The mind-blowing engineering and exquisite craftsmanship of the US$1.4-million Huayra makes it the world’s most extreme supercar
AUTODROMO MODENA, ITALY — It’s hard to know where to begin. Do I start with some pithy comment detailing Horacio Pagani’s melding of art and aerospace technology, the Argentine-born Italian’s blend of the visual and the mechanical certainly automobiledom’s most imaginative? Do I run with the hyperbole of a giant 6.0-litre Mercedes V12, twice turbocharged to 730 horsepower, which only has to propel 1,350 kilograms, the resulting acceleration more than a match for the hyper-hybrids — thePorsche 918, McLaren P1, etc. — that are all the rage these days? Or do I point out that, given the enormous effort and uncompromising attention to detail — every Huayra requires some 80,000 euros worth of titanium bolts to assemble, every single one with Mr. Pagani’s signature etched on them — that it’s little wonder his eponymous creation costs US$1.4-million?
A day after flogging the mondo-horsepower beast around the Autodromo Modena, I still don’t know if it’s jangled nerves — 50 laps of continually trying to brake from full throttle in a supercar will do that to you — that is the takeaway from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or is it complete admiration for a passion so consuming that it propelled an impoverished engineer (Mr. Pagani and his wife arrived in Italy some three decades ago with nothing more than two bicycles and a tent) to create what are possibly the most phantasmagorical supercars on the planet? This much I do know: I am in awe of both man and machine.
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Consider this: in a building not much larger than some mom-and-pop auto restoration shops, Mr. Pagani has developed a material he calls “carbotanium,” essentially the melding of lightweight titanium with even lighter-weight carbon fibre. With titanium filament woven into the very fibres of the carbon weave, this latest “unobtanium” offers all the strength of carbon fibre with at least some of the malleability of metal, all while retaining carbon’s incredibly light weight (again, the Huayra, despite being luxurious enough to rival a Bugatti, weighs but a ton-and-a-half). So strong is carbotanium that, fortified with extra layers of pure carbon and Kevlar, the fuel tank is said to be bulletproof.
Not impressed yet? Well, how about the fact the M158 6.0L twin-turbo V12 that AMG supplies to Pagani is the only engine Mercedes-Benz sells to an outside supplier? Or the fact that one of the reasons Mercedes doesn’t build a supercar is that, a) it has a presence in that field by its association with Pagani, and b) the German giant is not completely convinced it could build a significantly better supercar. Or, how about this? One of the reasons the Pagani/Mercedes relationship is so strong is that it was forged by the personal request of Juan Manuel Fangio, fellow Argentinean and arguably the greatest Formula One champion of all time.
OK, so you don’t give a flying you-know-what about heritage and technology. You’re a nouveau riche dilettante and the primary reason for owning an extra-super-duper supercar is to lord your wanton riches over the undeserving masses. Well, there’s absolutely no car better in the world than a Pagani. Exterior styling is, in a word, extreme. Imagine a Le Mans prototype car married to a McLaren P1, all wrapped up with an Italian flair that outshines, well, even other Italian flairs.
And that’s just the outside. The interior of a Pagani is — there is simply no other word for it — art. I’m not talking automobile art, as in for a car this thing is beautiful and, holding our noses, we’ll deign to put it in the Guggenheim. No, the inside of a Huayra is undeniably art by any standard. The centre console is worthy of any museum in the world and the transmission selector would not be out of place in a luxury yacht. Mr. Pagani also designs high-end stereo systems — they make Bang & Olufsen look like some house-brand boom box.
OK, so you’re not some attention-seeking dilettante or anorak-wearing technocrat. You’re a true sports car driver. Exclusivity and style are all well and good — you’re not above a little adoration, per se — but it’s all wasted if it’s not backed up with some serious supercar bona fides. If it doesn’t get around a racetrack tout de suite and sail along a high-speed autobahn with anvil-like stability, all that carbotanium and machined aluminum is nothing but the proverbial tart’s handbag.
