Drawing life-long inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci, Horacio Pagani is a modern-day polymath

My Interview with Horacio Pagani was defined by the questions not asked or answered and, in pure journalistic terms, it was an abject failure. I left with my notebook stuffed with silent questions on the future of performance cars, where to next for his company, when and how the tiny Italian company might embrace hybridisation or electrification, and how autonomous cars will shape our driving lives. You name the obvious question and I do not have Horacio Pagani’s thoughts on it.

In Australia to launch an official dealership for his eponymous brand, an obvious question to Mr Pagani might have been why Australia and why now. Or perhaps I could have asked for his take on the booming Australian upper-luxury and performance car market. Or how many sales one might expect of the Pagani Huayra Roadster (we understand that two have already been sold, each with a starting price of $5.5 million). More broadly, I might have asked what might replace the Huayra as production of the coupe draws to a close in the coming weeks, and the 100-unit run of the Roadster has moved into its second half?

However, from Mr Pagani’s opening words, these questions seemed small and trivial and beneath a mind of such clarity and towering intelligence. Instead, for the first 15 minutes of our allotted hour, Mr Pagani spoke of art and artists, and the influence on his own life as a designer, but also as a man.

It was immediately obvious that Pagani is comfortable in his own skin. Not arrogant in the slightest, but also not looking over his shoulder as to what others are doing or thinking. He spoke openly and with admiration of other automotive brands and particular models. He’s a well-known car enthusiast and collector who isn’t blinkered by his own company.

“Since I was very young,” began Mr Pagani, “as a boy in Argentina, I was always intrigued by the idea and pursuit of creating a sports car. Something beautiful but also functional.”

“But even before the car,” said Pagani, explaining his desire to create a car of artistic quality and engineering functionality, “I have always been a worshipper of Leonardo da Vinci. Since I was 13 years old I have studied his philosophies, his concepts and his values.

“I admire and have been inspired by Michelangelo and other great artists from the Italian Renaissance, but Leonardo is the only one who has this knowledge. He had 360-degrees of knowledge on engineering, physics, health, design, art. He was complete.

“Next year on the second of May is the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci. I have been invited to lecture on da Vinci by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism. I have been studying Leonardo for 50 years. I would like to travel the world to bring this message of Leonardo da Vinci.

“I have been so inspired by his work and his concepts. I believe that art and science should work hand in hand and everything we do at Pagani should transfer some of these concepts to our creations.”

These might sound like lofty, perhaps naive ambitions, but like da Vinci, Horacio Pagani has always pushed the current ideas on engineering possibility to breaking point. Pagani the man and company are often overlooked for the pioneering role they played in introducing carbonfibre to production road cars. While working at Lamborghini in the 1980s (having started his automotive career at Renault in Argentina), Pagani tried to persuade the company to invest in an autoclave so that it could be at the forefront of the emerging technology. Despite the success of the carbon-bodied Countach Evoluzione concept that Pagani built to demonstrate the strength and lightweight of carbonfibre, the perpetually cash-strapped Lamborghini refused. Instead, Pagani purchased his own autoclave in late 1987 which he used to experiment with carbonfibre for the next four years until he left Lamborghini to form his design consultancy firm, Modena Design.

“I believe that I share a curiosity with Leonardo,” explained Mr Pagani of this bold decision. “We both have been pushed to explore more and to ask more. Ask questions about everything from different angles, form different points of view.”
Beyond the history of the Renaissance, Mr Pagani has a fantastic recall of his early interactions with evo, and beyond Tobias Moers (Mercedes-AMG CEO) and Andreas Preuninger (head of Porsche’s GT department) I’ve not met an automotive executive who was genuinely interested in my side of the fence.

“You know, Pagani and evo are the same age,” said Pagani of the shared timeline of the two companies. “This year is 20 years of the formation of Pagani and next year is 20 years of Zonda. It was interesting when evo first started. It was the first magazine to promote passion and you could read the enthusiasm. Richard Meaden, Harry Metcalfe, John Barker, they wanted everybody to understand their experience. And they were the first to understand the passion at Pagani. Media ignored Pagani at first. Bugatti had collapsed in Italy and no one thought we could survive. Perhaps evo recognised the challenges of a new company.

