“My father Horacio said, ‘If you want to be part of this company, you must understand the product by working in the company as a normal person, not as the son of the owner.’ Maybe not every family company is run this way, but it is very important that we keep this humble approach,” says Christopher Pagani, who at 34 has recently assumed leadership of Pagani Automobili’s global sales and marketing. His older brother Leonardo works in product engineering. Pagani is classic Latin mythology, Horacio Pagani an automotive Odysseus of the Italian Diaspora, with sons bred from birth for ascension to the throne. Horacio is the central pillar of Pagani Automobili.
Pagani Automobili is launching its third generation hypercar, the Utopia (pronounced oooo-toe-PEEE-uh, the Italian way), which builds upon proven engineering from its immediate predecessors, the Huayra R track car and Huayra BC, which have functioned within Pagani the same way Pista and Competizione models do within Ferrari, pulling forward engineering advancements. Each generation of Pagani car—Zonda, Huayra and now Utopia—has carefully evolved the architecture and the concept of what a Pagani should be, 25 years of evolutionary mutations and bold advancements.
“We tested a lot of the materials, suspension arms, and other pieces in the Huayra R that are used in Utopia. We did the same with Zonda R, which was a track car in 2010 used to develop the 2011 Huayra. Some of the parts on the Zonda R are exactly the same on Huayra,” says Christopher.
“Utopia is a car that takes the driver back to a very analog way of driving,” says Christopher. “Now we see in the market a lot of electrification, hybrids. Utopia is completely different. We continue using a V12 engine developed in partnership with Mercedes-AMG without any form of electrification or batteries or hybrid.” Pagani’s emphasis is on engagement and sensation, not just outright clinical speed. Though with 864 horsepower and a weight just over 2800 pounds, Pagani Utopia will please the Gods of Speed.
Utopia’s engine is an evolution of the V12 first seen in the Huayra Roadster (pronounced hoooWHY-ruh, named for an Incan god). “Huayra Roadster was produced in 40 units. We took that engine for Utopia and evolved it to meet all the emissions standards worldwide,” says Christopher. “At Mercedes-AMG, we have 60 to 70 people working on Pagani projects. The engine is fully developed by AMG, but all the specifics of the engine are defined by us,” says Christopher.
“After 20 years of work, AMG gave us permission to call the engine Pagani V12, the first time AMG and Mercedes-Benz have done this for a company not owned by Mercedes-Benz,” says Christopher. “The engine in the Zonda [named for the winds of the Andes] was an existing powertrain used in other AMG and Mercedes cars. It was upgraded from 6 liters to 7.3 liters for Zonda. But starting with Huayra, our second-generation car, the AMG engine was dedicated to Pagani,” says Christopher.
“Mercedes-AMG can provide an engine that is fully compliant with emissions, even in California. Mercedes trusted my father with the first engine in the 1990s. We are very proud of this partnership,” says Christopher. Mercedes-AMG confers credibility and excellence that Pagani could not achieve on its own without decades of world championships, Le Mans victories and millions of miles logged on tens of thousands of production cars. This collaboration brings parity with other supercar makers and is the second mighty pillar of Pagani mythology.
“We do not go for crazy amounts of horsepower. We have 864,” says Christopher, sincerely and without the least hint of wry humor, and perhaps justifiably because battery-electric hypercars like the Rimac Nevera have over 1900 electric horsepower, and the Ferrari SF90 Stradale’s hybrid gas-electric 4-wheel drive powertrain has just short of 1000 horsepower, though Stradale also weighs about 600 pounds more.
“We have very light weight—less than 1300 kilos.” Utopia weighs 2822 pounds, roughly equivalent to the McLaren 765 Longtail (2952 lbs. topped off with fluids). Depending on driver and passenger, and the amount of fuel on board, each horsepower is pulling little more than 3.25 pounds. In current German fashion, there’s virtually no turbo lag, delivering a mountain of torque from very low revs, in this case 811 lb.-ft. between 2800 and 5900 rpm, plenty enough to light your hair on fire thrusting into triple-digits. All of it accomplished with singing pistons, and no electric motors attached to the gearbox or sitting in the nose powering the front wheels and adding weight.
