Modern Day Da Vinci: Horacio Pagani
The anticipation

Tomorrow. 7am. You meet me here, and we go upstairs into my office for a chat.” When a man like Horacio Pagani utters instructions like these, you simply nod, politely thank him and make sure you get to his office well before the agreed upon time. I’ve been wanting to have a sit down with the man behind Pagani for a long time now, ever since we visited this little hypercar maker back in 2009. Finally I was to have my chance; only 30 min would have to do as he had meetings that morning and then had to fly off to the other side of the world.


Before the sun had even pierced through the morning darkness, Rod, Bryn and myself had already checked out of our hotel in Modena and were on our way to San Cesario Sul Panaro where Pagani is located. There we were to meet Luca Venturi, our guide during our two days with Pagani and a man that just makes things happen without any glitch. While awaiting the arrival of the man himself, Rod took the opportunity to show Luca what was then the only printed copy of #JoyOfMachine, our latest photography book that will soon be released on our store (or at WTAC if you happen to be at Sydney Motorsports Park this week!)


Right in front of the main design office there was much to see, little snippets that in their own way hinted at where Pagani has come from and where he has drawn a lot of his inspiration from…


… as well as the scaled wood models of Pagani cars, from initial mockups of the Zonda, stylistic studies of various prototypes and of course their latest creation, the Huayra.


I moved into Pagani’s office as his arrival was imminent…


… taking obvious interest at the sort of objects that he keeps around himself as a sort of inspiration.


I found it really cool that he still keeps and obviously uses a drafting machine, a sort of adjustable vertical desk on which designers and engineers used to draft up technical drawings before computer aided design stepped and became the industry standard.


An informal good morning and a casual chit chat later, I was sitting at glass conference table with Horacio himself, ready to fire away my first question…

Defining the brand

SH: Since we have limited time, I want to start off by asking what is it that defines Pagani as a car maker? What is the core of the design ethos that has so quickly stood out and made your cars so sought after and identifiable?

HP: To fully understand, I need to go all the way back to my childhood in Argentina. I was born in a small town in La Pampa region of Argentina where there was no real culture for design or automobiles. It was a place where people worked the land and it was a small town primarily founded by Italians who had emigrated there. My mother was a painter; very good, a simple woman, a woman with great taste who taught us to like the nice things in life and who was also a musician. My father, a musician, worked as a baker, and now at 85 he is still working as a baker, so a great demonstration for me of perseverance and of love of doing things the right way. They both worked hard, had great love for their family and dedicated themselves to their path. Since a child I always had a passion for drawing and a curiosity for the arts, and the sciences. This was always something that confused me as a kid. I slowly started noticing the cars on the streets at the time – we had a mix of American and European cars, cars of an affordable level, nothing exotic. So I grew up appreciating both type of cars, which were obviously quite different. At around 13-14 years old I started asking myself what I would have studied, to either dedicated myself to the arts or pursue a more technical or scientific education. And it was at this time that the most defining moment in my life occurred; while looking through a magazine that my father subscribed to, I discovered the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. A phrase that really hit me reading that article was a Da Vinci quote which said that “Art and science can work hand in hand.” Reading this was like a door opened for me, a path towards something I could pursue. I could really use the gift I had of working with my hands in sculptures and materials, with my curiosity for science.


SH: So that is what you ended up pursuing in your studies?

HP: Yes, I moved to the city to follow my calling, but it was at the time of los desaparecidos, a pretty hard and testing time for Argentina. Every day I would see guerrilla dead bodies floating in the lake – it was a bad time but one that had helped make the man I am today. Terrorism became so strong that the universities were closed, so with much frustration I returned home. With help from my father I built my own studio, a place where I could design and create and express myself. I continued to go to university and study mechanical engineering, 50km away – a journey I would do by hitchhiking both ways – I never had anyone that paid my way, nobody ever financed me. There I took classes that interested me, not to get a degree but to further my learning and answer the questions I had about design. I always thought a designer’s mission was to help life in some way, be useful to those that buy the things I make, also down to an emotional level. I so continued to study the life of Leonardo Da Vinci and the whole Renaissance period, and I still do so today. I travel the world and I see what is around me in unlocking the key of what made this period so special.

SH: Did you ever find an answer to this, or draw your own conclusions?