Well, again, consider this: The Huayra is currently — it may yet be beaten by the extra 170 hp emanating from the McLaren P1, or Porsche’s 918 — the Stig’s fastest ride around Top Gear’s Dunsfold, England, test circuit. Yes, 730 hp — and 738 pound-feet of torque — make a car quick in a straight line. Yet, if there were nothing to Mr. Pagani’s engineering novelties, the Huayra would be nothing more than another over-priced, over-powered dragster.
Instead, I flung the big supercar around a track more suited to lithe 600-cc superbikes — eight diabolical decreasing-radius hairpins in less than two kilometres — and it stuck to the pavement as though it were a 250-cc two-stroke go-kart. Supercars — especially ones with hulking Mercedes V12s amidships — are not supposed to be able to trail-brake into 180-degree arcs with the ease of a Lotus. But the Pagani did exactly that, lap after lap, never once threatening to understeer its Pirelli PZero radials or fade the massive carbon ceramic brakes adorning all four wheels.
Meanwhile, that honking V12 is punching the Huayra forward like a missile on a mission. Never mind the Pagani’s time of 3.2 seconds to 100 kilometres an hour is an eye blink behind the 918; the Porsche has the traction benefits of powering all four tires while it’s just the Huayra’s 335/30ZR20 rear Pirellis handling its 738 pound-feet of torque. From the cabin, however, the Huayra’s turn of speed can be a little deceiving. Seven hundred and thirty horsepower or not, the twin-turbo V12 redlines at 6,000 rpm, so there’s none of the frenetic blare, like a high-revving Ferrari, to alert you that you’re making like a rocket booster.
Then, you arrive at the end of the Autodromo’s long back straight and you suddenly realize that, OMG-carbon-ceramic-brakes-don’t-fail-me-now, the Pagani is molto rapidaindeed, even by supercar status. Then those flaps built into the front hood (there are two more in the rear) you were wondering about flip up and, before you can utter a quick “Cool, high-speed air brakes,” you’re going so slow that you have to reinvigorate the throttle. So, every lap thereafter, you push the Huayra deeper into the corner, throwing out the anchors ever later, only to conclude that, a) wow, air brakes really do work, and b) you obviously have neither the cojones nor the skill of a Lewis Hamilton (who, by the way, owns a Zonda, the Huayra’s predecessor) to be pushing the Pagani anywhere near its limits. Credit yet another triumph for machine over man, at least my own moderately talented self.
The Pagani, however, is not without fault. For instance, one could complain that, from inside the cabin, at least, the engine music is not dramatic enough. The immediate solution is to do what I did and simply roll down the windows. Then you can enjoy the Huayra’s Bugatti-like intake bellow and omnipresent turbocharger whoosh to you heart’s content. Those for whom the lure of supercar is as much aural as visual should pray Pagani reveals a Cabrio version at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show as promised.
Also, the carbon ceramic brakes that do such a good job on the race track can feel more than a little wooden at city speeds, requiring an overly firm foot when slowing for a traffic light. Mr. Pagani has already spec’d a different brake booster, which should be standard by the time the Huayra arrives in this country.
Not immediately solvable is that, in the interest of light weight (the Xtrac seven-speed gearbox weighs but 96 kilograms), there is but a single clutch to the Huayra’s paddleshift manumatic. That means low-speed comportment — I’m talking below 20 km/h here — can be more than a little herky-jerky. If looking for a reason to buy a McLaren or Ferrari instead, this would be your most expedient excuse.
Of course, one doesn’t buy $1.4-million supercars to poodle around town like a prat. No, if you’re one of the 40 or so lucky souls who will take delivery of a Huayra next year, you should be doing so because you want a car that combines the passion of Enzo Ferrari, the technical innovation of Ferdinand Porsche and the imagination of Picasso. Only one car can do all three simultaneously and it’s built in a small suburban industrial complex just outside of Modena.
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