Pagani Zonda C12: One cool looking car
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Who’s the man behind the effort, and what makes his car so special? Horacio Pagani was born in Argentina and constantly sketched sports cars during his early teens. He designed and built his first F3 racer at age 20. As his reputation grew, Pagani befriended fellow countryman, and five-time F1 champion, Juan Manuel Fangio. The Maestro soon learned of Horacio’s desire to work in Modena, so he wrote a letter of introduction, and the enthusiastic young man headed straight to Italy. Lamborghini’s chief engineer, Giulio Alfieri, the mastermind behind Fangio’s world-championship Maserati 250F, quickly hired him. Pagani began experimenting with carbon fiber, intuitively recognizing the material’s possibilities. In the late ’80s, Pagani founded Modena Design, a firm specializing in carbon composites and engineering. Today, its clients include former employer Lamborghini, Ferrari, Dallara, Renault, military organizations, and others, ensuring Pagani a steady stream of income outside producing cars. During Modena Design’s nascent years, Pagani harbored a dream to pay tribute to Fangio by designing and constructing a car in his honor. When he informed his mentor of his ambition, Fangio replied, “I am a Mercedes man, so that is the engine you must use.” Horacio created Pagani Automobili srl when the running prototype was completed in the late ’90s.
The firm’s first product was the Pagani Zonda C12 that debuted in 1999. Today, the majority of Pagani’s production is composed of the more powerful Pagani Zonda C12 S. Whereas the Pagani Zonda C12 uses a 6.0L/395-hp V-12, the S’ handbuilt 7.0L V-12 comes straight from AMG and mounts longitudinally in the Pagani Zonda C12 S chassis. Those 550 horses are mated to a proprietary six-speed manual gearbox.
Pagani paid careful attention to the Pagani Zonda C12‘s curvaceous body and platform. The former is made entirely of carbon fiber, and the latter’s chrome moly steel space frames are attached to a carbon-fiber center structure via a patented system. A chrome moly steel and carbon fiber roll bar is then bolted and heat-bound to the chassis. The finished lightweight package delivers great rigidity and impressive safety; European certification was completed in a single test. The front and rear suspensions are composed of double wishbones with aluminum arms, coil springs over shocks, and an anti-roll bar. Brakes are power-assisted Brembo ventilated discs. Attractive aluminum OZ wheels are wrapped by Michelin Pilot tires. Quality assurance is beyond even Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s standards–a meaningful statement these days. The fit, finish, and innovative use of materials is inspiring. Couple that attention to detail with an exceptionally rigid, 2750-lb package, and the result is astounding. Like the exterior, the interior is decidedly old-school Modena in that it’s one man’s vision of what a supercar should be. You clamber over a wide sill to slip into a leather-covered carbon-fiber bucket seat. Head and legroom are excellent; front and side visibility are good, too, though rear visibility is compromised. What makes the Pagani Zonda C12 S truly special is the way it goes about its business.
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This machine is so fast you have to reorient your sense of speed. Yet, even when you’re hard on it, the whole experience is so refined–tranquil, even–that it feels like the world’s best virtual reality game. Hammering the throttle in second (good for 90-plus mph) and third gear (around 130 mph) drives the point home. The ride, even as you puncture triple digits, is smooth and stable, the suspension soaking up road imperfections. Only when the springs compress under hard braking do you feel how bumpy the tarmac actually is. While cornering, the ideally weighted, sensitive steering feeds in the right amount of information; turn-in is knife-sharp in its precision. Powering through tight esses causes the rear end to ever so briefly slip, then immediately tuck in if you keep the throttle planted. The tractable Mercedes V-12 is delicious. The Pagani Zonda C12S will start in second without a hiccup, yet pulls with turbine-like smoothness and ever-increasing jet-like thrust up to its 7000-rpm redline. While 100 mph comes up in a bit over 7.0 sec, the lack of drama when hurtling down Modena’s serpentine two-lane roads is eerie. Though the Pagani will leave most everything in its wake, it’s just as easy to drive at slow speeds. When we reluctantly gave the keys back to Signore Pagani, he informed us that the company looks to have U.S. homologation completed by the first quarter of next year. So, should you have a spare $350,000, order early: Max annual output is 30 cars, and at least four clients have already ordered their second Pagani.
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