HP: Yes, about five or six years ago, I came to my own conclusion: I believe the key of the Renaissance was ‘manual intellect’. In simple words what I mean is that the mind creates and expresses ideas while the hands create those ideas. There is however a passage through the heart where emotion enters the equation, a certain something that can’t be scientifically proven or measured. It’s what made Italy an open air museum, a long line of artists that in their own times and ways have added to it all. Like the people that come here at Pagani every day to work, they are all artists.


Without these people the cars we make wouldn’t be able to have such an appeal, express so much emotion, that certain something that grabs people and makes them spend a substantial sum of money to be able to own a Pagani.


SH: So this is the focus point that sort of defines your cars?

HP: Yes, absolutely. I arrived in Italy and to Lamborghini with nothing, I had that bicycle you see in the corner there and a tent, and nothing else and I started working as a third level employee. I didn’t invent anything special, I just pursued the ideologies of Leonardo…


… fusing art and science. After setting up Pagani it was this that allowed the brand to grow and become prestigious in very few years; its value too – it’s a brand that has now exceeded 300 million Euro. If you think that the Bugatti brand was paid 50 million Euro and Lamborghini 50 million in 1999…


I’ll tell you something very important: I have never worked for the money. I have only worked for passion and for the love of making what I love. The average age of people that work here is 30, all good people, low profile and a lot of our customers have similar stories, starting from zero and reaching their goals.


SH: So would you say you have a special relationship with your customers?

HP: Our customers appreciate our product; we have lots of them that buy multiple cars. They treat them as collector’s objects, some want to have the best ones we make…


… like the Zonda 760RS outside now from Chile – the owner owns four. Our cars, on average, double in price – take a Zonda F that cost 500,000-600,000 Euro back in its day, similar price to the Enzo or the Carrera GT, now has more than doubled. I’ve recently bought a Carrera GT for my personal collection and I paid for it 285,000 Euro with Italian taxes. So even if it’s economically a tough period, our customers believe it’s a good investment.


SH: And Japan, where we met a few months ago, that is a strong market for Pagani too obviously.

HP: Absolutely and I have a special relationship with Japan. I have a great respect for their culture – the Japanese have a deep passion for design and art, and for us to enter that market it will be a challenge. I think if we do well in Japan, we can do well anywhere and that’s why we have waited this long to enter. We have had lots of enquiries from those wanting to represent us there, offering to sell our cars there but I didn’t feel ready because it’s not just about selling cars, it’s about providing an experience. I know the Japanese are able to appreciate what is inside our cars – not only what you see outside, they understand what we put into each vehicle, how we push technology and concepts. Think about it this: today we have the last crash test to pass US homologation, a 56 km/h frontal impact against a stationary object. We are doing this with a chassis that’s already been crashed 19 times.


SH: Yes Luca mentioned it, and I was very surprised. The windshield never breaks right?

HP: Yes the glass doesn’t break but also the chassis has absolutely no damage, only the front removable structure. Other cars built in the same way with a carbon chassis throw away the whole car at every test! We bring home the chassis every time!


This is something some customers don’t know. We sometime get customers that have accidents and are surprised we are able to fix their cars. So this is another thing that defines us: we intend to stay small, we are moving into a larger factory to boost production up to about 50 cars but we will remain a small operation. We used to have requests for up to 50 or 60 cars a year and we used to make 20, now we have a larger demand, about 120-130 a year, of which we will make maximum 50.


So it will make the exclusivity of the product even bigger than what it used to be. We have to distribute cars equally to different countries to keep [the Huayra] exclusive.

The future

SH: I know you have to go but what is it that you will focus on in the future with Pagani?

HP: We make cars like a tailored dress or suit for each specific customer, like we always have. Other manufacturers, as they have become owned by bigger automotive groups, have lost this very important quality. Take Lamborghini now – they make great cars compared to what they used to make back when they didn’t know if they could even pay wages to their workers. To have a backing from an industrial force like Audi has solidified the product and given them a safety, a back up to fall back on. Drive a Gallardo and it’s a superb car, but it’s the best that Audi can do, not Lamborghini; it lacks that latin quality that made it special before. Even Ferrari; when Enzo was alive they used to make 1000 cars, now in order to sustain momentum they make 7000 cars a year.


