Who says you have to be a big player to own a car company?
In Modena, Italy, the people track success by the size of the engine and the thunder of your rumble.
Modena is to Europe what Indianapolis is to the United States.
Car guys? They were born here.
Ferrari is just down the road. So is Maserati and Lamborghini. Even the local Fiat dealer used to make his own race cars, just for fun.
Modena doesn’t just mean motors, it means the spirit of driving, the road and car becoming one. Today, the dreams of designers still come to life at 100 mph around bends and dips that challenge the world’s best drivers.
But the story of Horacio Pagani, one of the world’s most inventive car designers and the creator of the Zonda supercar, began 40 years ago and a few continents away. It begins in the small, agricultural town of Casilda, Argentina, where an eight-year-old boy is turning the pages of Style Auto magazine.
What Horacio Pagani found that fateful day took him in an entirely new direction. The son, grandson and great-grandson of a family of bakers, he was supposed to learn about yeast, not the y-axis.
He could blame the Alfa.
Pagani says he still gets chills thinking about that magazine photo of the Alfa Romeo Carabo he discovered one day. The car and those many magazines he kept hidden from his parents sparked an amazing reaction in the curious boy.
At 12 he amazed the town’s children with models of supercars carved from wood or modeled in clay. Within no time he was spending many hours in his father’s garage customizing the family car.
Amazed by it all, he studied industrial design at college and learned about Leonardo DaVinci.
In 1977, just a few years out of school, he opened his own shop, making chairs, then moved on to travel trailers and by 21 he was building a single-seat race car for Formula Three, a couple of rungs below Formula One.
But his heart was in street cars.
“A fixation,” he once told Automobile magazine.
As fortune would have it, the young Horacio would become friends with legendary race car driver Juan Manuel Fangio who helped him get a job with Lamborghini in Italy.
So Pagani and his wife moved to Modena and he began working at Lamborghini, first as a third-level mechanic in the bodywork department and eventually as a consultant designer, creating molds and body parts for the Countach Evoluzione. That work allowed him to rent a small shop and create experiments, which led to more work for Lamborghini.
In 1988, he decided to go it alone, creating Pagani Composite Research, which carried out various projects, including the restyling of the Countach Anniversary model.
At the height of this collaboration, Pagani worked with the team that designed the Diablo, the Lamborghini P140 and the L30 car.
But his crowning achievement came with the Zonda.
Horacio first approached Fangio about building a supercar for the street back in 1988.
Pagani wanted to name the car after his long-time friend, and the ex-Mercedes driver agreed as long as a Mercedes-Benz engine was used. Within three years, Pagani had created Modena Design and took on several major clients like Ferrari and Renault.
Using the cash flow from his new business, Pagani began the development of his new supercar. Even with the downturn of the economy in the mid-1990’s, Pagani’s financial situation remained stable and the development on the car slowly continued.
The Zonda C12 was first introduced at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show. Pagani was so convinced of the demand for the car that it was already crash tested and ready to be produced. Within just a few months after its introduction at Geneva, Pagani already had two years worth of orders in hand.
Today, Pagani is one of a kind. He is the little company with the big engine, the creator of the Zonda C12 super car, a V12, exotic vehicle that will send every one of your five senses off the scale. Every bit as passionate as the man.
His factory, a clean, quiet and orderly place, sits in the shadow of Ferrari and Lamborghini. There is a design area, a museum and fabulous cars that roll out of its doors on a daily basis.
Order a Zonda and you also receive at no additional cost a pair of wonderful leather shoes crafted in Bologna out of the same custom leather used to cover the interior of your car. Pagani still makes his own styling sketches and presentation renderings, does blueprints and gets his hands into every bit of the project. He is chief stylist, chief engineer, chief executive and head of public relations.
It is all what the man wants.
The man who bucked the odds to create his dream. The man who still has dreams left to live.
Conventional wisdom says its impossible these days to start your own car company.
But Modena is made of dreams. And Pagani has had his.
Jason Stein is a feature writer with Wheelbase Communications. You can drop him a note on the Web at www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html. Wheelbase Communications supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.