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.

Friday, February 25, 2011

17.2 Wild is the Wind: an Interview with Horacio Pagani, Part 1

My grandfather used to be a wise man. When I asked him questions about something, he always started answering right from the beginning, as if giving the full picture was essential to grasp perfect comprehension of what’s in the world.

While talking with Mr Horacio Pagani it was obvious that what he has achieved was surely not a result of pure luck or chance, and it is clear that continuing to walk this path he will never have a shortage of successes. When you ask him a question, he doesn’t hurry to answer with a succinct sentence or repeat a press release as a broken LP. He takes a couple of seconds for himself, looks away and gathers his thoughts. Then he starts explaining everything right from the beginning, like my grandfather. Just younger. It doesn’t matter what you asked, you will end up with a comprehensive yet straightforward commentary which not only will answer your question, but possibly also the other 10 related questions you thought about the day before the interview. Of all the questions I came up with before I left for San Cesario sul Panaro (Modena, Italy), he answered most of them without me specifically asking them, because everything he was talking about was rather a complete overview regarding that argument, underlining how he indeed has a very clear idea of what has happened so far, and what is about to.

Make the jump to keep reading this amazing story.

As I said, it was not by chance that he is now the man behind one of the most acclaimed exotic cars of the decade after pretty much coming out of nowhere 11 years ago in Geneva with the first Zonda C12. Such success comes after a myriad of tough moments, risky decisions, and lots of hard work. Nonetheless, his day-to-day schedule has remained the same.

In 1983 he arrived to Italy from Argentina with the clothes on his back and two bicycles; one for him, one for his wife Cristina. With a lot of determination and some support from his friend and mentor Juan Manuel Fangio, a few years later he purchased one of the first autoclaves in Italy with a mortgage. At the time he was working for Lamborghini and didn’t have a factory of his own, so one day he just showed up at Lamborghini’s Sant’Agata Bolognese factory, asking where he could leave the autoclave as the truck which was bringing it was about to arrive.

Everything began when they rented a new building. Even before the very first carbon fiber chassis belonging to the Laborghini Countach Evoluzione came to be he fully understood the importance of this material, despite its prohibitive costs and usage being limited to the aeronautical and aerospace industries in those days. Lamborghini did not share his enthusiasm regarding carbon fiber, and even though the experiences and opportunities had at Lamborghini were precious, Pagani realized that it was time for him to part ways. It took a while, but eventually the Modena Design company was established, designing and producing carbon fiber parts for just about all the various automotive companies of the area, among which Ferrari and Lamborghini too.

Pagani did’t come to Italy just to listen and cater to other companies’ ideas and needs, he came here to establish his own. Some of these ideas would later materialize into the Zonda. While during the day he and his small staff were working a 9 to 5 for other companies, during evenings and nights they were helping the project C8 come to life.

It should not come as a surprise if it took years, from the early nineties to 1999, for the finished Zonda to see the light of the day. This is also the reason why Pagani Automobili is still a family business run by Horacio, Cristina and their sons, Leonardo and Christopher. If you ever happen to visit the factory you will find them running around the factory, hard at work like everyone else. Not quite your typical unapproachable royal family.

This is when you understand that humility is a part of Pagani Automobili’s foundations. It may sound irrelevant when you’re producing cars which cost over one million euro and when everything is held to impossibly strict quality standards, but having core values as your building blocks and your company’s mantra is fundamental to ensure a steady, healthy growth. Proof of this is the mile-long waiting list, super VIP clients and limited editions, all milestones occurring during Pagani Automobili’s proverbial childhood.

Now that you are familiar with the factory and the general ambiance, we can start this interview with the man behind the Zonda, which incidentally is also one of my favorite cars, but that’s another story…

While we were visiting the factory with his son Leonardo competently guiding us and explaining everything about the company and the production process, Mr Pagani showed up, welcoming us and inviting us upstairs in his office. Before that, we stopped in the production zones so that he could show us some more details and aspects of this company, but you’ll read about all these facts in the next article.

His office is positioned in a strategic position, with a huge glass window facing the gateway to the factory. Not only is it perfect to keep a watchful eye on who comes and goes and what cars are parked outside the showroom, but it floods the office with warm sunlight.

In the middle of the office is a long table with many delightful objects casually lying about, reminders that someone’s flights of fancy become reality pretty much every day. There are drawings, books and vintage Le Mans artwork lying next to technical sketches and Excel spreadsheets.

Images of the Zonda are all over the factory, but they don’t look like they were there to show off, quite the contrary – they are there to be admired, possibly by the “proud parents” who made it in first place. This was also the topic which started the interview.
I personally “met” Mr pagani 3 years ago, and as a young enthusiast and engineering student, I asked for a picture, to which he kindly obliged. I therefore found it obvious to ask him about his position in the automotive world, not only as a car company, but as a luminary for many enthusiasts.

