IT WAS Friday the 13th, and photographer Richard Pardon and I had just taken a comedic, synchronised, arms-andlegs- flailing, Laurel-and- Hardy-style tumble on sheet ice as we emerged from our hotel. This was not the day to be driving a $3.3m Pagani Huayra BC. We had been told that a car ‘might be available’ for us to drive at the factory. When we arrived, we were simply told that it was ‘not available’. We didn’t complain, and we didn’t ask why.
We hadn’t come to drive anyway. We’d come to see the Pagani of car factories, which Horacio Pagani has built two minutes down the road from his old place I in San Cesario sul Panaro, just outside Modena. He’s a car engineer, not an architect, but he has designed it himself to the same principles as his cars.
It is a beautiful factory, but it is not in a beautiful location. It faces green fields but is surrounded on the other three sides by an ugly industrial estate. A hard, cold, steel-grey northern Italian day doesn’t help. Think of a multi-syllabic Italian supercar and you’ll probably picture one being driven over a sunlit Alpine road. That may be how they’re used, but it’s in places like this, and on days like this, that the hard work of creating them is done.
In stories like this we usually take you through a factory gate which would otherwise be closed.
Not here. Despite the value and rarity of his cars, Horacio is egalitarian on access. He hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be young car enthusiast stranded half a world away in Argentina, desperate to get to
Supercar Valley and to work in a factory like this. So now for a fee you can book a tour of his, and see all this for yourself.
But unless you come in with us, you’re unlikely to get your tour from the man whose name is over the door. The world’s least-scary car company boss walks through the door shortly after us and seemingly without having fallen on his arse on his way. There is still the flurry that always surrounds the arrival of a Very Important Person – conversations end abruptly and everyone’s attention swivels in one direction.
Horacio is too nice to expect the attention, but you are aware that you are now in the presence of one of the great figures of the supercar world. His company might not (yet) have acquired the fame or the scale or the racing success of Enzo Ferrari’s or Ferruccio Lamborghini’s, but few have been able to design and engineer a supercar largely unaided. Horacio Pagani is better compared to engineers like Gordon Murray or Ettore Bugatti, and benign dictatorships like these tend to produce better cars.
He is a diminutive, avuncular figure, dressed in a Pagani tracksuit top (the zipper is in the shape of his trademark quad exhaust pipes), purple jeans and soft grey Diadora trainers. Abundant grey-white hair is pushed up and away from his face, and his quick, sharp, expressive eyes dart around behind thin-framed glasses. They settle on a spotlight in the ceiling of the room where we’re having a coffee before taking the tour. It isn’t pointing in the right direction. Horacio summons Leonardo (his son, named after da Vinci) who supervised the construction of the factory. Leonardo appears with a stepladder, and aims it correctly.
You’re probably familiar with Horacio’s story. By his early twenties, and while still in Argentina, he’d designed and built his own F2 car. But local paid work as a designer and engineer was limited to making camper van conversions. So in ’83, with no money but a letter of introduction from Juan Manuel Fangio, he arrived in Italy (where his parents had been born) and got a menial job at Lamborghini.
His rise was meteoric, but his thinking was uncomfortably unconstrained for his employer. His Countach Evoluzione concept was among the first to use a carbon-fibre tub, cutting a third from the standard car’s mass. Lamborghini wouldn’t invest in an autoclave to make its own carbon fibre, so Horacio borrowed the money to buy one and installed it at his employer, taking it with him when he left to found Modena Design in ’91.
There, in what would become the first Pagani factory, he made carbon fibre parts for the Ferrari F1 team, among others. He started work on the Pagani Zonda in 1993, and it was shown at the Geneva show in ’99. That first factory and Horacio’s
original autoclave have been overwhelmed by demand ever since. The new factory is still only the size of a large main dealership, but it will allow Horacio to reduce his two-year waiting list by doubling production. However, they still won’t exactly be ubiquitous.
“We designed all of it,” he says, waving a hand at the room. “My sons Leonardo and Christopher, our design team, and me. Everything reflects our way of thinking. Even our bathrooms. We didn’t use an architect. We had a structural engineer, who we had big arguments with. But in the end we decided how it would be.”
“The support of my family has been very important, because I have been able to concentrate on the cars.
I couldn’t forget about that side of things. I think the results are okay.”
He takes me outside into the public area, an L-shaped space which houses the museum on one side, and a customer area on the other. Its steel frame supports vast glass walls, and was inspired by an iron-framed glasshouse designed by Eiffel in the grounds of the French chateau of one of his customers.
Horacio really has designed every nut and bolt of this place. He replaced Eiffel’s bolts with more modern-looking rivets, and some of the steel beams have been designed to look like a Pagani’s suspension arms.
“The theme is the same as you see in our cars. Our inspiration is Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo was a designer.
He studied engineering and combined the technology of 500 years ago with art. And that’s what we attempt to do. We pay attention to the aesthetics, even the parts that aren’t visible. Like the suspension arm – we want it to stand alone as a beautiful thing that could be exhibited in a display case. We care about beauty. It’s a word the world has almost forgotten. But because we Italians created beautiful things in the past we have a responsibility to keep beauty in mind.”
A small group of tourists is being shown around as we speak. They are among the first to get in .
Production moved here last year, but the public areas are still being finished. They seem not to
have noticed the clever car references in the steel structure above, but have spotted the carbon-fibre wash basins in the loos and are photographing them. (The toilets themselves are ceramic. We checked.)
They’ve also spotted the dozen or so Zondas and Huayras on display alongside the Countach Anniversary Horacio designed, his Renaultengined F2 car, and a minimoto he made in his teens.
It’s an extraordinary sight.
