Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pagani Huayra

After 14 years as the auto industry’s House of Fabergé, Pagani Automobili has built the paltry sum of 132 cars, just shy of Ferrari’s output every two weeks. Most are the original Zonda, with just 10 of the new, U.S.-bound Huayras yet in existence. Judging from the interrogations we received while stuck behind a massive wreck on the autostrada only 10 minutes from Pagani’s Modena, Italy, headquarters, that’s not enough to sear the brand into the consciousness of the locals, who are accustomed to seeing Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati test vehicles tearing up their streets.

 Horacio Pagani’s customers—an all-hands meeting wouldn’t make a decent lunch rush at a Denny’s—don’t seem to mind the brand’s obscurity. If you can peel off an easy million for a new Huayra, which starts at 849,000 euros or, when it arrives later this year, the spot-exchange equivalent in dollars, chances are good you own a lot of stuff that Italian truck drivers have never heard of.

Pagani’s first car, the Zonda, is recalled in the headlights (top) and the rear suspension (bottom) with its forged arms and inboard coil-over shocks.
To be sure, Modena is a tough town to make a splash in. But the Huayra (pronounced WHY-ra) has the requisite assets. It’s not just that it’s flagrantly gorgeous even while dragging its belly over an Italian speed hump. Or that it is adorned with fascinating details, from its soybean-sprout mirrors to the four titanium Inconel peashooters in back. Or that the carbon fiber’s clear coat looks deep enough to do 10-meter platform dives into.

And it isn’t just the beguiling movement of the Huayra’s motorized body surfaces that constantly lift and tuck like an F-16’s flaperons with the goal of reducing body roll and stopping distances. Or the ?720-hp, 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12, the old single-cam three-valver from the S65, custom built for Pagani by Mercedes-Benz AMG and anodized to a gilded fare-thee-well to resemble the Ark of the Covenant. Or even the cockpit with its bionic-Bauhaus sculptures in cut aluminum that make the driver feel like Lucky Starr chasing the Pirates of the Asteroids.
What really makes the Huayra startling is that all of its highly cultivated (and, in some cases, efficaciously questionable) flair pulls together to make a stupendous road car. The level of lateral grip, the triple-digit stability, and the braking and steering control give this Beaux-Arts glamour boat the muscle to mix it up with the cars from Brand F and Brand L. Think Le Mans prototype with carpeting and license-plate mounts.

You feel comfortable in the Huayra. You can see out of it. Even if the gauges with their finely etched numerals aren’t easy to read in daylight, you are going fast very quickly, probing the lofty limits of the chassis’ relentless neutrality as the super-boosted Benz V-12 wheeze-bangs through each terrifying, scenery-smearing blast. This is not an exotic that is best hung on a wall—though it would nicely adorn just about any living room.

What the Pagani lacks is the feral mechanical bray that has long been the battle cry of Italy and is still available from the Lamborghini Aventador’s 8000-rpm naturally aspirated V-12. Sure, in a tunnel you’ll scare the pants off any nearby Andean highlanders by sounding like their wind god, Huayra-tata, after stepping on a tack. But for the occupants, with the car’s intake ducts making obscene sucking noises just a few inches behind the cabin, it’s like being two boogers riding in a cheetah’s nostrils.

Still, with very little formal engineering training, and, by his own account, being lousy at computers, Horacio Pagani manages to produce cars that are wholly credible even at their mesospheric price. He is first and foremost an aesthete, a car doodler as a child in Argentina who is still basically just doodling. Leonardo da Vinci is his lodestar, and stacked behind Pagani’s desk are volumes on the Renaissance master’s fusion of engineering and art.

Pagani, 57, who arrived in Italy in 1982 bearing letters of introduction from the great grand prix champion Juan Manuel ­Fangio, made his fortune in carbon fiber, first running Lamborghini’s composites shop, then as an independent contractor to the military and aerospace industries. His primary technology boast has been in reducing the ratio of resin to carbon fiber in finished pieces, taking the binder down to about 30 percent, thereby making components lighter without compromising strength.

Thus, you’d expect the Huayra to be a magnum opus in the black-blanket department, and it is. There are 15 different types of carbon fiber aboard, including $500-per-square-yard carbo-titanium, which has hair-like strands of the silvery metal woven in for extra strength. Five sheets, each only 1 mm (0.04 inch) thick, are molded together to form the walls of the central tub.

Pagani also likes to talk at length about the car’s aerodynamics, said to have been whittled down to a slippery 0.31 (flaps down) drag coefficient in a Mercedes wind tunnel. The movable ailerons at each corner come online at 50 mph, independently rising according to speed, lateral g, and steering input in order to stem lift, increase inside downforce in corners, and counteract body roll. Under braking, they flip up to max to act as air brakes.