Pagani Zonda

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Pagani Zonda

1999 -
6 liter 60° Mercedes V12
390 bhp
5/6 spd. man
Top Speed:
190 mph
Number Built:
4 Star
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-liter 390bhp C12 in 1999, this being replaced by a 550bhp C12 S in 2000. The seven-liter S was in in turn superceded by an S7.3 in 2002, a Roadster variant being launched in 2003.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 aluminum 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 colors, but also the suspension set-up. The original C12 ran a six-liter 60� 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 featured many superb details together with a taught and elegant silhouette. At the front was a wraparound chin spoiler, twin radiator 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 March 1999.

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-liter C12 was discontinued in favour of the seven-liter C12 S, the Zonda having introduced a new level of exclusivity far removed from modern Ferrari's.

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