After 14 years as the auto industry’s House of Fabergé, Pagani Automobili has built the paltry sum of 132 cars, just shy of Ferrari’s output every two weeks. Most are the original Zonda, with just 10 of the new, U.S.-bound Huayras yet in existence. Judging from the interrogations we received while stuck behind a massive wreck on the autostrada only 10 minutes from Pagani’s Modena, Italy, headquarters, that’s not enough to sear the brand into the consciousness of the locals, who are accustomed to seeing Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati test vehicles tearing up their streets.
Horacio Pagani’s customers—an all-hands meeting wouldn’t make a decent lunch rush at a Denny’s—don’t seem to mind the brand’s obscurity. If you can peel off an easy million for a new Huayra, which starts at 849, 000 euros or, when it arrives later this year, the spot-exchange equivalent in dollars, chances are good you own a lot of stuff that Italian truck drivers have never heard of.
What really makes the Huayra startling is that all of its highly cultivated (and, in some cases, efficaciously questionable) flair pulls together to make a stupendous road car. The level of lateral grip, the triple-digit stability, and the braking and steering control give this Beaux-Arts glamour boat the muscle to mix it up with the cars from Brand F and Brand L. Think Le Mans prototype with carpeting and license-plate mounts.
You feel comfortable in the Huayra. You can see out of it. Even if the gauges with their finely etched numerals aren’t easy to read in daylight, you are going fast very quickly, probing the lofty limits of the chassis’ relentless neutrality as the super-boosted Benz V-12 wheeze-bangs through each terrifying, scenery-smearing blast. This is not an exotic that is best hung on a wall—though it would nicely adorn just about any living room.
What the Pagani lacks is the feral mechanical bray that has long been the battle cry of Italy and is still available from the Lamborghini Aventador’s 8000-rpm naturally aspirated V-12. Sure, in a tunnel you’ll scare the pants off any nearby Andean highlanders by sounding like their wind god, Huayra-tata, after stepping on a tack. But for the occupants, with the car’s intake ducts making obscene sucking noises just a few inches behind the cabin, it’s like being two boogers riding in a cheetah’s nostrils.
Still, with very little formal engineering training, and, by his own account, being lousy at computers, Horacio Pagani manages to produce cars that are wholly credible even at their mesospheric price. He is first and foremost an aesthete, a car doodler as a child in Argentina who is still basically just doodling. Leonardo da Vinci is his lodestar, and stacked behind Pagani’s desk are volumes on the Renaissance master’s fusion of engineering and art.
Top: The seven-speed transmission can be set to comfort or sport mode. Bottom: Six pieces of fitted luggage are included in the purchase price.
The metal pane housing the navigation screen and climate controls is machined from a single 15-pound block of aluminum and fitted with delicate teardrop buttons made to resemble a clarinet’s keys (Pagani is an avid, self-taught musician). The ignition key is an approximately four-inch-long model of the Huayra milled in aluminum that costs the company $3700.
Future restorers take note: The dozens of grade-7 titanium bolts in the rear suspension, which run Pagani $98 each and are part of the $37, 000 in bespoke titanium hardware in the car, are indexed with all of their laser-etched Pagani logos facing up.
R&D director Andrea Galletti, who for some years punched a clock on Ferrari’s F1 team, showed me acceleration traces from a test car that indicate 3.3 seconds for 60-mph and lateral acceleration through a constant-radius corner of 1.5 g’s. Of course, it’s not a valid performance number until it’s recorded by our equipment, but from the data, it’s clear that more work is needed in the launch control and the 1-2 upshift, where the acceleration line droops painfully.