There isn’t an exclusivity any more. When I was a kid I heard a phrase then now I use often: “It’s better to be a mouse’s head than a lion’s tail” meaning that it’s better to stay small and that will continue to stay our main philosophy. We’ve had offers from big companies that wanted us to really use the brand, make thousands of cars a year but this is a company that is 90% owned by myself and my family. I have an American partner, the co-inventor of the mouse, they follow the US market much like we do here, a family that made its wealth from zero. So while I welcome passionate people that want to work here, I’m not interested in big corporations that want to change the way we do things, make the company public… no thank you. I want to stay here, with my dog, my bicycle…  We are self-financed, we don’t have debt, the 12-million Euro investment in the new factory is totally self-financed and we continue to be leaders in composites – materials used in the Airbus/the Boeing are all materials I developed in the nineties and we are just about to launch a carbon fiber that will be 40% stiffer than regular carbon, sort of like carbon-titanium. The R&D side of things we will continue to push, and it’s also why we made such a big investment with the new factory, I could have built 50 cars with a much smaller establishment but wanted to have the right infrastructure to push research in our field.


SH: We also saw some examples that Pagani is expanding in non-automotive circles. Can you tell us something about that?

HP: We have just set up Pagani Arte which will take on all non-car related projects and we have already had a great deal of requests to design and make hotels, boats… but as with everything my focus will always be Italy, here with my team of designers and all decisions will be taken here. We are now establishing various partnerships, like with the Four Seasons, to take the next step where our knowhow can be used in the creation of very exclusive things. But you won’t find Pagani shops at airports – exclusivity will continue to define our brand.

Speedhunters would like to thanks Mr. Pagani for taking the time to talk to us and giving an insight onto where the brand has come from and where it will be going.

Words by Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: speedhunters_dino

Photos by Bryn Musselwhite
Instagram: Speedhunters_Bryn

Pagani new factory tour on Speedhunters

Other Pagani related features on Speedhunters



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Unreal. What a bloke. And of course he has a Riva model on his desk. :)


Haracio Pagani has a vintage Bianchi Road bike with those metropolis handlebars. UUHHH!!!!
This guy got class. Real men ride Bianchi (aka the Ferrari/Lamborghini/Pagani of bikes)
I have a Bianchi Pista with metropolis bars! He and I must be brothers!


One of a kind. He truly is the Modern Day Da Vinci!


Thank you Dino for getting Mr Pagani to talk about his tertiary education, it was not really covered in other interviews I've seen/read. It makes his story all the more fascinating. Similar to Steve Jobs who dropped into various classes for the knowledge and not the degree.


As someone studying mechanical engineering, this article really brought me to awe. His philosophy and ethos make his brand, Pagani, much more bigger in an emotional and intellectual sense than any other supercar manufacture. 
Perhaps one of THE best articles on speedhunters ever.


I love that Horacio Pagani still uses a drafting board to design his crazy modern machines...old school and new tech at the same time. It reminds me of Adrian Newey, Red Bull's F1 designer and CTO... he also draws and designs by hand still, one of the last in F1 to do so.


What a genius on so many levels!  

And on a more infantnile level, and mind you I have total respect for the man, but almost every picture of him I kept seeing this in the back of my head:


Chris Nuggets Actually all designers still prefer to sketch by hand over CAD it helps to determine key facts about the concept before further development.




Great Interview. I like the fact that he wants the company to remain small and exclusive, not a common tendency these days. And then there is this Bianchi bicycle reminding him where he came from. Respect Mr. Pagani.


"But you won’t find Pagani shops at airports"


LouisSoon Yeah I kind of smirked at that comment :)


koko san Yes we need more people like him in the world today.


zephoto As an Italian I take that as an offence, but still laughed.


Nobuseri Chris Nuggets Yep many still use pen and paper before taking it into the digital domain


@zz Thank you very much :)


Thashen Naidoo Yep people always ask him the same questions, I thought there would be much more there that he could share :)


SeBaBunea :)


LouisYio LOL


P1 Race Photography Yep, Riva - the best. I dream of a Lamborghini powered Aquarama


speedhunters_dino zephoto : Leave it to Family Guy to offend everyone and anyone.  I personally of course have nothing but respect for you (and Mr. Pagani) and I don't even watch much Family Guy but a friend showed me this a while ago and it's now stuck firmly in my head.  Oh well!  *shake fist*


speedhunters_dino P1 Race Photography Ah, you mean like this one? Yeah, that'd be nice.


And no question about whether the engines were still made by Mercedes???


Great interview this Dino. His principles about keeping the company small and exclusive are really to be commended.


My favorite inspiration in the industry is Horacio Pagani. What he does is absolutely at the highest level. Being at Pagani earlier this year was incredible and I am really happy that you got a personal tour at this depth. Your experience there was a large degree greater than my own so I have no doubt that you had a once in a lifetime experience. 
Thanks for sharing a window into the world of Pagani for us all. I could never get too much of this.


