A new Italian renaissance: inside the Museo Horacio Pagani.

While most Italians were off enjoying their holidays on an excruciatingly hot day in August of 2018 (as we found out the hard way by means of all the Chiuso signs on restaurants and shops), some dedicated souls still exercised their craftsmanship in Pagani’s bottega (traditional Italian workshop and retail outlet). In an otherwise industrial and run-down area outside of Modena (but not unlike Modena itself), the museum, studio, and workshop-in-one leaps out with its glass encasing and surrounded with carefully maintained patches of grass. Inside we are greeted with a palette of soft greys and browns on stone tiles, metal frames, patterned bricks, arches, and woodwork. Larger tiles in the floors encase squares laid in carbon fiber. The bottega is representative for Pagani’s philosophy, aimed at harmonizing art and science after the example of Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci (d. 1519). 

A door to the workshop area of the Museo, portraying the famous Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci signifying the harmony between art and science.

Leonardo da Vinci was a self-taught man who filled over 7,200 pages of notes with mathematical problems, flying machines, blood valves, angels, skulls, and many other observations, thoughts, and fantasies (Isaacson, 40). He is said to be a ‘Renaissance’ man, referring to the historical period characterized with a slew of developments in human thought, art, and science. Optimism in humanity’s capabilities, as creations of God, were at an all-time high (Trinkaus, xiii-xx). Da Vinci synthesized art, science, and design by questioning why things worked (Capra, 160). His Vitruvian man, the image of a man’s body in two simultaneous positions, standing within a square and arms outstretched in a circle, based on the canon of human proportions by the Roman architect Vitruvius (Notebooks, 139). He painted (the Mona Lisa comes to mind) and invented (the parachute and the helicopter among others). Da Vinci’s fascination centered on motion (Isaacson, 190). In his view, machines and humans were apparatuses designed to be moved, hence his fascination with the anatomy of the human body as a machine. As a result, he also studied the science of the winds, formulating the principles of the wind tunnel that Horacio Pagani (b. 1955) would gratefully make use of: “As it is to move the object against the motionless air […] so it is to move the air against the motionless object.” (Capra, 211). 

A view of various Zondas, including the Cinque Roadster in the front and the Zonda F behind it.

Pagani was likewise a self-taught man captivated by mechanical inventions and keen to improve upon them. Without any formal education (having dropped out of an engineering program), he enrolled in Formula 2 and built the Pagani F2 car for which he obtained an engine from Renault after convincing its Argentian executives of his design (Morelli and Pacca, 34, 40–2). Even though this racing venture did not yield his coveted success, it provided him with the determination to work for a car company.

Why yes, that is a piece of carbon fiber as part of the floor.

After emigrating to Italy with his family in the 1980s, Pagani worked for Lamborghini for a short while, after which he started his own firm, Modena Design. Work as an independent contractor came to an end when he lost out a design commission to Gandini, which proved decisive in Paganiʼs determination to pursue his dream to manufacture his own car instead centered around the extensive use of composite materials (an idea that Lamborghini had refused) in collaboration with Maurizio Ferrari and Dieter Zetsche (Mercedes) (Morelli and Pacca, 72–4). In 1999 the Zonda was presented at the Geneva Motor Show, born out of the desire to coalesce the design of feminine curves and jet-fighters with technology and engineering (Morelli and Pacca, 128). His designs did not only serve aesthetic purposes, but following the science of Da Vinci, he poured a lot of effort into the principles of aerodynamics. This original car, the C12 (named after his wife Cristina and its engine) features a Mercedes-AMG M120E60, 6-liter V12 producing 450bhp/5,400 rpm and 590nm/3,900 rpm mated with a six speed stick at a dry weight of 1,250kg. 

The Pagani F2 racecar that Pagani designed himself and for which he sourced an engine from Renault.

A tour through Pagani’s bottegamakes it abundantly clear that the cars cannot be viewed separately from the man behind them. The museum’s exhibition starts with the models he played with as a child, the sketches he produced of his dream cars, and prominently the formula 2 car that he built. Together with the available guided tour, reiterating his biographical highlights, the idea behind this museum, just like the monograph available on the marque, is the story of a self-made man who succeeded in realizing his ultimate dream. At the same time, it is a story rooted in nostalgic foundations with its adherence to Da Vinci’s philosophy and achievements and the turn toward exclusive craftsmanship embodying the Renaissance bottega

The Roadster F and the Cinque Roadster

Italy’s car industry grew quickly in the early 20th century. In 1905, there were 2,119 cars on the road and there were over forty carmakers, various chassis-makers, and over eighty coachbuilders (Paolini). Six of them operated on an industrial scale, of which Alfa (1910), Fiat (1899), and Lancia (1906) survived the US stock exchange crash in 1929. Fiat pursued the mass production of affordable cars, an industry that took off explosively after the Second World War. Between 1958 and 1974, car ownership in Italy mushroomed by 2234%. Eventually, Fiat acquired all domestic manufacturers except for Lamborghini. A failing global strategy and insufficient diversification resulted in crisis. Pagani’s somewhat coincidental approach to craftwork, shared by more companies around this time, has evidently proved successful in the face of this crisis, achieving what Morace and Lanzone have titled a third Italian renaissance: a relaunch of Italian manufacturing based on small and medium sized enterprises, enhanced craftsmanship, connected to the territory, local tradition, and culture. Craftsmanship in this respect refers to an added value in terms of quality, uniqueness, and sustainability. Pagani’s bottega, with its record volume of production in 2018 of 40 cars (for the sake of perspective, Fiat already produced some 1,300 cars per year between 1900 and 1918),is a case in point of this return to traditional Italian design and manufacture, the harmony between art and science. 