Utopia is in some regards a 1980s purist rear-drive supercar built with the finest German and Italian technology of 2022. The Porsche 959 and then the Acura NSX sent supercars down a highly technological path in the 1980s and early ‘90s. In some regards, Pagani represents the path not taken—more analogue, less electronic, less digital— and that helps it stand apart from others on that Big Supercar X/Y Graph. No other supercar is quite like it.
This analog sentiment is reinforced by Utopia’s optional manual gearbox, something not offered on Huayra and very much demanded by returning customers. “We started working with Xtrac with the Zonda R in 2010—we needed a racing gearbox and clutch to manage the insane amount of torque. It is a transverse gearbox to keep the weight near the center of the car,” says Christopher.
Xtrac is best known for sequential-shift gearboxes in rally cars, but now supplies gearboxes to Pagani and others, including Czinger, the hybrid hypercar maker that is in many ways a California techie parallel to Pagani, both brands passionate extensions of a somewhat secretive and highly advanced tier one supplier company, and run by father-son teams.
“We use a single clutch. A dual-clutch gearbox is much faster shifting but weighs 200 kilos [as we find in most Porsches], and our Xtrac is less than 100 kilos. A big difference in the dynamics of the car. Our cars are meant to run on the street, not a 24-hour race. So, the difference of a millisecond in a shift is not so important,” says Christopher.
Paganis demand driver involvement, working with the car, not just slick, anodyne performance. To state the obvious, Paganis are designed for short, intensely visceral driving experiences, those stolen moments of bliss that blow out mental clutter of other pursuits. No surprise that the manual has a tightly gated shifter like Ferraris of the past.
“My father started working with composite materials over 35 years ago when he was at Lamborghini,” says Christopher. At that time, Lamborghini did not take Horacio’s offer to create an in-house carbon-fiber capability. “Then he started his own company, supplying carbon-fiber for most of the companies here in the Motor Valley,” says Christopher. And so a stable revenue stream was born.
“All carbon-fiber in our cars is formed in Pagani materials. Every fiber, every resin, every compound was developed by us.” Pagani is unwilling to detail much about the carbon-fiber business or its significant list of clients in Italy’s Motor Valley and around the world. Pagani’s absolute mastery of carbon-fiber is another measure of the engineering integrity and value of the Pagani name. The sheer audacity of leaving Lamborghini to start a carbon-fiber business is another significant pillar of the mythology.
“Utopia is a car that looks very simple on the outside, but the amount of work on the wind tunnel and in CFD [computational fluid dynamics, meaning digital virtual wind tunnel testing] is considerable,” says Christopher. Another pillar of the brand is Horacio Pagani’s longstanding friendship and collaboration with Dallara.
“My father met Gian Paolo Dallara when he came to Italy from Argentina,” says Christopher. Dallara manufactures Indycars, Formula E chassis, Le Mans sports-racing prototypes, and aids the Haas Formula One team. Dallara was fully partnered with Ferrari in developing the 1994-95 Ferrari 333SP sports-racing car, and they helped Audi with its first great Le Mans racer, the R8. Significant to this story, Dallara’s skill in ultra-high-speed aerodynamics brought them into collaboration with Bugatti on elements of the Chiron.
Dallara has defined Pagani aerodynamics in its wind tunnel in Parma. In Italian fashion much of the channeling is hidden, allowing the clean, simple almost vintage body forms. It is the exact opposite of McLaren, which pulls all the aerodynamics to the surface to define the body design.
Pagani will never be a legend in motorsport like Ferrari, Porsche, or McLaren. They will never even have the distant and mostly disconnected motorsport greatness of Bugatti or Lotus. Pagani mythology is built around the father’s journey from obscurity to greatness, an Argentinian Odysseus striving to reach the center of the Italian sports car world.
“My father, Horacio, worked in my grandfather’s bakery shop, but was always passionate about cars,” says Christopher. Horacio’s hometown, Casilda to north and west of Buenos Aires, was as far removed from the centers of the automotive industry as the far side of the moon, but he tinkered with motorized bikes and buggies as a child. “He started at the university to study industrial design, but Argentina was not the best place to study this subject and he never completed.”
“He built a formula car with Renault engine that impressed. He met the best racing engineer in Argentina, Oreste Berta, who introduced my father to Juan Manuel Fangio.” Fangio was world driving champion five times in the 1950s and arguably the greatest racing driver of all time, along with Tazio Nuvolari and perhaps Mario Andretti. You can find an incredible documentary about Fangio on Netflix. Fangio is yet another pillar of the Pagani mythology.
