It feels wrong to be asking this question after another inspiring visit to Pagani Automobili in San Cesario sul Panaro, Italy: Where on Earth do they get the money to do all this at such a high level? The answer to this question is most certainly really long and, I would like to believe, swathed in at least a little dark intrigue. I'm also certain that it's none of my damned business.
For some reason, I never seem to find myself asking the same question after visiting Koenigsegg on the southwest coast of Sweden or Morgan in westernmost England. Even though Christian von Koenigsegg's operation comes closest in kind to what Horacio Pagani is doing, the Swedes do it with a very different attitude, and up north there is always that sense of a close-to-the-bone shop pushing to build the next pair of amazing $1.5-million Agera supercars. As for Morgan, when I go there I am made so drunken by the artisanal works involved in building a $40,000 3-Wheeler that I just forget to even imagine anything as sobering as the company's finances.
Maybe my inquiring mind regarding Pagani is due to the fact that they plan on building 40 units of the Huayra each year starting on January 1, 2013. That's veritable mass production for the Italians, and they've sold over 3.5 years' worth already. This, for a model whose base version starts north of $1.2 million.
Anyone accustomed to talking with car company bosses knows just how tight-lipped and distracted they can be. Horacio Pagani, at least when talking about his cars, is neither. You have to set aside around 90 minutes to take in all that he wishes to tell you about his Huayra, his new production facility and his family, all of which he is so proud. It's like an elaborate welcoming tea ceremony in a gorgeous desert tent, only with several exotic cars being assembled nearby.
This is to say, in order to properly test a Pagani Huayra, you must go to the northern Italian flatlands on Via dell'Artigianato (translation: "Handicraft Road" or "Craftsman Road") and soak in the heady perfume of inspiration. After all of this, the Huayra – just like the marvelous Zonda before it – does the rest.
I actually set off right from the delivery area at Pagani in a much-updated Huayra with the company's recently finished Track Pack in place, so this was theoretically the most aggressive model to date. Not like a Huayra without a Track Pack should be kicked out of bed for eating crackers, with its SAE-rated 720 horsepower peaking at 5,800 rpm and 738 pound-feet of torque flat-lining from 2,250 up to 4,500 rpm. Stated acceleration to 62 mph, or 100 kmh, is 3.2 seconds, top speed is marked at 224 miles per hour (Mr. Pagani tells us 230 mph), and confirmed constant lateral acceleration has been measured at 1.64 Gs. That makes the Huayra even more a racing car than the Zonda was, apart from the drool-worthy Zonda R from 2009 that pulled a 6:47 lap time at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires – in the case of the Huayra, 255/35 ZR19 96Y front and 335/30 ZR20 104Y rear – get a hellish workout under any Pagani.
But at first I just wanted to ease my way down Handicraft Road and onto the S623 two-lane that would carry me south into the Apennine foothills wherein lays the ultimate Sportscar Funland. Huayra owners, most of whom are multiple Zonda owners and are like an extended family for Pagani (while also being a wealth of information to draw upon), apparently wanted hardcore shifting from their automated manual setup. Xtrac in the UK has been doing very lightweight and durable gearboxes for race applications for many years, and the Huayra is the first street car to carry an Xtrac 'box. It is a seven-speed unit with a single clutch and it's mounted transversely out back. They could have more easily gone with a dual-clutch setup, too, but that would have added at least 155 pounds to the running weight and adversely affected the car's dynamics. The other key item owners called for was light weight at all costs, so single clutch it was.
As this reworked competition gearbox meshed with the bi-turbo M158 6.0-liter V12 from Mercedes-Benz AMG in Auto mode, feisty Sport mode or full-on Launch Control, I was amazed that I wasn't beaten up more. Being bi-turbo certainly helps to soften some power transitions, but Xtrac works well with this seven-speed to avoid making the Huayra a tooth crusher. The engine, being an over-engineered AMG V12, can take out some of that gratuitous bite, too. All the same, it's not a Power Puff Girl four-cylinder in a Volkswagen Love Bug with a wagging four-speed shifter stick; Huayra shifts in the hairiest moments are forceful suckers and this, to repeat, has been engineered into the mix at customers' request.
