Legend has it that when Michael Kübler goes on holiday, no Pagani engines are built at Mercedes-AMG… and that turns out to be the truth! We talk to the technician who has been building these special engines for the past decade.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Photos: Mercedes-AMG (only profile pictures)
When you visit – and you really should – Pagani Automobili S.p.A. in Modena, take a stroll through the small museum next to the reception area. While its square meterage may be small, it packs an awful amount of significant historical information...
When I visited the factory and museum in 2017 there were a few Zondas, a 25th Anniversary Lamborghini Countach (the development of which Horacio Pagani was heavily involved in) and some scale models Horacio designed and baked in his parents’ bakery oven when he was still living with them as a youngster in Argentina. There are even some of his original drawings and pocket calculators.
While the cars in the centre of the display constantly draw your eye, you really should work your way through the glass cupboards and read up on the details exhibited there. After all, no museum will exhibit things that are not important. In one glass cupboard is a copy of a letter… an important letter, written by Juan Manuel Fangio in 1982, directly to Mr Enzo Ferrari: “I have the pleasure of introducing you to the young Mr. Horacio Pagani, designer and builder…”
Then there is another letter, dated 13 January 2000, less than a year after the first Pagani Zonda C12 was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. In this letter Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, CEO of Mercedes-AMG GmbH at the time, confirms that AMG would be supplying a 7-litre, V12 engine to Pagani for its then upcoming C12 S. As they say, the rest is history.
When the time came for the Zonda’s replacement, the new Huayra would also be fitted with a specially developed twin-turbo V12 engine, still built by Mercedes-AMG. Such is the exclusivity of the engines and the experience required that there is only one man that builds them and has been building these engines from the very start: Herr Michael Kübler.
Michael Kübler is a bit of a motoring icon on Instagram (find him at @f1mike28) and it's on this platform where I learnt a lot more about him. After our interview I came to realise that his love for Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG, as well as the work he has done and is doing, is one of the ultimate passions in his life.
He has been responsible for nearly all production of the Pagani Huayra engines over the past decade. However, you don’t just stroll into a job like that.
“As a kid I worked on cars as a hobby. It was always a passion for me, especially the engines. The first serious car I worked on, in my private capacity, was a friend’s Mercedes-Benz 190E Evolution 2.
“I joined Mercedes-Benz 24 years ago and received my training there. But immediately after my education, I was assigned to engine production at Daimler. Working at AMG was always a dream of mine, however, and subsequently I’ve been with AMG for 13 years of my 24 years. My father worked at Mercedes-Benz for 45 years, my grandfather also worked for decades at Mercedes-Benz as well as my great-grandfather.” That is truly something special, a fourth-generation Mercedes-Benz employee!
“My great-grandfather and grandfather worked on the engines as well, while my dad was the manager in the restaurant. I wanted to join the legacy and be involved in engine building.”
Michael confirms that he was not pressured by his family to work at Mercedes-Benz, but that it was something he had always set his sights on. Thankfully his father is still alive and is most certainly proud of his son building some of the top engines for the company.
“After I got my driver’s license, I drove to Affalterbach every second weekend see what activity there was and what cars were parked around the buildings.” - clearly a manifestation of the level of interest and commitment which no doubt led to his current position in the company.
“Initially I was building the V12 engines for the AMG 65-range. After that I had the opportunity to build the engines for the limited-edition CLK DTM as well as the Maybach V12 engines.” He remembers the day well when he was offered the position to build the Pagani engines. “I had just returned to V12 production after the CLK DTM stint when my chief approached me and asked if I would be interested in building the V12 Pagani engines. If you get an opportunity like that, the only answer is yes!”
Michael was also involved in the development and building of some of the final Zonda engines before his focus shifted to the turbocharged V12 for the Huayra. Although there is a colleague Michael works with who has also been trained, he remains the person responsible for the flow of the engines from the factory to Pagani. However, Michael is responsible for more than just the Pagani engines. He also builds the GT3 race car engines, amongst others. “From time to time I also build our V8 and four-cylinder engines. It all depends on demand of the race- and Pagani engines.”
It is also Michael’s responsibility to assist and provide feedback on the assembly of the engines following the engineering and development of this V12 power unit.
Michael explains that these engines are different when compared to other AMG engines, since the requirements for Pagani engines are distinctive.
“For the Maybach you want a smooth, very powerful and torque-rich engine. For Pagani you want the engine of a hypercar – that is a completely different set of parameters. The Pagani is a rear-mid-engined car, so there is a lot of more space for the drivetrain in the back. There is more space for the airflow system and a dry-sump system to assist with oil supply during track conditions.” These factors, amongst others, are taken into account when the engine is tuned to Pagani requirements.
“Every AMG engine gets tested in-house. The Pagani engine is put on our test bench for one-and-half hours. Then it is sent to Pagani in Italy where it is installed in the car and the factory spends another few hours on the engine, running a number of tests. It is for me an honour to experience these engines being tested. You can feel it, smell it and hear it.”
Mercedes-AMG cannot discuss the number of engines it produces for Pagani or how long it takes to produce each engine. That is understandable. It is safe to assume that the utmost care is taken throughout the process, which will result in longer build times. Further research has revealed that between 30 and 45 Paganis are manufactured every year.
I can't help but wonder what the most enjoyable aspect is for Michael when building these engines. After all, decades from now, the metal plaque with his name will still be on top of these V12-units when these cars’ second, third or fourth owners enjoy them.
Michael explains: “There are different things I enjoy about building these engines. However, one of the highlights is when the engine is started for the first time. Then also I get a lot of feedback from the customers, owners who follow me on Instagram and send me pictures or videos of their cars when they drive them on the race track, for example. That is really special to me.”