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.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

17.5 Get your hands dirty, assemble your own Zonda: an interview with Horacio Pagani, PART 4

Talking with Mr Pagani has been an honor and a very interesting experience, but it was his son Leonardo and their PR manager Miss Pramazzoni who explained us how the magic is run at Pagani’s, and how your Zonda comes to life. They also managed to transmit the passion and commitment which go into each car. We were particularly surprised by the level of knowledge and enthusiasm of Leonardo. You can really see he and his brother Christopher are an actual part of the company and don’t just sit in a corner waiting for the job to be done.

Make the jump and follow us during an imaginary assembly of a Zonda. Close your eyes, and perhaps it will look like it’s your Zonda!

As many of you may already know, plans have been long under way to build a new factory so that annual production could be increased from 15 or so cars to up to 30/40 cars. This building has already been acquired by the company some years ago, and is in the process of being reconverted accordingly to Pagani’s requirement. As you may have figured, the first Huayra units are already being assembled in the old factory, which we’ll be converted into a sort of spa resort for the venerable Zonda once the new building will be up and running.

When we visited the factory last summer, a bit less than 120 road going Zondas had already been built, not considering a few other cars such as the track-only 2004 Zonda Monza, two units of the racing 2003 Zonda GR (built on behalf of team Carsport, with no official involvement of Pagani Automobili Spa) and a handful units of the ferociously fast Zonda R. That’s good for about 13 cars built every year since 1999 when the Zonda was unveiled in Geneva. At first each car took about 9 months to be completed from scratch, while now we could appreciate how they became much faster at that, as between our visits in May and June the cars under assembly were not the same. Given the quality has increased over the year to an almost senseless level, while new variants and options were introduced, you really got to give them credits for their work. Quicker and better, what more could you want? No, cheaper supercars are not in the cars…

Everything starts in the smaller room of the factory. In this climate controlled environment a few skillful hands model the precious carbon fiber and carbo-titanium fabrics into parts of the car and its chassis. Each component is then ready to be vacuumed into special bags and put into the autoclaves (large ovens which can maintain high pressures and temperatures for hours). It’s really important that you get as much air vacuumed outside of those bags as possible, as it would dangerously affects the variations in temperature and pressure inside of the bag itself, damaging the carbon fiber part, with also the possibility of air being absorbed by the resin itself. Even if you use a vacuum pump, when dealing with complex parts it may not be an easy task. Back in the days though, Mr Pagani found an easy solution to this problem.
If you ever happened to see how a new road or a parking lot is built, you may have noticed a white, soft yet compact fabric positioned just underneath the concrete and asphalt layers, mainly to avoid roots and other sorts of vegetation to find their way through, rather than around. On a similar occasion, Mr Pagani thought about trying that white fabric as a way to get the air out of the bags even using parts with complicated geometries. The fabric is laid adherently to the carbon fiber part, so that when the bag stick to it because of the vacuum pump’s caused depression, air can still flow through the fabric’s fibers. A very simple and cost effective way to solve a tricky situation.
As we mentioned, once the part is ready it needs to be positioned into the autoclave, where it will stay for a time which depends on the component itself and the desired properties you want to get out of it. By this step though, a lot of pages have been written in a very special book. Each car built so far has its own book, and there every step of its production is reported next to the names of workers and what they did, when and how. Everything is written down, so that whenever something needs to be checked back, it’s all there. This increase the responsibility of those who work on the cars, as your name is there to testify you’re responsible for your work.

It indeed happened that while Leonardo Pagani was giving us this technical tour, Mr Horacio Pagani himself showed up into the production rooms, and right before we left for his office, everybody gathered around a carbon fiber sill, and none of them looked too happy about what was going on. What happened is that the bag failed while in the autoclave, obviously damaging the sill. So whoever handled that component before of that stage was there to try to figure what went wrong and why. We all know that something can go wrong with no given reason sometimes, but I found it sort of reassuring (ok, it wasn’t my car, still) that everyone felt in a way involved in this little accident.

Once your carbon fiber parts are taken out of the ovens, you can start the actual assembly of the car. The first step is to position the whole bodywork and chassis on a jig to check that everything is perfectly aligned and each part fits each other. The two jigs are positioned next to the autoclaves, in the third and largest room.

Then the parts are shipped to a trusted paint shop here in Modena where the paints are applied. Meanwhile AMG Mercedes ships an almighty custom developed M120 V12 engine completed with all the electronics, while a gearbox is made available by Cima, another company from Modena. The front and rear Chromium-Molybdenum steel subframes are prepared to accommodate all the wirings and the suspensions, made out of Avional, a special aluminum alloy developed for the aircraft industry. The tank is integrated in the rear bottom part of the chassis. The whole assembly is held in the first room, the one you access to directly from the showroom in acse you’ve already been there. The smaller climate controlled room is now at your right, while the larger room is straight ahead of you, just to give you a quick idea on the factory’s configuration. The whole production area is smaller than what you’re thinking, really.

Up to now, the car could still be either an LHD or an RHD car, and hypothetically it wouldn’t be a major task to convert a car to one or the other configuration even after the assembly is completed, given it was making economically sense that is. While the two subframes are completed and connected to the main tub, the interior is on its way right after the wiring is done. Then each part of the car is assembled from the gearbox and exhaust to the complete and finished bodywork. As soon as everything is properly fixed and checked the car is ready for a test drive and a fine tuning, also according to the owners requests. The fine tuning is either held in the main room or in the largest one, depending on what’s required and on the stage of assembly of other cars.

I remember the first time I was there as a visitor in 2008, I’ve read a sheet full of notes about a car which was there for servicing. I can remember something in particular: “reduce downforce”. Guess the owner wanted some more thrill.
Perhaps a bit too simple, but that’s how you get the job done. From some layers of carbon fiber to one of the most acclaimed supercars of the last decades.

This would also be all from the Pagani factory, hope you enjoyed our lengthy report and pictures. We can’t wait to check the Huayra in the flesh in a month or little more.

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

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