When the Zonda broke cover in 1999, it was apparent that Italy’s youngest supercar maker was going to alter the staus quo. With a visionary like Horacio Pagani behind the project, there could be no other outcome.
From its F16-style cab-forward canopy to its Buck Roger’s four rocket exhaust cluster, the Zonda landed at the turn of the 21st century like an alien craft from another world.
Departing from the Zonda’s naturally aspirated motor to a turbocharged one would fundamentally shape the character of the new Huayra. And with engine partner, AMG, Pagani has embraced the big hand-built V12 bi-turbo. It resides in the 2980 lb carbon-fiber sports car that’s almost one ton lighter than the Mercedes S65 AMG it’s taken from. For comparison, it’s also 180 lb lighter than a Porsche GT3 RS 4.0, which has only two-third of its power.
The 5980cc V12 motor starts with 630hp from 4800-5100rpm and 740 lb-ft of torque from 2000-4000rpm. However, two modified IHI turbos plus tweaks to the intake and exhaust bring this to a rousing 730hp at 5800rpm and 740 lb-ft from 2250-4500rpm. The claimed performance includes 0-62mph in 3.3sec and 224mph top speed.
Apart from extensive use of carbon-fiber, carbon/titanium and ballistic kevlar for its central tub and body panels, the Huayra features hollow carbon bracing behind the dashboard that doubles as air-conditioning ducting to save weight.
Behind the Wheel
Whether you’re the driver or passenger, the Pagani Huayra experience is pure theater. And it starts with the gullwing doors that are engineered to be easier to reach than, say, the SLS AMG.
The Mercedes ignition key is encased in a block of Huayra-shaped aluminum that splits in two. You insert the rear half into the ignition slot and turn it two clicks. Then you wait while the transmitter ‘handshakes’ the ECU and wakes the system. A couple of seconds later, the turned metal instrument gauges come alive with a flourish of blue lights and flicking needles. Twist the key again, and a V12 barks, although noise restrictions mean it’s nowhere near as loud as the Zonda.
To select first gear, you push the gear lever to the right and pull the right paddle on the steering column. Some clicking and whirring signifies solenoids in the bowels of the transmission are selecting your gear.
Once tentatively underway, upshifts are relatively smooth, especially compared to the aggressive snap of the Lamborghini Aventador. While far from the same league as a dual-clutch transmission, it’s good by manu-matic standards.
To be honest, you focus on the gearbox because the rest of the driving experience is near perfection. The ride, for instance, on 19" and 20" forged wheels with bespoke Pirellis P Zeros is firm but supple at low speeds, striking a balance between the sedan-like comfort of the MP4-12C and the old-school firmness of a Gallardo.
The Öhlins dampers, with their external fluid reservoirs and constant-rate springs, do a magnificent job at high speeds, engendering the Huayra with go-kart precision and sheer grip in fast bends.
The 2.2 turns of steering lock feels instinctive, and you can negotiate hairpins without removing your hands from the wheel. There are three levels of assistance, and while not as intimate as the Zonda’s, the steering felt reassuring but with 25% of the information filtered out.
Blasting down country roads, it’s surprising to see the front flap rise as you angle into a fast bend, followed by the other side as you turn the other way. On a curvy road, the flaps seem to dance an elegant ballet.
Brake hard and the two rear flaps pop up to increase drag and push on the tail, while the active front dampers increase pressure in anti-dive mode. It’s astonishing to drive a car that corners so flat.
The massive Brembo Carbon-Ceramic brakes provide tremendous power. The pedal is heavy but consistent, unlike some of its rivals.
The Huayra’s engine is torque-rich and lag free. Taken down to idle speed in third, it pulled away smoothly and, once past 1500rpm, the massive torque accelerated us rapidly. But use 5000rpm and the Huayra is supercar-fast. And don’t think that because peak power is developed at 5600rpm, it’s got nothing left. In fact, power delivery suddenly becomes even stronger. It’s not as explosive as an F40, but it progressively gets more powerful, pulling to 6500rpm with huge thrust.
The Huayra delivers a cultured V12 roar, with lots of turbo whooshes and whistles when you upshift. Pagani made a conscious decision to use the forced induction as part of the Huayra’s soundtrack, differentiating it from the Zonda.
Where the Zonda was instantaneous, and furious at all speeds, producing the most glorious automotive noise on earth, the Huayra is more subdued but unleashes even greater fury in a more refined way.
It’s widely agreed that a dual-clutch transmission is the fastest and smoothest solution available. The downside is that one capable of handling 740 lb-ft would weight around 370 lb. With the trans hung off the back of the engine, this mass would have a negative effect on the polar moment of inertia. So Pagani opted for a seven-speed, automated manual trans with a dual-plate clutch from Xtrac, weighing on 210 lb.