Now, that's an inspiring man.


Amazing interview Dino, by any chance you know the company that supplies the Carbon Fiber to Pagani? Seems like they work very closely.


...But when you think about it, he's pretty conservative when it comes to design. All Paganis are refined mid-engined CARS, not really timeless DEVICES. Compared to Countach or Stratos of Kubrick's '2001:space odyssey' era from 1968 (!), there's not much innovation from outside the automotive world even within Huayra styling. In this way it's not much different from your LaFerrari. Petrol engine, RWD, two doors, four wheels, two headlights and decent 'greenhouse'... In the end, it's coming to be another Mid-East toy for oil-rich moneybags. Spyker wasn't just as lucky, but they had same concept of nostalgic-hipster shiny machines. Don't get me wrong, there isn't much of outstanding cars out there, if it ever was much. Though saying words as loud as Leonardo or Art, you set standards higher and wider than 'great sound of exhaust' or 'fastest Nordschleife lap'. In that way, very few cars won't fade out when time will pass. I love Huayra, but to me it's pretty much more of 'rare collectible', not 'Art'. Gotta try harder, Horacio!


In most manufacturers design centres the design modelling phase is usually done in clay, by hand. All the worlds beautiful cars were once clay models (or plaster and wood  if you're italian <1980) Pegani has actually replaced the human touch with Autodesk software. (the milled foam scale models and funny looking Huayra are a dead give away) So I find the notion that he is some sort of 'old master' or even worse 'Di Vinci' pretty sensational!


Thank you Dino for such an amazing interview. I have been following your work for a few years now and can think of no better person for the job. Mr.Pagani's work ethic, drive towards perfection and utmost respect for quality and crasftmanship is truely inspiring. The quote about being the mouse's head rather than the lion's tail made me smile.


MPistol There is no question as it's very well known AMG still make their engines. Check out the new factory tour we did last week :)


@Ben Schaffer :)


JVC Do you mean the rolls of fiber? Because the carbon parts are all done in house and new carbon is developed by them. I can enquire if that is what you want to know


Verdigrie Thank you!


Well I mean that the motor AMG makes for Pagani now is uniquely a Pagani build & not shared in any other Benz..... or is that not true? In any event fantastic interview, I thank you, and I will check the other story as well :)


speedhunters_dino JVC Yes, who supplies the Carbon rolls, they seem to provide all types of Carbon Fiber to Pagani, really amazing! Would be great to know what company creates this amazing carbon fiber.


speedhunters_dino  Do you know if they take on interns ? I'm a senior mechanical engineering major would love to intern and learn their, seems like perfect environment for learning and nurturing skills. I don't speak Italian but nothing Rosetta Stone couldn't take care off


horacio pagani is a great great guy, my dad was invited to a race track were they had invited members of the press to be driven for a lap in the pagani zonda r (im 15 so i didnt get to be laped) but i saw "the man" standing by the pitlane watching his car and i approached him and he was such a nice person, i didnt expect him to speak to him but he did and he was always in control of the car and the team giving orders to the mechanics...


With all the respect for this prosperous company, but i have to second Michaels (see statement below) opinion. There is something wrong with the looks of the Pagani-models. They appear to be a conglomerate of pieces, that look good for themselves, but strange when in reference to eachother. And we all know, that the price of an object doesn't say anything about it's beauty. Conclusion: Good story about a likable, successeful guy, but the cars just don't have what it takes to be called "Art".


Is very nice and inspiring to read, and se how this man pursued an make real his dreams, i am such a fan of his work, of this blog, and a fan of cars as art combined with technics. But as an argentinian alow me to correct you.. it was "State terrorism", the statesystematically kill people accoding to his ideology...    Talking about desing... for me.. the Pagani´s had a perfect combination of old school GT cars and modern lines, they are uniques! Thanks you for sharing this interview!


What a great read. Mr. Pagani is truly a legend in my mind. I used to think the Huayra was a strange, amphibian-looking vehicle that was probably the brainchild of some lunatic, but since I watched National Geographic's documentary on the Huayra and now this interview, my opinion on the car has radically changed. I may not personally like the car's design, but what really is meaningful is that Pagani fed his car using his dreams, not million-euro budgets or anything like that. He may not have the talent da Vinci was known to have, but he certainly has the inspiration.