At Lamborghini, tradition has it that the designer of a special edition signs the car’s hood upon its completion. However, in 1987 when a young Horacio Pagani finished the Countach Evoluzione, built to celebrate Lamborghini’s 25th anniversary, he was not allowed to sign it as an “Argentine will never sign a Lamborghini.”
This was only one of Horacio Pagani’s many setbacks in his drive towards success. From growing up in rural Argentina to getting turned down numerous times by names like Ferrari and Lamborghini, the odds of Pagani building an Italian car empire were definitely not high ones.
Yet Pagani proved that passion, hard work, and luck can defy the greatest of odds. Heavy doses of headstrong work combined with a bit of good fortune and natural talent drove Pagani to the success that is his namesake and all of its glorious renditions: the Pagani Zonda, Huayra and likely much more beauty to come.
All of this started in the small town of Casilda, Argentina.
Born to an artist and a baker, Horacio Pagani had no access to formal mechanical training. He did, however, manage to get training a bit more informally. He spent his childhood tinkering with and rebuilding the neighbourhood go-karts and motorbikes while also playing around with fibreglass. You know, your typical childhood toys.
At age 21 he took to his driveway to begin designing a Limitada Santafesina (think a single-seater, rear-engine racecar bred in the Argentine province of Santa Fe). Eventually, he had a fully finished racecar waiting in his driveway, completely ready except for one thing: an engine.
Because Horacio Pagani had no experience with engine design, he decided to try his luck at the Renault Argentina HQ. The team at Renault was so impressed with the amateur who had somehow built a high-quality vehicle that they not only gave him an engine but sponsored his racing team for the season. Though the season was a bit of a wash, the fact that the 21-year-old was running an entire race team made his name more well-known. It also spurred him to dream a little bigger. His new goal: return to his parents’ homeland of Italy to work for sportscar gods like Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo.
Through the racing world, Pagani had connections that put him in contact with Formula 1 legend Juan Manuel Fangio. Upon meeting Pagani, Fangio was eager to help out a fellow Argentine so he wrote five letters of recommendation, three addressed to executives within Pagani’s desired Italian trio.
All requests came back fruitless except for one: Lamborghini.
After receiving a verbal agreement from Lamborghini to work as a designer on a new project, Pagani got a letter from Lamborghini. His project had been cancelled. His presence was no longer needed and the job was no longer in existence.
So he went to Italy anyway.
Horacio Pagani did what’s easier said than done: he didn’t take no for an answer. He went to Lamborghini day after day and asked repeatedly for a job of any sort until, eventually, a no turned into a measly yes. Pagani was given a job working in the body shop.
After a few years spent toiling in the body shop, Pagani was given a position in the composite materials department. It’s here that he began playing around with something even stronger and lighter than his beloved fibreglass: carbon fibre.
Then came 1988, the year Lamborghini wanted to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Pagani’s hard work in the composite materials department had been noticed and he was given the honour of designing the special edition Countach. Unfortunately, this is the aforementioned moment when Pagani was not given the honour of signing his designed vehicle.
Undeterred by this setback, Pagani tried his best to convince Lamborghini to invest in a carbon fibre autoclave. He was told that Ferrari does not use one so Lamborghini was not about to start either.
Once again, Horacio Pagani didn’t exactly take no for an answer. He recognized that carbon fibre is the car-building material of the future so he went to the bank and got a loan of half a million dollars to buy one himself. He put his new autoclave to work making a newer, lighter version of the Countach, which weighed over a thousand pounds less than the original production run. However, Lamborghini deemed the project too expensive to maintain and put him back to work making cars out of traditional composite materials. It’s then that Pagani realized he was never going to get to design cars the way he wanted to whilst working at Lamborghini.
Therefore, in 1991 Pagani took his autoclave and left Lamborghini for good. He began making parts for the Ferrari F1 team and Aprilia motorbikes, building himself a reputation as one of the best carbon fibre guys around, rivalled solely by McLaren and NASA.
A year later Pagani started designing his own dream machine before running into the same problem he had back in Argentina: he needed an engine. Fangio again helped him out by putting him in touch with Mercedes who provided a piston heavy, powerful V12.
And thus, after seven years of designs and prototypes, the Zonda C12 was born. Everyone at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show was blown away. Somehow, a name that was relatively unknown in the Italian sportscar world had created a machine with 450 horsepower capable of going 0-60mph (97km/h) in under 4 seconds.
One year later, Horacio Pagani went back to the Geneva Motor Show with the Zonda S. Though returning with a new model only a year later was atypical, Pagani wanted to show investors and critics that the Pagani brand wasn’t just a flash in the pan. The Zonda S had a bigger 7-litre engine and a multitude of technical improvements. From that point up until 2011, every Pagani produced was an improved Zonda: the F, F roadster, R, Cinque, Cinque Roadster version, and the Tricolore.
All along Pagani had quoted Da Vinci to be his greatest influence. Inspired by the way Da Vinci encouraged mixing beautiful art and great engineering, Pagani released the Zonda Huayra, designed to look as if it had been sculpted by the wind. The Huayra had completely new active aerodynamic qualities never before seen on cars. With winglets capable of engaging differently to balance traction and speeds of 238 mph (383km/h), the Huayra turned heads.
It still does. Premiered at 2011 Geneva motor show, Pagani announced they would only make 100 Huayras with a price tag of 1.4 million USD. Similarly to the way he created evolving versions of the Zonda, each with their own unique qualities and allure, Pagani created the Huayra BC. Named after his late friend and first customer Benny Ciaola, only twenty of the track-focused models were produced.
Then came the Huayra Roadster, unveiled at Geneva in 2017.
All of this spectacular evolution begs the question: what’s next for the legend who worked so hard to do what Da Vinci talked about back in the Renaissance era: combine beautiful art with spectacular engineering?