This is the only place in the world where you can use the phrase ‘lots of Paganis’.
Between the dozen here and the 18 or so we see later in the assembly hall, this place holds a year and a half of average Pagani production before it moved here – everything from an early Huayra styling buck to the Zonda Revolucion which set the Nürburgring lap record. Some of the cars have been bought back from customers because Horacio couldn’t afford the luxury of keeping cars in the early years. Their spiralling values would have made them a good investment.
The back wall of the museum is hung with memorabilia, including the letter which Fangio wrote to introduce Pagani to Enzo Ferrari.
The wall itself is of rough, rustic, Emilian brick, at odds with the cool steel and glass construction of the showroom and a hint at what lies at the building’s heart.
“They are two different projects in reality,” Horacio says, as he leads us from the museum into the main assembly area through a brick corridor. It has Roman arched windows which frame a finished and perfectly lit Huayra BC in the final inspection area. “Outside, everything is made of steel and iron.
Here we have tried to create an Italian flavour, right down to the bricks and the type of construction, and marble from Carrara; many things to make the project feel Italian.”
And I thought the Ferrari factory was the most Italian place in Italy. Horacio has clearly decided to out-Italian the old guard, but with a sense of humour. The main assembly area is about the size of four tennis courts and has been laid out like a piazza. There are original street lights, and in one corner – I kid you not – a brick campanile, or bell tower, complete with a bell which tolls on the hour and a clock, both sourced from the same foundry established in the 15th century. Inside a factory. Horacio needed to disguise a lift shaft, and thought that this might be a fun way to do it. As
he shows it to me, a worker strolls past, whistling The Godfather theme. Maybe they do that for every foreign visitor.
There are more serious, modern elements too, such as the floor-to-ceiling ‘green wall’ of living plants, and the gym which overlooks the main hall from a glass-walled mezzanine. The atmosphere is unlike any other car factory I’ve been in. It’s more like a high-end furniture showroom. It’s genuinely quiet and smells nice, chiefly because little dirty work is done here. It’s mainly an assembly operation. The cars are carefully and precisely bolted together from a menu of exquisite parts, mostly made by outside suppliers and often delivered in cut-foam trays like the jewellery they are. There are few noisy power tools, just a bunch of guys with torque wrenches who bolt all of this stuff together by hand.
The cars pass through just five stations as they’re built. In the first, the major mechanical parts are fitted into chromoly steel subframes, which then attach to the front and rear of the main carbon tub.
You can clearly see how Horacio makes his cars so light. There is no redundancy; that steel frame just about swallows the parts it needs to hold. You can also see the love given to usually invisible components. The suspension arms, which inspired the struts in the roof, have been painted or polished by hand on alternate sides – and I would like to steal one. The upper balljoint is engraved with the Pagani logo, though you’d never know unless you changed a wheel yourself. The AMG twin-turbo V12 has a plaque bearing the name and signature of the guy who made it, of course, but it’s nice to see that the bloke who built the gearbox at Xtrac in Newbury, UK, gets a mention too. Oddly, the plaque with his name also has Xtrac’s phone number. If you’ve had an accident big enough to expose the plaque and require a call to the gearbox maker, you’re probably better off chucking the car away.
The technicians leave a gap between the subframes as they’re assembled. This is for the heart and soul of the car, that carbon tub. While the engine and gearbox and interior trim and paint is outsourced to other suppliers – and there’s no shortage of good ones in Supercar Valley – the carbon fibre could only be done in-house. Its intelligent, beautiful use has defined Horacio’s career.
So in a room on the mezzanine (fewer dust particles than at ground level) held at a precise 20 degrees (to ensure perfect pliability of the pre-preg sheets of carbon fibre) and reverberating to a bad ’80s rock station (Toto’s Hold the Line), around a dozen people, mainly women, press every curve of a Pagani into a mould by hand. Other cars might claim to be handmade, but panels are usually stamped out by machine. On a Pagani, every sinew really has been formed by hand, the modern equivalent of the way a coachbuilder would have shaped a panel with an English wheel in the past. The idea
of having a stupid minor crash in one and asking these people to start that vast rear clamshell all over again is too embarrassing to contemplate.
It takes around three weeks for them to make the 250 carbon parts required for every car. The biggest components, like that rear shell or the tub made of carbon fibre reinforced with titanium threads, each take days to make. Building strength into stress points simply requires layering more strips of preciselytrimmed carbon fibre fabric. Getting all the fibres to line up perfectly across a huge and complex shape like a rear shell for a car that will be left naked requires witchcraft. Yet nobody works to a plan; they seem to have memorised how to build up every part. Pagani can train people from scratch, and looks for applicants with hobbies requiring precision, but most of the workers here have come from other local carbon-fibre shops, such as the Ferrari Formula One team’s.
Once finished, the parts are put in vacuum bags for 24 hours, then slow-cooked in batches in the vast autoclave for up to 10. Then they’re trimmed, polished and checked before being sent out to be painted, and returned to the factory to be attached to the car.
It is a relatively simple process. Even a lowvolume car maker like Rolls-Royce needs complex production-management techniques. At Pagani there isn’t a swipe card or barcode in sight. In contrast to the other CEOs who talk endlessly of expansion, Horacio would like to keep things this way.
“We arrived in 1999. That was the starting point; day one. Without any financial support it was a very, very difficult task. But we believed in it and we did it. Not only created a new way of building cars, but created a name. Now we could create a second line of cars, thousands more, to increase our profits to $500m a year.
our profits to $500m a year.
But I don’t give a damn about that kind of thing. We never wanted to be a second Ferrari or Lamborghini. With respect to the love and passion for Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and the motor history of Modena, we want to be something small but intelligent. We want to be here, in our place.” M