During a mild winter’s morning in Franschhoek, the planets aligned and Wilhelm Lutjeharms got behind the steering wheel of a Pagani Huayra Roadster.
Words by Wilhelm Lutjeharms
In 1999 Horacio Pagani unveiled his first car from his new company at the Geneva Motor Show. Called the Zonda C12, it laid the foundation of what would become a company that hand-builds some of the most desirable and top-performance pieces of automotive art we’ve seen to date.
In issue 22 of August 2000, John Barker of the British magazine EVO wrote: “…from behind the wheel it is the most beautiful thing.” He ended his thoughts, after comparing the C12 with cars such as the Ferrari 550 Maranello, Lamborghini Diablo 6.0 VT, Ferrari 360 Modena and Dodge Viper GTS, with “…the supercar establishment should be very worried indeed.”
Over the years EVO has published several articles on the cars leaving the Pagani factory in Modena, Italy. One of the magazine’s founder’s, Harry Metcalfe, even purchased the Zonda C12 S press car and continued to write about it in the magazine for several years. It is in these articles that it became clear that the Pagani ownership experience is rather special - you end up having a close relationship with the man himself, Horacio Pagani.
The big day arrives
Back to the 05:30 AM wakeup call, though. The owner of this car is a modern supercar collector. Furthermore, his cars are not only showpieces but are used by himself and his family... often.
Just as I turn the bend to head up the Franschhoek Pass I spot the Huayra’s profile. The weather is perfect and thankfully the carbon-fibre roof panel could be left at home. After all, this is a Roadster – let's enjoy it for what it offers.
It is difficult to describe the emotions when you come up close to an object of such beauty for the first time. This is not transport, but it encapsulates the enjoyment of motoring, sizzling performance and an intense, visually appealing object all in one. I’ve never seen a car that has so many little, perfect details that grab your attention.
Thankfully, the goal is to get the images done first, so as the photographer makes his way around the car, I have time to drink in all those details. As I was told when I visited the Pagani museum and factory in 2017, every part on this entire car has “Pagani” engraved on it. That is truly incredible... literally, every nut and bolt.
As we open the clam shells, the 6.0-litre, V12 Mercedes-AMG engine is revealed in all its glory, as well as all the individual suspension parts, the beautifully crafted exhaust system and all the support bars. Race-car design springs to mind.
The cabin is a treat, too. Except for a couple of buttons on the leather and carbon-fibre steering wheel, there is not a piece of plastic in sight. Machined metal, leather and carbon fibre – those are the materials you see in abundance and touch frequently as you find your way around the cabin. It exudes a sense of complete quality and ultimate durability, something I’ve never experienced in a car.
Every time the car is fired up or repositioned for the next set of pictures, a deep rumbling permeates from the quad exhaust pipes. Being the Roadster, I would soon experience a different set of tunes from the engine...
Behind the wheel
With the photography wrapped up, I slide in behind the wheel with a combination of trepidation and gratefulness, for a precious couple of kilometres. I'm very aware that not many others will be afforded this opportunity.
The first thing I notice, perhaps as expected, is just how low the Huayra is to the ground. When I adjust the manual seat I can't help but notice the manner in which this mechanism clicks into place and how smooth the system slides – another testament of the solid, but lightweight approach to every element of this car.
But it's time to start focusing on what this hypercar was designed for – handling and speed. Even on this smooth piece of tarmac, the underbody of the car still touches the road at times, which is intimidating, but my nerves are calmed by the owner. He explains that Pagani made it very clear that this "touching" was part of the car’s aerodynamics and that to replace the piece that occasionally meets terra firma is, after a few years or at a set mileage, "not an issue". After all, there is some impressive aerodynamic engineering happening as you drive. Up front the flaps will rise and fall depending on the direction you point the car and the speed you are doing. Apart from the quality of the materials around you, another aspect that makes an immediate impact is the fact that the A-pillar is quite close to you, resulting in a very snug feeling in the cabin. That said, due to the car's width there is ample space between the two occupants.
As expected, it is the engine that is the highlight. I’ll lie if I say there is a permanent, deep, V12 rumble from the engine or through the exhaust. Rather, there is a continuous cacophony of blows and whistles that dominate the experience, and then, through this mix you can hear the underlying V12 exhaust note.
The steering rack is quick and communicative, contributing to the perception that the car feels "light". Although the red line start at just after 6 000 rpm, I didn’t feel the need to push the engine all the way to its limits, because even down in the lower and middle parts of the rev range, the urge offered by the torque is extremely impressive – and addictive. As the maximum of 1 000 Nm of torque is already available at 2 300 rpm (to 4 300 rpm), you don’t always need to chase that red line. The brake pedal (all the pedals are floor mounted) feels strong, like every facet of the car, and super sensitive to even very small inputs.
The transmission, made by racing specialists Xtrac in the United Kingdom (also responsible for the GMA T.50’s transmission), is a sequential, single-clutch unit. It shifts gears in a very refined manner, and you can either leave it to its own devices, use the machined lever to your left or use the metal paddles behind the steering wheel. You can make upshifts even smoother if you step off the throttle pedal for a fraction of a second before you change up.
We may have gotten used to the quicker shift action of a double-clutch gearbox – however, this automated manual is lighter than most dual-clutch transmissions. Finally, being a carbon-titanium and carbon-triax monocoque, there is no scuttle shake, something that can’t be said of most metal-based roadsters or convertibles.
One could write a book about the Huayra's numerous details and talents. From the coloured exhaust manifold visible through the mesh grille at the rear, the beautifully crafted mirrors, the luggage set and also the small cover you can peer through to marvel at the engine – to name a few.
The sizzling driving experience multiplies the impact that these visual highlights have on you. Although a faster transmission would not go amiss, it is an utter thing of beauty that is just as intense to drive as it is a pleasure to look at and touch.
Come back soon as we have more Pagani content planned for the near future.
Pagani Huayra Roadster, number 95/100
Structure: carbon-titanium and carbon-triax monocoque, front and rear frame in steel tubes
Weight: 1 280 kg
Engine: 6.0-litre, V12, twin-turbocharged
Power: 561kW at 5 500rpm
Torque: 1 000Nm from 2 300 to 4 300rpm
Top speed: 360kph
0-100 km/h: 3.0 seconds
Gearbox: seven-speed, automated manual
Suspension: independent, double wishbone, front and rear