“It is very challenging to establish a brand like Pagani and difficult to maintain it and meet the expectations of the people who buy our cars. I want the company to remain stable and continue for many years to come.

“When I joined Lamborghini in 1983, the company had already had three different owners. When I joined, the company was under control of the court as it had bankrupted. This was in the first 20 years of the company. With Pagani, now we are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year and we have always been under one owner.

“Just because every time we design a new car it is quickly sold out doesn’t mean there are no challenges. We are a small company and we have to manage our customers as they pay so much money but may have to wait for a long time to take their car.”

Pagani has moved from its original premises where evo first met Horacio and his Zonda to a larger one just down the road in Modena. The company is now capable of building 50-55 cars per year and every one is sold before it begins the build process. Pagani remains a family-owned company with 90 per cent owned by Mr Pagani and his wife.

“With a full order book I don’t believe I can just sit down. I feel more and more responsibility on my shoulders to maintain the expectations of these clients. They are very wealthy, very picky and very sophisticated, but they are from different cultures and want and require different things.

“Our main mission in these 20 years has been to keep the clients happy, to provide a good service to them and to keep them loyal. But also to get them to understand what we are trying to do with our brand. I spend a lot of time thinking about this.”

But not all of Mr Pagani’s thoughts are dedicated to the very-high-net-worth individuals who purchase his creations, “It is important, also, to keep my company happy, the people who work for Pagani. This is very important to me. Like the clients, these are my family.”

The success of the family business does allow Mr Pagani to indulge in his passion for fast cars, “At my age [62], it is okay to spend some money on little bonbons. I might buy a Ferrari or Porsche or another sports car.”

Pagani is a fan of the current Ferrari line-up and owns an F12tdf, but it’s Porsche that speaks to his inner engineer, “I love Ferrari, the history, the passion. It is iconic. But Porsche is the best with technology. It is the reference point.”
True to his word, Pagani used his personal Porsche 918 Spyder as an engineering and dynamic benchmark for the Huayra BC, even testing them side-by-side at Monza. The next bonbon on Mr Pagani’s shopping list is the Mercedes-AMG Project One, “I like that Mercedes is building a car with Formula One technology. That is incredible. I will buy one.”

Despite his enthusiasm for the new Mercedes hypercar, Mr Pagani believes that the market is crowded and diluted, ‘‘Compared to 20 years ago when Pagani first started, the supercar market is very crowded. Yes, the market has increased and the cars are selling, but the offer is less. The exclusivity is less.

“Twenty years ago, the large manufacturers, Ferrari and Porsche, would build a hypercar or extreme car with a cycle of eight or 10 years, every decade. Cars such as the Porsche 959, Carrera GT and 918 Spyder. Or the F40, F50, Enzo, La Ferrari from Ferrari. Now there are too many cars that say they are hypercars. There is no exclusivity.

“As a designer and an interpreter of this market, it is difficult because the offer is so much and so different. It is not very well defined. There is a bit of everything. So it is important that Pagani stays focused on what we should do and not react to others. For example, our cars are speed limited to 350km/h. The Huayra is faster and that could be a difference to other cars, but it is my family name on the car and I want my clients to be safe. I do not want anything bad to be said about my family name.

“Another difference with Pagani and others is that we comply with all emissions and safety regulations around the world. In the United States we comply with the Californian standard which is the strictest in the world. Even though we are only a small company and not backed by a big company, we build cars for each market. We build left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive. Most hypercars are left-hand drive only.”

Reflecting upon the risk of striking out alone, but also of his own early years, Mr Pagani said, “I was a very average student in school, but I eventually moved to Italy and started Pagani. I hope people see what I have done, because if you dream it you can make it. It’s all about working hard and commitment. This is my message for the future generation. But not as a car manufacturer or a designer, but as a normal person. My father was a baker, so I will be very happy if people believe they can succeed.”

Jesse Taylor