Together with components like the MHG titanium and inconel exhaust system that weighs only 22 lb, the weight distribution is 44/56% and the center-of-gravity is in front of the rear bulkhead. “This weight distribution helps reduce the tendency to oversteer on the limit,” said Horacio Pagani. “We build in some stabilizing understeer, but if a client has the skill, he can adjust the suspension accordingly.”
That strong central tub protects the occupants from the fuel tank and engine in a big crash. Potential fuel spillage was also reduced by placing the pumps and ECU inside the tank, with a single tube running to the fuel rail.
The front and rear subframes were built from ADV15 chrome-molydenum steel and bolted to the tub. They were designed to collapse progressively and can be easily replaced.
The immense strength and easy repairs was highlighted during US crash testing, where Pagani was able to use the same tub for the first seven of 14 mandatory tests because it emerged unscathed. “In fact, after the 35mph test, which is head-on into concrete, the windshield wasn’t even cracked,” said Luca Venturi from Pagani.
“When it came to the new engine, we started discussions with AMG in 2005,” Horacio explained. ‘We told them about the new car and asked what they had in the pipeline, since the Zonda’s V12 wouldn’t meet EU6 emissions laws that were looming. They proposed a tuned 700hp version of the M157 V8 bi-turbo motor that would be going into production.”
“We spoke to some customers and they all wanted a V12 or nothing. So AMG told us the V12 would need to be turbocharged to meet the new emissions and fuel economy targets,” Horacio continued.“However, I told them I also didn’t like turbochargers because of the lag, and that Pagani clients wanted the response of a big, naturally aspirated V12. So AMG announced it would be able to overcome these issues with an evolution of its M158 V12 bi-turbo engine.”
Horacio Pagani Pure Genius
We first met Horacio Pagani during the Zonda’s debut at the ’99 Geneva Auto Salon, where he calmly informed us his sensational supercar had EU type approval and was ready for production.
Exactly 12 years later, Pagani unveiled the Huayra (pronounced why-rah) at the ’11 Auto Salon, and he told us he’d begun work on the Zonda’s replacement, (known as Project C9), back in ’03.
Defying conventional wisdom for company startups, Pagani’s name now carries the gravitas of Ferrari and Lamborghini. “The turn of the 20th century saw a renaissance of the supercar,” Horacio explained. “The huge financial commitment from some major manufacturers gave us the Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari Enzo, Lamborghini Murciélago and Mercedes SLR McLaren. All raised the bar even higher, so we had to seriously reassess the competitiveness of our Zonda, which was designed in the early ’90s, frozen in ’94 and launched in ’99.
“In the course of thinking about its successor, we conceived a car with a different form, dimensions, technology and dynamics. It had to bear the Pagani hallmark, because our philosophy comes from the tenet of Leonardo da Vinci; that the disciplines of art and science must harmoniously coexist.”
Believing air is fundamental to his car in terms of aerodynamics, power and cooling, Pagani again named his creation after a wind. Where Zonda took its name from a strong wind in his native Argentina, Huayra comes from Huayra-tata, the god of wind worshipped in the Andes.
The car’s basic shape was longer, had a 70mm wider track and a more spacious cabin positioned 40mm back. It was given a supercar’s silhouette, using ellipses as a hallmark in the front and rear design. So the front air intake embraces a clear ellipse, with the headlights enclosed in smaller ones. At the rear, the central exhaust is another ellipse formed by the engine grille and the roof canopy.
“During the C9’s development, various Zonda models evolved in parallel, which showed us it was far from being obsolete when compared to newer rivals, as I had originally feared,” said Horacio. “So my teams worked on projects simultaneously to feed off each others findings. In the course of sharing engineering concepts, the Zonda R became a rolling laboratory for the Huayra, particularly in its suspension design.”
Excluding its powertrain, the Huayra is constructed from more than 4000 components. During the prototype stage, the 1100 titanium fixings used on the first mule cost 90,000 euros alone!
Thankfully, the volume needed for the production cars has reduced the sum dramatically, but it highlights that Pagani doesn’t compromise anything. “To create and assemble these parts requires creativity, patience and a passion I share with my fantastic team and the best industry partners I could ask for,” said Horacio, who can sometimes be found on the factory floor, assembling part of a customer’s car.
North American deliveries will begin in 2013 after the first cars being built have been shipped to Hong Kong later this year. It turns out, last year’s Pagani Far East dealer tour was wildly successful, so a new factory is being built to double the output from 20 to around 45 cars per year.