Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Automotive history is littered with manufacturers who
have attempted to rival Ferrari by producing high performance
GT's and spectacular supercars. Probably the most successful
upstart has been Lamborghini who have eclipsed the prancing
horse ever since the Miura was launched back in 1966.
However, prior to the arrival of Audi as new owners in
1998, Lamborghini's past had been blighted with financial
insecurities that continually hampered its expansion.
They survived though and the future at Sant' Agata looks
bright once again, proving there is a market out there.
To find perhaps the most accomplished supercar today though,
you don't have to visit Ferrari or Lamborghini as located
in the world's most famous motoring city exists Pagani
Automobili, a subsidiary of Modena Design.
Under the control of Horacio Pagani, a composite and dynamics
specialist, Pagani's curriculum vitae is impressive with
machines like the fabled Lamborghini Countach Evoluzione
to his credit.
Pagani Automobili's first model is the
Zonda, an exquisite piece of automotive engineering available
in either Berlinetta or Roadster configurations, the former
having been developed through several incarnations.
First came the six-litre 390bhp C12 in 1999, this being
replaced by a 550bhp C12 S in 2000. The seven-litre S
was in in turn superceded by an S7.3 in 2002, a Roadster
variant being launched in 2003. Very highly rated yet
little known outside of Europe, the Zonda S won Evo magazine's
2001 Car of the Year Award, the first time in three years
that a Porsche had been beaten to the title.
Most notably finishing ahead of Lamborghini's Murcielago,
the Zonda has developed a reputation for itself as the
best supercar since McLaren's F1 - Ferrari Enzo included.
Having already mentioned the composites expertise to be
found within the Pagani works, it was unsurprising to
find an advanced carbonfibre tub coupled to tubular steel
sub-frames supporting the suspension
and Mercedes engine.
Fabricated from lightweight chrome molybdenum, the sub-frames
carried double wishbone suspension
with aluminium arms,
helicoidal springs and hydraulic dampers. Brembo brakes
featured four-piston calipers, there was no ABS but the
rack and pinion steering
did get power-assistance.
All Zonda's were completed to individual customers
tastes and not only did this extend to colours, but
also the suspension
set-up. The original C12 ran a
Mercedes V12, the German motor being mid longitudinally-mounted
for perfect weight distribution. Designated Type M120
E 60, displacement of this 48-valave unit was 5987cc,
390bhp having been developed at 5200rpm. Some early
C12's were completed with a twin-plate AP clutch and
ZF five-speed gearbox but Pagani quickly developed
a scratch-built six-speed unit of their own and apparatently
retro-fitted it to every ZF-equipped C12.
Zero To 60 In 4.2 Seconds
Despite having just 390bhp, 0-60 took 4.2 seconds while
a top speed approaching 190mph was possible. Fabricated
entirely from carbonfibre, the C12's bodywork
many superb details together with a taught and elegant
silhouette. At the front was a wraparound chin spoiler,
vents divided by a central splitter and
carbon-surround light pods. Although unfortunate retro
details regularly dominate the agenda of todays designers,
it was refreshing to find the Zonda adorned only by old-school
leather retaining straps for the front and rear bodywork.
With a distinctive although not unattractive hump-backed
appearance, the side profile was also interesting for
its heavily sculpted side skirts whose lines were dictated
by the significant attention paid to underbody aerodynamics
The rear deck was home to smooth rear fenders, engine
intake lourves and a bi-mounted adjustable rear wing that
reinforced the sports prototype-like appearance. At the
back, a meshed grille housed a circular chrome rim filled
with four chrome-tipped exhaust
pipes and was flanked
by circular light clusters mounted one above the other.
The high standard of engineering and fastidious attention
detail continued inside although the retro cowling of
the instrument binnacle, air-conditioning
vents, the centre
console and the extensive alloy trimmings could be a little
overbearing when matched with certain shades. After conducting
an extensive development programme in great secrecy, the
Zonda was a surprise debutante at the Geneva Salon in
Production was underway by the autumn and the first journalists
to drive the C12 heaped praise on it, not least for the
superb chassis dynamics, exploitable performance and striking
appearance. Production continued until late 2000 when
the six-litre C12 was discontinued in favour of the seven-litre
C12 S, the Zonda having introduced a new level of exclusivity
far removed from modern Ferrari's.