Here's the final story from my recent Speedhunting trip to italy, covering from the Pagani factory in Modena through to the official unveiling of the car to the world at Pirelli's headquarters in Milan.
Pirelli were chosen for a good reason: Pagani have worked with the tyre company to produce bespoke P Zero rubber built to handle the power of the Huayra, with 255/35ZR19s on the front and 355/30ZR20s on the rear.
Despite the event being about the Huayra, those Zondas just keep turning up… Also on display were various Zonda models, just to make the collection complete. And rather than the usual rabble of motoring journalists, there was very much a different class of guest on hand to witness the Huayra's launch.
My trip wasn't all about Pagani though: beforehand it also took in a memorable trip to the Lamborghini HQ in Sant'Agata Bolognese, just 15 minutes drive from Pagani.
Modena is on a plain just south of the Po Valley and the area has become the supercar playground of Italian sportscar manufacturers – Pagani, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati, De Tomaso and Bugatti are all within a short drive of each other. The road into Modena from Bologna is littered with these amazing ruins of old villas: it's such a shame that so many have been left to fall into disuse.
Lamborghini's factory is a complete contrast to the home-style workshop approach at Pagani. This is a much more structured and, because of the number of cars produced, of course much more automated facility. But heritage is not forgotten: whereas Pagani are a young company looking to forge a legacy, Lamborghini have almost 50 years of history to look back on – and they do so with obvious pride.
In their foyer, next to where a couple of X-Boxes were set up to demonstrate the Fighting Bull offerings in Shift 2: Unleashed, the two most recent Lamborghinis were on display, resplendent in matching pearlescent white. There is a stunning line up of every Lamborghini model, produced and proposed, in the museum and concept car hall – Dino and Rod have already posted up a comprehensive look around from their trip in 2009, here, here and here. One thing that I hadn't picked up on is that all Lamborghinis are named after Spanish fighting bulls: Murcielago, Miura, Diablo, they're all called after real or legendary bulls. All except the Countach, which in a fantastically Italian way is named after an exclamation one makes when you see a beautiful woman!
One of the few cars that wasn't on display when Speedhunters was last there was this Gallardo Polizia Stradale. Two models were built in 2004/5 and donated to the Italian Traffic Police division – this model, the first delivered, was specially kitted out for medical emergencies. It was equipped with a defibrillator and special containers for transporting blood plasma and organs.
Frustrating I wasn't allowed to take shots of the Gallardo production line in the main factory, which still features the same tiled floor from the original Lamborghini building. But that was tempered by the hilarity that ensued when a group of Lamborghini engineers accidentally wheeled out the new Aventador right in front of us! Under a cover, but quite obviously the new model. The Lamborghini press officer was beside herself… But the highlight was a selfish one: hitching a ride in one of Lamborghini's Gallardo Superleggaras.
Two cars were ferrying passengers around: a white car and then this orange beast, which had the added attraction of having a full five-point racing harness for that extra bit of authenticity.
Driven by one of Lamborghini's test piots, my ride encompassed a short blast around the local countryside. However, my chances to take in the scenery were limited, as I braced myself against the belts at the vicious acceleration of the Superleggara and its insane cornering ability.
My driver seemed to be out to enjoy himself on my ride – the last of the day. His first action was to turn off all the aids and hit the big S-for-Sport button. His calm style and minimal inputs made the car's handling seem even more unreal. After a short trip down the A-road that runs outside the Lamborghini HQ we hung back for a gap in the traffic – and then he threw the car at an impossibly-narrow side-road entry – flanked with high concrete kerbs. The Superleggara didn't miss a beat: it cornered as if on rails and in the blink of an eye we were thundering down a narrow country lane.
Hilariously, a small hamlet of houses on the route with a 50kph zone was respected: brakes on full as we got to the sign, throttle full open the moment we reached the other side. A small kink in the road ahead was the opportunity to show the skull-crushing braking power: with just tens of meters to go he rolled onto the brake and the car stopped virtually dead: no steering wheel correction, no diving on the nose, just from a surely many-times-the-speed-limit to zero in a flash. My brain washed up against my temple and I managed a feeble smile at the driver as he joyfully executed and three-point turn and hurtled back the way we'd come.
On the return leg we passed a heavily-protected Gallardo out on a test-run before it would be handed over to a customer. The Superleggara is easily the most powerful car I've ever been in, and the handling was phenomenal. And you could buy about seven of these for one Huayra… If only I was in a position to choose.
A train from the local town of Bologna would take us to Milan and Pirelli. My love for Alfas was satisfied by this cop 159 that was patrolling the arcaded streets. Bologna is definitely a place I'd like to go back and see more of.
At the other end of the line was Milan, Alfa Romeo's spiritual home which still lends its symbol to the car maker's badge – seen here carved into the stones of the train station.
As someone who has to commute into London on a train every day, I think I'd be a lot happier about it if the train station I arrived in was as impressive as Milano Centrale.
An old manor house still stands in the grounds of the modern Pirelli factory complex which sprawls across the local area. This is another firm not embarrassed about their origin – like Lamborghini they started with tractors.
The launch wasn't until the evening, so I spent a pleasant afternoon hammering round a track in a Pagani Huayra. Yes. Okay. I mean playing Shift 2, where the Huayra is an exclusive car. The location for the event was quite something: Pirelli's presentation theatre is in the base of this cooling tower, preserved from a previous iteration of the Pirelli factory. The 50m high concrete tower is now enclosed on three sides by offices and then a huge glass wall out to the grounds outside.
At the base of the tower, the event was being set up with two Zondas on show and a collection of display cabinets. The Zonda R was, appropriately, behind hazard tape whilst the presentation areas were being set up.
Pirelli's relationship with Pagani blossomed with their coloration on the R: a first record-breaking lap in 2007 on the Nordschleife was followed by a second attempt last year – which resulted in the 6m47s lap time that is stamped on the R's bonnet. And the second lap-time on the right? Top Gear's test track! It turned out that the dirt and grass I'd seen on its rubber back at the Pagani factory was actually from the midlands of England. The Stig has driven this car!
Around the other side was this Zonda F. I have to say that it's this angle where I think the cockpit canopy looks too short, despite how great the nose is.
Arcing round the base of the cooling tower was the collection of display cabinets, showing off pieces of the Huayra like works of art.
As the evening began and guests began to turn up, the tour guide was predictably none other than Horacio Pagani himself.
Every piece had seemed to have quite a long story behind it!
There is a lovely texture and shape to these metal mouldings.
When the base objects have such purity It's almost a shame that the finished dash is rather over-busy.
As night fell the illumination came on, making the tower look even more impressive.
The event was a very different kind of car launch from normal ones I've been to – in fact, it really wasn't for the media but instead aimed at potential customers. It was more black suits and cocktail dresses than jeans and t-shirts.
It was actually quite intimidating to be in the same room as people who will quite likely buy one of these hugely expensive cars!
As the crowd were tempted away by canapés and champagne in the manor house, it gave me a chance to get a proper look round the car on my own. It really is magnificent.
But of course, Horacio Pagani couldn't stay away for long: he was soon back, showing off his baby to another group of people. I'll be amazed if he actually lets anyone take a Huayra away from him!
The perfect way to end the evening was Horacio driving his own creation in Shift 2. At first he wasn't really that comfortable with an X-Box controller, but let's see if the next Pagani car features it as an option…