Pagani Zonda C12 S: Antique Supercar

Friday, february 15, 2019

When the Zonda C12 was presented at the Geneva fair in 1999, very little of us had heard about Horacio Pagani. Though, the man wasn’t any stranger to this world and the latter embarked on a risky adventure, but with quite a number of assets in the market. So, here is the story of Zonda and between the lines, the one of its founder.

Horacio Pagani tries out his hand on the Ika Torino, personalized 1970 onward with Renault’s diamond.

Without realizing it, Horacio didn’t just come from anywhere. Argentinian from Italian origin, he developed a passion for automobile and mechanics at a very early age: realizing models, creating specific mechanical parts, building a bike on his own (still exhibited in the entrance hall of the Pagani workshops, in Modena Italy), mechanic training on the Ika Torino (the ultimate Argentinian car), all this before the latter’s majority.

Pagani A1 Renault next to the Pagani Zonda C12 prototype

The beginning in Argentina

All these little experiences made Pagani design the Formula 2 with a Renault engine (officially provided by its Argentinian branch, Ika-Renault), but also buggy along with a (transformed) framework and a Renault Dauphine engine. Gradually, Horacio Pagani made a name for himself in the little Argentinian world of automobile, to such an extent that he met and forged a friendship with Juan Manuel Fangio, a living legend of sport auto.

Countach Evoluzione, initiating composite materials and carbon at Lamborghini

However, Horacio had other ambitions other than these little works and a small activity, which made him create movables like camping cars, even a studio radio truck. The latter wanted to work for one of the Italian manufacturers which made him dream: Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini. With the help of the quintuple champion of the Formula 1 world, who recommended the latter in each of these companies, Horacio tried to become part of this little sporty Italian world of automobile.

Initial sketches, which was to be called Fangio F1 is still coy, compared to the definitive design of the Zonda C12

First experience at Lamborghini

By dint of persistence (and insistence), he ended up joining Lamborghini, accepting the warehouse worker job. Once on spot, the latter quickly managed to become part of the technical teams, mostly working on the LM 002,then asserting himself as composite material and carbon specialist. Encouraged by the engineer Alfieri, he presented the Countach Evoluzione in 1985, really reformed to the tune of carbon and Kevlar. This acknowledged attempt led the latter to work on body panels, in composite materials for the Countach’s 25th anniversary, but Lamborghini didn’t see any use to buy a retort oven. Horacio Pagani decided to fly solo and created his own company, whose first client was indeed Lamborghini, to create its carbon bumpers and hood for the Diablo.

However, Horacio Pagani didn’t forget his dream: to become an automobile manufacturer himself. Along with his subcontracting activities for Lamborghini, Aprilia or Dallara, the latter created Modena Design to carry out his project in 1991. With his future supercar, Pagani wanted to pay a tribute to his friend Fangio and the car was named after the latter. With his own money, he began to develop the car and thanks to the great Argentinian champion, Mercedes (after making sure the company was serious) accepted to provide a V12 for the prototype.

the two « protos » of the Pagani Zonda C12 in front of the Modena Design headquarter

Fangio F1 to Zonda C12

A first prototype called C8 was manufactured with a 1/5th model. Since 1995 and Fangio’s death, the car turned into Zonda (the name of Fangio F1 was given up through respect for the champion). While Modena Design also worked on the Diablo VT design, the re-styled version of the Diablo, the marketing direction of Lamborghini took notice of Zonda’s proto. The idea of repurchasing the project to replace the Diablo (those days Volkswagen hadn’t bought the Italian brand and Murcielago wasn’t even in the project stage) is offered to Horacio Pagani. Convinced by his young son, of not giving up on his dream, the latter refuses the offer and decides to take things up a notch. He finds new investors and gets down to a new prototype, the C12.

This model shall be presented at Geneva in 1999. The shape is rather innovative, even disturbing but eventually a great success: the Zonda isn’t like any other car and has really evolved since its initial designs, dating back to 1988. In reality, Horacio got his way: he favored state-of-the-art craftsmanship, technique and distinctness, all the while offering the technique of a major manufacturer, like Mercedes and mainly AMG, later on.

V12 « atmo » signed Mercedes and AMG

No compromises at Pagani: a huge V12 atmo, with stroke volumes which would make one shudder today, the 6 liters for the proto (and 394 hp) until 7 liters (and 550 hp) for the C12 S of the series. Thanks to the free rein of Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes-Benz offered his best engine, worked by AMG for a supercar which was really out of sync, compared to other automobiles those days: craftsmanship, composite materials, attention to detail and finishings, major luxury but sportiness and of course a design that was off the charts.

Thanks to the expertise of composite materials acquired by Horacio, the Zonda C12S offers, besides from its mechanic with 12 atmospheric cylinders, something one doesn’t make anymore, a rigidity and road holding, from the outset, without any history or legend, which helped Pagani rub shoulders with the greatest requirements.

“By combining art and science, we try to create an automobile, triggering enough emotions, in order to convince a client to spend a lot of money, to buy a car which is essentially useless”.

Useless, therefore essential to have a well-replenished bank account…Buying a Pagani, means displaying one’s difference and capacity to understand, where to buy a Bugatti Chiron revives an effects of style…The C12 shall offer a range, depending on the mood, in S version (15 models), Five (678 hp, 27 units in coupés and roadsters), “750” (with 750 hp just like the name points out, 11 models) and oodles of unique models, which allowed the brand to officially achieve more than 100 vehicles produced from 1999 until 2010 and the presentation of the Huyara.

Artisanal supercar

An exceptional car, reserved for the major players of this world, yet passionate ones, not for the ones who just want to impress, Zonda made an impact on the automotive world forever: of course, others did better, either with performance or in terms of design but Pagani carried on the idea of craftsmanship, well-done work, exception and quirkiness like nobody ever did before, besides perhaps Koenigsegg

Establishing genuine rating for such a car is a taxing exercise: however, there is no doubt that in a few years, Zonda (regardless of the version),shall remain close to the  ostentatious price of its initial days. Whatever the case might be, it remains a fantasizing object for anyone who is trying to get an unusual ride, even with a lot of means.

To discover the beginnings of Horacio Pagani, I encourage you to read this excellent article (in three parts) from Automotivpress.

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Pagani Zonda C12 S

2001 - 2002


Engine V12 à 60° Mercedes-Benz M120
Cubic capacity 7 010 cc
Alimentation injection électronique, atmosphérique
Engine power 550 ch à 5 500 trs/min
Engine torque 750 Nm à 4 100 trs/min


Length 4 395 mm
Width 2 055
Height 1 151 mm
Weight 1 250 kg


Drive wheels Arrière
Gearbox BVM à 6 rapports


Maximum speed 350 km/h
0-100 km/h 3,7s
Total production 15 ex


Average price (LVA) nc

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