“Fangio wrote letters of commendation for my father to speak with Enzo Ferrari and Lamborghini’s Giulio Alfieri.” Fangio won the world championship in 1956 in a Ferrari based on the Lancia D50, and in 1957 in the Maserati 250F, which Alfieri helped develop and that many consider the most beautiful Grand Prix car of all time. In the 1970s and ‘80s Alfieri developed V8 and V12 engines at Lamborghini.
“Alfieri hired my father. He started as the last of the least, working on body parts. He was there for nearly nine years.” Horacio Pagani contributed to the design of the Lamborghini Countach 25th anniversary models. But when Lamborghini chose not to develop an in-house carbon-fiber program, Horacio left, founding his own carbon-fiber manufacturing firm.
Another pillar is the Pagani family’s embodiment of the innate Latin ability to build and maintain. Just as I cherish my Berettas because the family has owned the company for hundreds of years, the younger Paganis intend to grow and sustain the company their father’s genius has brought to life. One reason why in parallel they are at least exploring battery-electric propulsion of future cars.
“My brother Leonardo is 35, named of course for Leonardo Da Vinci. He is a car designer. He oversees investment to create new products. He looks at increased production, or to create new areas of the company. He is part of the special projects operation which are all the one-off models. He also works with a few other team members on development of the full electric car,” says Christopher.
“Over the past ten years my father was able to build a very strong management team. We will see if they accept us as the new bosses. It’s still too early to say who will be in charge one day. My father is still very involved. He has just turned 67 this month.” Another pillar, the hard men, the professional managers that Horacio has assembled to ensure solid MBA efficiency as the company grows.
“We want to be involved, to take this company to the next level, and at the least make sure that what has been created remains, but it is a matter of timing. If I will be the new CEO or my brother.” There is always tension between founding families and professional managers. Fortunately, the brothers have complimentary skillsets.
Another pillar is a sensible approach to growing the business and caring for a select client base. “We are very cautious about caring for the cars. At first, we only sold near to the factory, in Italy. Then the UK, France, Monaco. When the company was financially strong enough to open the U.S. market, we developed six dealerships that can provide service to the client at the same level we can give here at San Cesario.
Pagani follows the same client heat map of any high-end car brand, with dealers in Greenwich, Miami, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, and Dallas. “When a client comes to us, they usually already have a very nice garage with Italian cars and other brands,” says Christopher, which means the owners are already schooled in the special nature of owning a rare supercar. “It’s kind of a celebration buying a Pagani. The cost is really high so it’s a big decision for the client, too.” Pagani has “flying doctors” who can help if a car is stored for a period in a remote location. But the dealers assume the burden of “ownership” of the cars they sell, serving the clients.
With fewer than 500 examples built over the past 25 years and currently a maximum capacity of 50 vehicles per year, Paganis are known only to a happy few, though they stir the imagination of automotive fanboys who play video games. Yet it’s important to reemphasize the cars are anything but video game cars. Pagani in some ways represents the path not taken in the 1980s and ‘90s, the age of the “young timer” supercars like the Porsche 959 and Acura NSX, which defined a technological path for supercars. Paganis have Bosch electronics, but they retain the elegance of vintage sports cars, and the analog feel of the best Italian cars of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s not surprising that a majority of clients are opting for the Xtrac manual gearbox, which has a gated shifter like Ferraris had into the early 1990s.
And then there’s rarity. “When you look at Pagani car values at auctions, you see that the cars have not gone down in value. Pricing on used cars has gone to crazy values. We do not control the market. The cars trade in auctions or private sales. Cars that were sold in 2005 or ‘06 that were probably $500,000 are now in the 5 million range. This is insane appreciation. And we are not talking about vintage sports cars. We are talking about recent supercars, with less than 20 years of history.”
Pagani may never have the 70-year+ competition pedigree of Ferrari or Porsche, world championships and Le Mans victories to its credit. Look at the struggles McLaren has had over the past decade translating and embuing their Grand Prix excellence into heritage for the road cars. But Pagani has hard-earned mythology of its own, from grandfather’s bakery shop in a small town in the shadows of the Andes to the endorsement of 5-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio to the art and science of carbon-fiber to Mercedes-AMG and now glorious cars that embody the very nature of the Italian supercar genre and the Italian approach to private family business.