Horacio Pagani has the product of seven years' work resting in his hands: a 1:50th-scale aluminum representation of his brand-new supercar. Known in development as the C9 but now christened Huayra – a god of wind, pronounced "wirer" with a heavy Spanish accent – the new car is the replacement for the Zonda. The chunk of aluminum is much more than a paperweight, though: it is the least inconspicuous key you'll find to any car.
But then, it is just such outrageous design that that has helped lift Pagani from relative obscurity to become a brand that every enthusiast recognizes in little more than a decade. That, plus smart product placement and the fact that, in the Zonda, it delivered a world-class supercar. But the Zonda's time is over and, according to Horacio, the Huayra offers a different flavor of supercar.
The starting point is the engine. Although Pagani has maintained its alliance with Mercedes' AMG department, the naturally aspirated 7.0-liter V12 from the Zonda is no more. In its place is a twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12; forced induction makes it easier to achieve emissions regulations required for U.S. homologation (the first time a Pagani has done so) and Europe's Euro 5 standards.
If talk of emissions from one of the world's most serious supercar builders sounds a bit worrying, a few numbers will provide reassurance. Pagani will sell two versions of the Huayra: the standard engine with 700hp and 664lb-ft of torque, and the Sport with 730hp and 811lb-ft. Meanwhile, it weighs no more than the Zonda (2,976lbs dry), even though the Huayra is larger and carries more safety equipment. Although the block is shared with Mercedes' SL65 Black Series, Pagani commissioned AMG to reduce turbo lag and improve the throttle progression, resulting in new heads, pistons, manifolds and turbos.
Just how different a turbocharged Pagani feels will have to wait until another day. Today, we're restricted to seeing and hearing the Huayra as it rips around an island perched between Sardinia and Corsica for a promotional video. "Rip" being the operative word, because the turbocharged engine produces a very different engine note from the Zonda's naturally aspirated wail. At idle and with the regular exhaust (a louder sports exhaust will also be available) it is relatively discrete – bassy but not especially loud. But on boost the Huayra makes its presence abundantly clear, emitting a jet-like roar that's audible from the other side of the valley. To stand on a corner and hear it pass by, it's less immediately thrilling than the flamboyant Zonda but more obviously forceful. Horacio says he wanted the Huayra to give the feeling of a powerful airplane on takeoff. If that's the case, it certainly sounds the part.
Yet even stationary, the Huayra is mesmerizing. The body is constructed from carbon fiber and the tub of carbon-titanium, the titanium allowing the material to flex just slightly in the event of an impact rather than just shattering, but without compromising its strength. The gullwing doors, a first for Pagani, are wider and stretch lower than those on the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, improving access.
The overall body is designed to act like an aircraft wing, changing its shape to manage the airflow over it to best effect. It does so via four movable aerodynamic flaps (LEFT), one at each corner of the car, each independently and automatically operated. These not only tailor downforce as required for acceleration and braking but also work across the car to add grip during cornering. In addition, the front ride height is adjustable, not only for garage/ramp access at low speeds but also to actively manage the airflow under the car at speed. And under hard braking the ride height increases to negate dive.
Beyond the technical aspects, the Huayra has been styled to be instantly recognizable as a Pagani but, at the same time, more mature looking than the Zonda. Pagani expects Huayra buyers to be less fashion-led than those for the Zonda.
Currently, Pagani is being quite coy about the Huayra's performance, Horacio claiming that "maximum speed is not the most important thing for us," but going on to say that 230mph has been seen in testing. Zero to 62? The best Pagani has seen in cold track conditions is 3.3sec. Which, given the challenge of managing the monstrous torque through just the rear wheels, probably understates what the Huayra is capable of once underway. Helping to manage the inevitable slip is a three-stage Bosch traction control system.
In the rumor mill that has followed the Huayra's development, one unknown was what gearbox it would use. The only real known quantity was that it was unlikely to be the SL65 Black Series' 5-speed torque converter automatic. Although it's a paddle-shift system, Pagani avoided a dual-clutch gearbox, like Lamborghini preferring the lightness and drama of a single-clutch automated manual. The 7-speed unit is built for Pagani by UK race specialist XTRAC, the same company that supplied the gearbox for the Zonda-R – which in addition to proving an effective advertising tool for Pagani, was also a testbed for much of the technology used in the Huayra. In the new car, the gearbox is mounted transversely to reduce the length of the drivetrain, and is capable of skipping gears, unlike the Zonda-R's race-style sequential box.
To control the gearbox, there are both fixed-position paddles and a push-pull gear lever. Despite moving away from a traditional manual gearbox, Pagani wanted to maintain the sense of interaction with the car, so it has kept the action deliberately weighty and mechanical. And, as with he rest of the interior, it is intricately designed. Elsewhere, the center console is machined from a single block of aluminum,. There's also a touch-screen sat-nav and Bluetooth – technology you might not expect to find on a low-volume supercar. But Pagani has designed the Huayra to have a different ethos from the Zonta's: less pointy and racecar-like, more rounded. It is, despite its huge performance potential, more of a GT.
The Huayra also marks a step change for Pagani. Having started out a decade ago with a model costing $320,000, the Huayra kicks off at a million euro ($1.36m), and that's for the standard engine. If Pagani can find enough wealthy customers – and based on its experience with the Zonta, it shouldn't have much difficulty – the Huayra will double annual production and take Pagani to the U.S. and China. As if that wasn't enough to be getting on with, it also plans to start building a new, larger factory this year.
We'll be paying a visit to Pagani's corner of Modena later this year to find out how these plans are shaping up – and to prise a certain key from Horacio's hands.