Pagani’s level of commitment to lightweight materials: a carbon fiber mirror stalk coupled with a carbon fiber mirror cap. Titanium plates and bolts are used to fasten the mirrors to the shell of the car.

At the same time, this small scale of the operation reveals the departures from Da Vinci’s inspirational foundations. Pagani are unable to make everything themselves and have to rely on Mercedes AMG for their engines and companies like Bosch to produce electronics like the Traction Control Systems and Electronic Stability Program systems. What Pagani mostly specializes in is the development and production of what you see from the outside and experience on the inside: innovative luxury. 

Pagani C12, chassis no. 2, nicknamed ‘La Nonna’ (the grandmother).

A relatively short walk through the rectangular exhibition highlights Zonda no. 2, nicknamed ‘La Nonna’ (the grandmother). This was the test bed for the development of new versions and accessories in the Zonda family. No. 1 was used for type-approval crash tests, and subsequently, after replacing the destroyed front semi-frame, used for experiments to produce the Roadster version (Morelli and Pacca, 119). La Nonna was retired to the museum with over 550,000 kilometers on its odometer. Beyond La Nonna, most other Zonda models are present: the S 7.3 (2002, featuring yet another increase in displacement at 7.3 liters, a redesigned rear boot curve, ABS, and TCT); the Roadster (2003, with a removable roof which could be folded under the front bonnet and a redesigned chassis); the Zonda F (2005, redesigned structural, aerodynamic, and body elements, new exhaust and intake, extra spoilers, and weight reduced by 50kg); the F Roadster (2006); the R (2010, race version); and the Cinque Roadster (2010, the most extreme road-legal Zonda with a limited production of 5 coupés and 5 roadsters, based on the R and F, 678 bhp at 1210kg); as well as one newer Huayra model (2011). 

The Race version of the Zonda: the R. Its engine produces 750 bhp at a dry weight of 1070kg (including a fire-suppressor, FIA seats, and a robotized gearbox). It set the Nurburgring record of 6:47. It is capable of reaching 100 km/h in 2,7 seconds.

Missing are the regular Zonda S (2000, presenting a double air spoiler, engine air ducts, front fog lights, larger displacement engine at 7 liters); the Cinque coupé (2009), the Tricolore (2011), and the Revolución (2013).

Having finished admiring these models, it was time to enter the factory, or rather, workshop. Here, sadly but understandably, no cameras were allowed. In terms of design, the workshop closely resembles the museum in terms of its warm colors, mixture of woodwork and bricks, and plentiful use of windows to let in lots of light. The top section of the walls are covered with photos of Pagani’s employees, giving the aura of a youthful IT company. Two somewhat larger areas are devoted to the finalization of assembled cars, two Huayra’s in a late stage of production were being finished, tested, and inspected. Although we were not entirely sure, we thought we were able to catch a glimpse of Horacio closely monitoring this process himself (and taking one of the cars out for a test-drive). In the largest section of the workshop itself, two Huayra’s were different stages of assembly, each under the hands of two mechanics. Surrounding these workplaces were mobile shelves with parts waiting to be used in assembly.

The latest Pagani model and Zonda successor: the Huayra.
The interior of the Huayra
A close-up of the lavish interior. The shifter is reminiscent of the open-linkage one found in the Spyker C8 Aileron. The knobs in the middle of the seat cushion are the seat’s height adjusters.

At the other end of the workshop we were shown around the areas where workers are working with carbon composite materials and their models, which, after meeting quality requirements, are sent to the production halls with the renowned autoclaves where they are baked. This is one of Pagani’s greatest achievements; the carbon parts they had on display are of a tremendously high quality and finish. During our visit, it was rather quiet and the atmosphere was one of tranquility yet it was also one of hard and serious work. For the most part, the machines are the mechanics building the cars and their tools. The Huayra is completely built to customer specification and costs at least two million euros, but can easily be optioned well above four million euros. It is a tailor made product of luxury and in this sense the epitome of what the car once symbolized: “Ultimately, the success of the car, both historically and in the present day, hinges on the fact that it is a dream machine. Cars are bought not just for mobility but also for pleasure, in order to feel fulfilled and to signify status. These consumption processes are not unique to Italy, but there is no doubt that Italian design has contributed greatly to making the car a vehicle of dreams.” (Paolini) Pagani’s marriage of art and science, modeled after Da Vinci, is the ultimate embodiment of this dream. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *