The setting was the freshly renovated Teatro Lirico, located in Milan, a world capital of fashion and design. Here, well-heeled clients, dealers and employees had come together to witness an extraordinary event. The musical backdrop for the evening was a curated piece composed by Vincenzo Parisi and performed by the Symphonic Orchestra of the Milan Conservatory. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was yet another of the many famous Opera performances hosted by the iconic venue, inaugurated in 1779.
Yes, there was music that night on September 12. However, the main highlight was the world premiere of an all-new hypercar – the Pagani Utopia. It was the culmination of a project that celebrated the highest quality craftsmanship infused with obsessive passion from the maestro, Horacio Pagani and his dedicated team.
The elaborate setting for the Utopia’s reveal was very deliberate. At Pagani Automobili, it’s never just about the car but more about the complete experience – the people, the passion, their stories and how it all comes together. Over the years, the marque has set itself apart, carving its own niche in the hypercar segment, with the Argentina-born Horacio Pagani, at the centre of it all.
Unlike many traditional carmakers, Pagani Automobili did not start as a generational affair, handed down from one family to the next. In fact, Horacio’s father was a baker, and his mother plied her trade as an artist. Horacio Pagani was born in 1955 in Casilda, a small town nestled in the Argentinian countryside. He developed a passion for automobiles at an early age and would spend most of his free time crafting miniature models with whatever he could find. Horacio also loved reading about the big names in the supercar world – brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini. He longed to travel to Italy and fully immerse himself in the world of performance vehicles.
One day, through the pages of a Reader’s Digest magazine, Horacio crossed paths with Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the greatest minds of all time. Da Vinci opined that ‘art and science are two disciplines that must walk together hand in hand.’ That statement greatly inspired Horacio, and its influence is clearly evident in each of Pagani’s masterful automobile creations. One of his earliest projects was a Formula 2 single-seater racer, a car so exquisitely fashioned that it attracted the attention of Renault (who supplied the engine) and five-time Formula One Champion Juan Manuel Fangio.
In December 1982, Horacio and his wife set off for Italy in pursuit of his dreams. Unfortunately for the young couple, it would not be an easy adventure. The economy was suffering, and the automobile industry was not immune to the decline. After a frustrating search, Horacio eventually landed a job as a mechanic in the bodywork department of Lamborghini. He soon worked his way to the head of the Composite Material department, where he gained a healthy appreciation for the role that safety, efficiency and, most importantly, lightweight construction would play in the future of the sports car.
His time at Lamborghini was just another step in the realization of his vision. Towards the end of the ’80s, he founded Modena Design, the company that would eventually evolve into Pagani Automobili. At Modena, Horacio manufactured cutting-edge composite materials for brands like Renault, Daihatsu, Dallara and Ferrari Formula One. In his spare time, however, he was busy working on his pet project, a new hypercar that would announce his arrival on the big stage.
A grand entry
Pagani Automobili was founded in 1992, and seven years later, Horacio Pagani was finally ready to present his first hypercar showpiece to the world. The car, dubbed the Zonda C12, was revealed at the 1999 Geneva Auto Show and became an instant hit.
To be fair, that was probably the only way it could guarantee the survival of the boutique carmaker. See, the Zonda emerged at the height of the pure internal combustion powertrains, where it would go up against period hypercars from established powerhouses like Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini. It could not afford to fail – and it didn’t. The Zonda C12 was a stunning machine, combining aesthetic appeal and fluid design, just like Horacio dreamed.
It was not just about the looks, though. A partnership with Mercedes-AMG (one that’s continued to this day) ensured that the Zonda C12 was powered by one of the best engines in the industry, a Mercedes 6.0-litre naturally aspirated V12 that made 394 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
It’s not a lot by today’s standards but paired with a manual 5-speed transmission, it was certainly enough for a segment-rivalling 4.2 seconds and a top speed of around 185 mph (297 kph).
The Zonda C12 was a statement of intent by Horacio Pagani that the small Modena-based carmaker was now ready to take on the world. Pagani’s first hypercar would go on to spawn multiple variants over the years, with each one boasting refinements in design, power and performance.
Apart from the elegant design, another quality that has always defined Pagani cars is fanatical attention to detail. It underscores Horacio’s overall approach and is another influence of Da Vinci’s philosophy of art and science. Paganis are mostly hand-built, using the best materials, and every curve, notch or line represents the highest level of precision, style and detail. Horacio would not have it any other way. It’s what makes Paganis so unique.
Take the name badge on the Huayra (the Zonda’s replacement), for instance. It is milled from a solid block of aluminum and then highly polished – a process which takes 24 hours to complete. Every bolt on the car is crafted from grade-7 titanium, and each one bears an etching of the Pagani logo. All the bolts alone on the Huayra cost as much as a Porsche 911.
For Pagani, the cars are built to a standard – costs are a secondary consideration. It takes several months to make a Pagani, and it’s not unusual to find Horacio himself hovering over the cars in the factory, pointing out the tiniest imperfections for his team to address.
The detail-oriented approach is evident across all the models from the carmaker. Pagani’s newest baby, the Utopia, is a rolling work-of-art wrapped around a formidable 864-hp hand-built engine. The elegance of the sleek exterior continues on the interior. One of the highlights is the exposed shifter for the manual gearbox, which looks more at home in a first-class museum than inside a vehicle.
It perfectly complements the rest of the exquisitely detailed interior, itself finished to a standard that makes other hypercars seem shoddy by comparison. Then you have the accessories that accompany each Pagani vehicle. It’s usually a complete luggage set made from the finest-quality leather and other materials to add the cherry on top of an ownership experience unlike any other.
A timeless work of art is never mass-produced, and Horacio understands this only too well. Pagani Automobili, by design, is not a volume manufacturer. There are over twenty variants of the Pagani Zonda (most of them are special editions), and still, less than 150 units were produced in total. For the Huayra, production was capped at 100 coupes and 100 roadsters.
The Huayra BC and Huayra Roadster BC were even more limited, with a run of 20 and 40 units, respectively. According to Pagani, production of the Utopia coupe will cease after 99 units. These are the sort of numbers that underlie Pagani’s exclusivity, just enough to maintain a dignified brand presence within the rarefied world of hypercar machinery.
Horacio Pagani is undoubtedly one of the greatest automotive artists of the current era. The King of Carbon (a reference to his mastery over the use of carbon fibre) has found the ultimate expression of art and cutting-edge technology with his incredible creations. It is a combination that not only earns the brand a place among hypercar royalty but also provides a rock-solid platform to launch into the future.
With the Utopia, Pagani demonstrated his reluctance to adopt any form of electrification for his wonders-on-wheels. His reasoning is quite simple. Electric or hybrid powertrains add a lot of weight, which goes against Horacio’s core principles of lightweight construction.
This does not mean the door has been firmly shut against the prospect of an all-electric Pagani hypercar, just that it may not happen with the current EV technology. Pagani Automobili confirmed it is still looking at electric technology for its future hypercars. However, Pagani likes to take its time. There have only been three all-new models in the carmaker’s 30-year history.
With this yardstick, and considering the speed at which automotive technology evolves, the next all-new model from the Modena-based carmaker may feature electrification of some kind. Whatever happens, one thing is sure; the foundational Pagani principles of art, design and technology will always be upheld.