As I was sitting in the carbon-titanium passenger cell structure with its rigid central backbone and trying to concentrate on the Huayra's very eventful drive experience, as in the Zonda, I was constantly distracted by the spectacle of the interior. There is a persistent debate over Horacio Pagani's particular sense of design taste, and the Argentine is by now comfortable with the controversy. Personally, I very much prefer this Huayra treatment over what was in the Zonda. Nonetheless, it does shine inside there. And then there is the herd of impeccable hides that cushion me and fill my senses with the odors of luxury. Sitting in the Huayra is like being inside one of Franck Muller's Aeternitas Mega 4 wristwatches.
Mr. Pagani is considered one of the true overlords of carbon fiber expertise, and he is the person most singularly responsible for the carbon fiber reputation of Lamborghini that today has swept over the entire industry to bring lighter weight and more rigidity to the masses. Looking all around at the carbon fiber work in the Huayra, the fibers everywhere have been perfectly matched like the finest hides that palm my backside. The workmanship is unparalleled. I also noticed that every one of the 1,500 titanium nuts, bolts and washers are not only torqued to the exact same orientation, they all bear the Pagani logo.
The payoff in all of this ostentation is that the Huayra also walks the walk in equally convincing fashion. The electrically assisted steering rack is treated just right and gives all the feedback you might want from this package. At the same time, unlike a 4,300-pound Bugatti Veyron, the 3,100-pound curb weight Huayra – without all-wheel drive – makes me want to attack all of these Apennine curves as though I'm in a tricked-out Porsche Cayman S. And in this sense, the Pagani Huayra is again still a slightly finer driver than the competing Koenigsegg. Its stunningly effective carbon ceramic brake discs help keep the weight off in the right places and make stopping or slowing feel like getting pulled from behind by another Huayra going the opposite way.
Helping downforce at all times are the moving aerodynamic flaps imbedded in the front hood and in the rear deck. Those in the rear can actually move up and down independently from one another while the action on the frontal flaps is a subtler one, but constant. With this Track Pack-equipped car, the extended chin spoiler adds to the stability at all speeds and helps with crisper turn-in when hammering the discs from high speeds. And, by the way, that braking time from 125 mph to a stop? 4.2 seconds of heart-in-mouth exhilaration.
I didn't let it bother me for most of the day thrashing my way through the region's empty rural hills, but then I let it. While the sound of the bi-turbo V12 is less thrilling through the telltale four centralized exhaust tips versus a naturally aspirated high-revving setup, it is still a V12 and still doing what it does right close to my back. I wanted to hear more of that mightiness, but the incessant waste gate, induction, turbine soundtrack - while impressive - gasps and wheezes so loudly that it's almost impossible to grasp the voice of the AMG unit. I'm not looking to be a wimpy party pooper, but this intense breathing scheme began to drive me a little bonkers after a couple of hours in the mountains. On drawn-out straights and, I would imagine, multi-lane cruising, the hyper rasping settles down. The Huayra is overly talented, to be sure, but I'd prefer my engine and exhaust lead the chorus more.
Back inside, not only was I walked through the specialness of the multi-function $1,500 (more or less) digital key unit that is shaped like a silver Huayra and weighs like a beefy ingot of precious metal, but I was encouraged to play with the colors for the backlight of the instrumentation. On the onboard touchscreen, you can poke your way through a veritable candy shop of colors for all lit readouts. I will admit that for a few miles I had everything lit in flaming pink, but I then returned to my preferred mid-shade green.
After additional homologation run-throughs and federalization requirements, Mr. Pagani assured me that Huayras purchased by U.S. customers will start being delivered in July of 2013, if not earlier. The average price of each car once its owner has finished with personalization should reach $1.5 million.
That may seem nuts to a lot of us. Why do individuals see fit to shell out like that for a new car? We could each take a plausible stab as to why but, as with my wondering from whence exactly all the money comes to help Horacio Pagani realize his inspired plans, it's probably none of our damned business. I'm satisfied just knowing that this special little company can carry on creating what could be the most extraordinary automobile in the world.