The Zonda’s magnificent meticulousness snuck up on me. When RF and I arrived at the supercar maker’s Milanese factory, I was not impressed. Sure, the two-story glass building was a big step-up from all the small-volume English automakers’ filthy sheds, but Pagani's HQ was one of those generic structures that only looks good next to a small reflecting pool. The interior had all the charm of a ‘60’s hotel: lots of tile, glass and hard angles. If Zonda was trying to liberate Gulfstream go-getters from their money, I figured he’d have to do better than Arab chic.
And then I saw a small, smear and dust-free glass case, just off a hideous central staircase. Inside: a small group of metal die-cast cars, Group C racers, all carefully parked in the same direction, positioned in some non-chronological order known only to their owner. Who was, of course, Horacio Pagani. I later learned that these toys were Pagani’s Rosebud: the childhood icons that inspired his rise to greatness and gave him strength through his long and difficult climb to recognition (e.g. designing aluminum caravans and trailers).
The fact that these toys had never been lost (most likely thanks to a doting mother of an only son) was revealing. The fact that the models were chipped and beat-up was even more instructive. Clearly, Zonda was a man who could live with imperfection—as long as it was arranged, ordered and contained in a perfectly clean receptacle. My kinda guy, really.
Not surprisingly, the Zonda was my kind of car. My first Zonda had its rear carbon fiber panel open, revealing the most perfect arrangement of engine parts I’d ever seen. Today’s high end cars use engine covers to make a semi-literal statement of bulletproof engineering. The Zonda’s engine bay was a naked, unabashed and unadorned display of mechanical perfection. Listen: the carbon fiber weave was exactly aligned and completely symmetrical. That’s… crazy. And yet, all Mercedes V12 engines deserve that kind of home.
With the panel replaced, it was easy to see that Horacio had never lost his affection for those Group C cars, with their strange fighter jet canopies and long flat rears. And then Horacio started pointing things out in short bursts of strangely-accented Italian. See this line here? Where the wheel arch meets the door? Almost impossible. You see that seam in the seat? No machine can do that. And yet it’s as perfect as a machine. He had us peer, feel, listen, touch and yes, smell every detail of his creation.
The cabin was a disaster: as tastelessly designed as it was scrupulously constructed. The toggle switches were a joke, but a finely-machined, snick satisfying joke. And the driving experience was seamless. When RF surrendered the reins, I was amazed at how easy it was to drive the Zonda F at speeds so monumental I wouldn’t have been surprised to turn a corner and find Chartres Cathedral ahead of me. There was an ease and simplicity to the experience that told me that Pagani's obsession with order was more than skin deep.
After that experience, I’ve had a hard time driving so-called supercars. I expect them all to be perfect. You might think that climbing into an Enzo is intimidating, but I only felt a disturbance in my personal force when I discovered wires hanging loose under the dash (and got over it). When bits of an Aston broke off in my hand, it was like watching a supermodel break a nail. When we had to duct tape the Murcielago’s sunglass holder shut, you could almost hear my sigh over the engine’s howl.
These days, I’ve started looking along panels for paint bubbles. I shut doors four or five times, raise and lower the windows, just to get a sense of how a car's mechanisms negotiate the final territory between open and closed. Strangely enough, given Mr. Wilkinson’s post, I’ve discovered that the passenger’s side vanity mirror is one of the best tests of a car’s depth of engineering. How soft is the light? How easily does the plastic cover slide across? How smoothly does it move through its arc?
The Zonda has ruined my ability to accept mediocrity— if, indeed, I ever had any.
More by Samantha St. James
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