Even though he doesn’t see himself as such, there was not one bit of self-consciousness in his words. Despite being fully aware of what he achieved and the success gained by the Zonda, he is more focused on the responsibility that it brings. Having reached this position in such a difficult market, let alone feeling confident enough to release higher-priced special editions with this economic climate, means you are also creating expectations among your customers and the market as well. It means you’ll have to commit even more to your work, because it is more difficult to maintain the position at the top than to merely reach it. There is also something about having a responsibility towards his own name, and those who carry it. This is a family business, and as such, there is more than the company at stake, it’s your own reputation, and of those who where there with you making it possible.

This personal connection with the company is even clearer when you consider how personal the approach is to the whole creative process. Pagani never hid his admiration for Leonardo Da Vinci, who is also a source of inspiration and a major guideline in his work. The idea of merging art and engineering together may seem old and cliché, but if you think of the actual applications of this concept, there aren’t exactly a great many outstanding examples to choose from. I can think of handcrafted watches and jewels, exclusive architecture, but that’s pretty much it. What about cars then? For as much as it may be subjective, I always thought the Zonda was much more than just a fast car with a lot of horsepower and an embarrassing price tag. There are many other fast cars, a lot of them with even more impressive figures, but many of them also look exactly like the standard mishmash of curves that 12-year-old boys dream about. Pagani was already creating little car models with wood and clay by that age, but his creative process had a sensible evolution over the years. While you can hardly nitpick on the engineering aspect, art is very much subjective and as such we may endlessly talk about the artistic side of his cars, but you can’t deny the refinement and sort of baroque elegance of the interior, or the fluid and smooth design of the bodywork, without over aggressive and superfluous air intakes, fins, wings and so on. It doesn’t stop there, as possibly the best looking part of each Zonda is what’s underneath the skin. From the engine to the suspensions, everything is designed first of all to perform exactly as it’s supposed to, but also to be good looking, elegant, and satisfying to the senses. As an example, he showed me his mobile phone, one of those Motorolas of the Aura series. It’s light, compact and essentially does what it’s supposed to. It is also sleek and stylish, presenting a small window that showcases the opening mechanism as a design highlight.

As you may have already noticed, the new Huayra is just another milestone along this path.

This is Pagani’s approach to cars, as a company, and as a person, so it is what makes this company unique and different from what others may offer. Managing to achieve this recognizable image was key in many aspects. First of all for Pagani’s need to express himself through what he enjoys doing, and also to stand out in an overcrowded market. After little more than 10 years the Pagani brand is valued around 150 million euro, but he still feels the need to underline how money wasn’t a priority in this project. He still wakes up and goes to work every day as if it were a matter of simply surviving, to put bread on the table. That’s probably the secret to remain focused on your work so that you won’t disappoint either your clients or yourself. This philosophy also applies to his employees. Recognizing that we live in a world of superfluous needs and desires, while trying to infuse this same enthusiasm but also the importance of working hard to reach your goals isn’t easy, and it’s among his tougher undertakings.

As you can see now, I may have asked one question, but I got many answers.

All this commitment and creative process eventually materialized in March 1999, when the first Zonda C12 was unveiled in Geneva. Unlike many other companies’ first attempts in the past and even today, this was a car ready to be driven, not just another hypothetically production ready concept. The car was already fully homologated, no exceptions whatsoever, and ready to be purchased and driven by the first lucky owner. That was an exceptional feat that blew everyone away, considering Pagani Automobili were essentially unknown and especially due to the uncertain climate that reigned over the automotive industry following the mid nineties crisis as well as departure of the Italian Bugatti.

The reason why they decided to present a straightforward, road-ready car was to gain as much trust as they could. The bankruptcy of Bugatti left a deep scar in Modena’s industry, leaving many local suppliers in an economical bind. The shockwaves were felt internationally as well, amongst dealerships, suppliers and customers. It took a few years for the market to get back on its feet and for Pagani to establish a trusted, consolidated network. With a weak market and a lack of external investors, what kept them on the right path was developing their own designs as much as possible, optimizing every component, and carrying out a series of exhaustive testing for the cars, much more than what is the norm for similar companies. That grueling dedication as well as Mercedes-Benz’s support for the drivetrain was of fundamental importance. Once Daimler gave them the OK not only to use their engines, but also to keep the logo and the name on them, it became clear to Pagani that he was moving in the right direction.

Some noteworthy trivia: the first person to sit in the Zonda in Geneva was former Daimler’s CEO Jürgen Schrempp.

Stay tuned for the second part of this in depth interview with Mr Pagani, I’ve much more to tell you…

All Pictures Copyright: Damiano Garro and Sarajane Bradshaw for The Italian Junkyard


NSXType-R said...

I enjoyed your article!

Post more please!

And from my name, I have a feeling you already know who I am.

Damiano Garro said...


There is only one real NSXType-R, no doubt about that :D

Post a Comment