an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.
This story begins with Leonardo da Vinci—a man so well-endowed with genius, creativity, and talent for invention that “everything he [did] clearly [came] from God rather than from human skill”. He has been immortalized not only for artistic works but for engineering designs so advanced that some were never realized in his lifetime, for existing technology was insufficient to produce them.
He was a man ahead of his time, and were he born today, he may have proven ahead of our time. The father of the High Renaissance viewed the pursuits of knowledge, creative expression, and technological advancement as indivisible, as indicated by the attributed quote, “Art and science can walk together, hand in hand.” da Vinci may not have been the first to believe that, but he certainly wasn’t the last, for those words are a guiding light for the modern grandmaster of carbon, Horacio Pagani.
Pagani was born in the mid-1950s in rural Argentina, endowed with such talents that geography could never have kept him out of the spotlight. Earning the attention of Juan Manuel Fangio, and eventually Lamborghini, Horacio migrated to Italy, contributed significantly to designs from the Countach Evoluzione to the Diablo, and struck out on his own to pioneer the technological limits of carbon fiber. What came of this is a line of incredibly rare vehicles that easily rank among the most striking and high-performing automobiles ever made, code-named C8, C9, and C10.
Better Than Fiction
The story of Pagani’s self-making reads like the early years of Harry Potter or Alexander Hamilton. The son of a baker, Horacio took an interest in creating model cars, studying techniques from a local professional to continuously advance his capabilities. He was already keenly, if not explicitly, aware of the entanglement between science and art as he passed the time crafting his models and reading about business or racing—especially about all-time F1 legend and Argentinian hero, Juan Manuel Fangio.
When he had built his own F2 race car by the age of 23, a car which was used by the Renault racing team, his self-built resume was enough to earn a meeting with Fangio himself; Fangio then wrote to Italy’s leading manufacturers on Pagani’s behalf. Lamborghini gave him a meeting and an opportunity—starting at the bottom before pressing his way into higher and higher-profile project teams.
Horacio was among the first to truly believe in the potential of carbon fiber as a vital component of automotive design. Just before he arrived at Lamborghini, McLaren had demonstrated the strengths of carbon fiber in the 1981 F1 season, running away from the competition and protecting driver John Watson in a horrific crash. In retrospect, the low-density, ultra-high-strength material, easily shaped to whatever form the creator pleases, was a perfect fit for the rising star. But Lamborghini wouldn’t approve the purchase of an autoclave (used to achieve repeatable, dependable curing results), and so despite his contributions to the Lamborghini image, Pagani set off on his own in 1991.
His new company, Modena Design, focused on the development of composites and carbon fiber components for automotive and aerospace customers. They eventually acquired a patent for “carbotanium”—a carbon fiber-titanium composite providing the benefits of both materials at once. It was enough to fund the design and testing of the Fangio F1 concept car that was eventually presented as the Zonda C12 at the 1999 Geneva Auto Show. If Horacio Pagani is a self-made star, Geneva 1999 was the moment that sustained fusion began, the point from which he no longer needed to earn his way. All he had to do from there was shine.
The Breath of the Andes
Fangio was more than Pagani’s idol. The first dominant driver in F1 history, with an unmatched record and achievements only equaled by Schumacher himself (if at all), Fangio is an Argentinian hero and an icon of racing lore. It was a fitting tribute that Project C8, the first self-produced Pagani supercar, would be named after him, especially given his role in securing a partnership with Mercedes that has supplied Pagani with incredible V12 engines for nearly 30 years.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, as Fangio passed in 1995, and the name of the car was changed as a mark of respect. Horacio leaned into his Argentinian roots to name the sculpted supercar, honoring the wind itself—which gave the car its form in thousands of hours of wind tunnel testing—by christening it the Pagani Zonda.
The Zonda wind is a warm, dry mountain exhalation that can achieve speeds over 150 mph during its descent from epic Andes peaks, from noontime to midnight throughout the winter months. The vehicle that bears its name was sculpted in wind tunnels to refine a concept inspired by a feminine silhouette and jet aircraft. With a driving experience meant to evoke 1960s-80s race cars, its V12 engine growls from a quadruple exhaust arrangement right in the middle of the rear fascia—a feature now iconic to Pagani design language.
More than a pure sports car (despite the extensive use of carbon fiber and a focus on handling capability), the interior is as unique and exotic as the exterior. Drawing inspiration from various time periods, no less effort was expended in crafting the interior with as much quality as the mechanics—or as much meaning as the exterior. Equal parts visionary artist and exacting engineer, Horacio ensured that even those aspects that the owner is unlikely to ever see, touch, or experience are made beautifully, constructed well, and installed in service of a common goal.
The result was almost more of a platform than a production model, for a vehicle that was almost more art than auto. By 2019, roughly 140 Zondas had been produced, in upwards of 46 distinct variants (averaging barely 7 units per year and fewer than 3 units per variant). Long before the last Zonda rolled out, however, the Pagani legend had been firmly established.
What Lurks Beyond the Cosmic Curtain
No sooner had the Zonda launched than Horacio turned his gaze to the future, asking himself what should follow this brilliant incarnation of the wind in automotive form. The answer was the “maximum expression of technology and the automotive world”—taking everything the Zonda was, reinventing it as something new, and taking it to the absolute limits of what was feasible.
Naturally, the C9 project would be named Huayra, after Huayra Tata—an Andean god of the wind, the entity pulling the levers to control that most powerful and mystifying force of nature. It takes the relatively raw Zonda and turns everything up to 11. Power output is nearly doubled, and the turbo induction noise is truly reminiscent of a jet aircraft—a major leap from the classic race car feel of the Zonda. One may also observe in the styling that the design language hasn’t changed, but it has been significantly refined, with every line carved as if by a million years in the wind tunnel.
