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Horacio Pagani: Thoughts on Dedication, Down-force, and da Vinci

This year, Automobili Pagani celebrates the 20th anniversary of the world premiere of the Zonda C12 at the Geneva International Motor Show in 1999.

The Zonda’s jetfighter-like shape, carbon fiber body panels, polished aluminum dials, and Mercedes Benz-supplied V12 far exceeded the very best levels of automotive design and performance existing at the time. From that moment on, supercars were no longer the peak of performance. Pagani had built a hypercar.  

This year also marks the first time a hypercar manufacturer has established a sales office in the Philippines, as the Autohub Group proudly announced that they are the Exclusive Selling Agent of Pagani in the Philippines. Horacio Pagani, the eponymous founder & chief designer of the marque flew in to attend the official announcement party held at the Presidential Suite of the Manila Hotel.

Mr. Pagani is a rock star of the automotive world, and my dream car to beat all dream cars is a Zonda Cinque, so my excitement went through the roof when we were told that he was available for a few questions after the party.

At noon, Mantle’s features editor and I were ushered into a private conference area together with two other automotive writers. We were introduced to Mr. Pagani and to Alberto Giovanelli, Automobili Pagani’s Global Sales Manager. The latter assisted as the Italian-English interpreter for the party, and he was happy to continue doing so for our session.

We were seated at a large conference table with Mr. Pagani at the head, and he was having his lunch while entertaining our inquiries. The windows behind him treated us to a view of clear blue skies above the Manila Bay.

As Mr. Pagani listened to our questions, he took a piece of toast from his plate and proceeded to spread equal parts of jam and butter evenly across its surface. He seemed to inspect his work intently until he was satisfied that the toast had the perfect balance of visual beauty and buttery sweetness before taking a bite. His movements were elegant, but also measured and efficient.

At that moment, I recalled a part of his statement to the press earlier that day: “Pagani’s philosophy aligns with Leonardo da Vinci’s. [He] believed that Art and Science can work together, hand in hand. When you are approaching a project, there is an engineering aspect wherein everything has to work and be scientifically proven, but at the same time it must be beautiful and artistic. It has to have that touch that a pure engineering project wouldn’t have, to create something very good looking and well designed, but also very efficient in the end. This vision is shared by all the staff in the company, our designers are also very good engineers, and the other way around.”

By the look of that piece of toast, Mr. Pagani seemed to apply that philosophy to everything he does: a mindset I was happy to explore further.

Mantle: “Looking back, twenty years ago, when you first started commercial operations, did you imagine that your company would grow in such a way and have such a profound impact on the automotive industry globally?”

Pagani: “Twenty years ago, what I had in mind was a commitment to create a good product, a good car, a good solution. Not to look too much to the others, not to go against the competition, without making too much comparison.

“Over the last twenty years, this mentality has been preserved, all our products have been developed with the same mentality. The CEO of Aston Martin, of Mercedes Benz, they claim there is nothing like Pagani in the automotive industry, so niche, with a level of quality so high. This to me is a sign of a good achievement.

“But I never believed my stubbornness would bring me to where I am today.”

Mantle: “How much down-force does a Pagani generate and how reliant is the car’s handling on the down-force?”

Pagani: “When we do our development on the airflow of the car, we take into consideration that we are developing a road-going car. In general, the lower the car, the more aerodynamic and the better the down-force, but this does not help with bumpy roads where you have to absorb or cope with all kinds of road conditions, because of course, this car, you drive it everywhere.

“One very important point, to be always conscious, is I do not want to create a track car or create something with characteristics very close to a track car. That will really make the car very dangerous on the normal road, very tail-happy or snappy. I do not want it to handle like a dangerous car in that sense to a private client, which can sometimes be an amateur driver.

“Pagani has an active aerodynamic system with flaps in the front and rear to help during braking and cornering. It is quite an important operating system that will work in parallel with the active suspension to create the whole balance of the car in different conditions.

“When you are sitting behind a Pagani, you feel like Lewis Hamilton, but you are not, this will help you to stay on the road and not to hurt yourself.”

Mantle: A number of supercar and hypercar builders are engaging in a horsepower race. Recently there has also been great emphasis on high speed runs and Nürburgring records. How has this affected your approach?

Pagani: “Our clients never ask for top speed, it is not really a question when they come to Pagani to order a car.  This is one of the aspects we consider. The clients are interested in other values or other characteristics of the car.

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“We do extensive testing on every single model. Millions of kilometers of testing to refine not only the performance, but also the aerodynamics, the cornering, the braking, and all that. It also involves safety.

“As a function of such testing, the Zonda F and R have records in the Nürburgring, and the Huayra broke a record in the Top Gear track.  This testing gives reassurance that the car is safe.”

During the Interview, Mr. Pagani showed an eagerness to bring us into his world, to talk about the beginnings of his company and the reasons for his approach. He sometimes took up to 25 minutes to elaborate on an answer, and during Mr. Giovanelli’s translations, he observed us intently to see if we understood.

Many times, one language does not translate perfectly to another. There is nuance and detail in the use of certain terms or phrases that lose meaning in the context of another language.

That day, I really wished I spoke Italian. Mr. Giovanelli was a fine translator, but I couldn’t help but wonder what other details or nuances I could have picked up too.

However, Mr. Pagani made it very clear that his goal is, was, and always will be to make cars that are both works of art, and engineering marvels. He chased that goal with stubborn conviction, regardless of economic conditions, challenges, or competition. The result of that singular pursuit was a successful company, one that, to this day, still makes cars unlike any other.

After the interview, Mr. Pagani invited everyone to go and visit his factory: “Something that you will find very special about the factory is that it is a factory, but we still have a group of artisans that are working on the cars, they are doing things with hands, that is very fascinating, there is still a great human part, a part left to the craftsmanship, to emotion.”

I can’t wait to visit. Hopefully, by then, I’ll have learned to speak some Italian.  



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