse through the grille. It took one engineer a full year to design this mechanical masterpiece. Talk about details.

Last but not least, suspensions. I’ve personally always liked the Zonda’s superior wishbone- and- pushrod monoblock, which despite its bulkier appearance, is still lighter and stronger than standard singular rods. As far as the Pagani Huayra is concerned, all suspensions will be forged in Avional, a particular aluminum alloy already adopted in many Zonda parts. The same happens in the Zonda R, contrarily to many other companies using parts which are machined from a solid metal block. The result is a suspension 30% lighter than those from similar cars and 50% lighter than more common suspensions, while achieving a security factor of 3, as opposed to many other applications where other companies manage a 1,5 factor.

Once again, stay tuned because Part 3 is coming soon and you really don't want to miss it

All Pictures Copyright: Damiano Garro and Sarajane Bradshaw for The Italian Junkyard
Pagani Huayra: Pagani Automobili S.p.A.


Anonymous said...

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