World-class engineering doesn’t stop there. The Huayra is the first to feature a carbotanium tub; regarding this cutting-edge composite, Horacio said, “With the Carbo-TriaxHP52 used on the Huayra Roadster we have, for example, increased flexing and torsional stiffness of 52% weight for weight.” Indeed, in their design philosophy, mass is a greater target for improvements than anything else; Pagani indicated that his customers’ first questions are usually about weight—and the decisions made and methods employed to keep vehicles well under 3000 lbs.
In a similar fashion to the Zonda, at least 21 variants of the Huayra have been produced, to a total 303-or-so units (that’s a whopping 30 cars per year and an average of 15 per variant). A special one is the Huayra BC, dedicated to Pagani’s first customer: Benny Caiola, a man Horacio described as relentlessly generous and supremely capable of making one feel at ease—someone he appreciated and admired. What may be even more special is the customer-propelled manner in which the Huayra BC Roadster was developed. Pagani checked the financial records and found several deposits for the vehicle, which he had no intention of developing, so large that they proved to match the final price of the car.
The variant lists include the track laboratory Imola variant, and the 60’s-inspired Codalunga, elongated to follow streamlines like Le Mans racers of old. Think McLaren Speedtail, but painstakingly simplified so the net effect was a subtraction from the vehicle instead of an addition, achieving a mass of 2822 lbs despite adding more than 4 feet to the overall length of the base Huayra. The C9 project saw the Pagani brand expand under the power of its own inertia, to tremendous renown and success, allowing for a radically broad range of variants to be developed—and in traditional Pagani fashion, the R&D efforts expended to create them served the double purpose of informing and refining the upcoming C10 project.
Horacio Pagani has made a career out of converting his visions to reality in a way that few “fine” artists could claim. Far from having anything left to prove after the resounding success of the Zonda and Huayra, Pagani was freed to define his terms for the C10 project—the result is the recently-revealed 2023 Pagani Utopia.
The name “Utopia” is a departure from the breeze-oriented theme that Pagani had been running with. It’s a word that was first coined in 1516—just a few years before the passing of da Vinci. It is credited to one Sir Thomas More, a pun constructed from Greek suffixes that sounded like “a good place” but literally translated to “no place”. This “no place” word has since been extensively used to describe a society too perfect to exist—a civilization devoid of conflict, compromise, or struggle, where more or less all resources and people are equal.
What were the terms that Pagani set, then, which made a vehicle deserving of this name? Suppose the Zonda was meant to be a seductive reimagining of a classic race car, and the Huayra was as advanced as technology could make it. What would underpin the decisions made at every turn in the development of the Utopia? The answer was familiar to many sports car fanatics and almost predictable: “simplicity, lightness, and the pleasure of driving.”
The mantra of “simplify, then add lightness”—famously credited to the Lotus brand—plays a role in almost any sportscar story, but the pleasure of driving is a bit nuanced here. It is this element that earns the Utopia a claim to its name. It is normal for sports cars to be stiff and spartan, with harsh rides, temperamental drivetrains, and utilitarian interiors. All may be sacrificed in pursuit of the mighty lap time! But not for Project C10.
Horacio views the sportscar as something that is supposed to be your friend—you want to have fun and unwind, not engage in a punishing power struggle with a stripped-down tin can. Let stress stay outside, Pagani says; come for a ride and enjoy world-class performance in comfort. In an interview, he claimed that many of their track-focused designs end up being even more comfortable than the base versions, because of the extensive efforts made to ensure that performance-enhancing elements detracted nothing from ride comfort!
Almost entirely devoid of digital displays, the interior is covered in stunning analog gauges, rich, supple leather, and machined solid aluminum. It is every bit as much of an artistic and engineering showcase as the exterior, if not more so.
As Rolls Royce and Bentley stretch the limits of technology to provide the most thoroughly posh and bespoke interiors possible, so too does Pagani ensure that simply sitting in the Utopia in traffic is a special experience. The centerpiece is undoubtedly the shifter for the optional seven-speed manual gearbox—it’s a fully-exposed masterpiece of minimalist sculpture, with the absence of a boot or enclosure below the gates connecting drivers even more closely to the car.
Timeless Principles Lead to Timeless Design
The Utopia is only the latest from Pagani, far from the last. The theme of low volume and long development cycles seems destined to continue, because it’s working—and it’s working because it’s timeless. These are not mere sports cars or even supercars—Pagani makes hypercars, so labeled because of the painstaking manner in which each is designed and built, and because of their sheer rarity and uniqueness.
Horacio Pagani is a distinctive artist and accomplished engineer who has earned his renown through a relentless dedication to the integration of science with his art—and of creative beauty with his engineering. Channeling the philosophy of da Vinci, he continuously produced, studied, refined, and produced anew until he was recognized as one of the greatest automotive designers in the world. Now he’s just having fun, driven not to be the quickest or the fastest, but to be the lightest and most technically capable, infusing beauty and purpose into every ounce of his designs. He now strongly urges drivers to use caution and finds the pursuit of sheer speed to be a tunnel-visioned endeavor.
While a Bugatti may be the fastest because of what’s under the hood, I don’t think the powertrain really matters for a Pagani. Any power plant could show us the absolute limits of its potential if transplanted to the middle of a Zonda, Huayra, or Utopia, because what makes a Pagani so special is not the powertrain itself. It is something relentlessly woven into every fiber of its being by the carbon grandmaster himself—the tenaciously sanctified matrimony of art and engineering.