Horacio Pagani: How I made my own dream supercar

Baker's son Horacio Pagani has wanted to build a supercar since he was a boy in Argentina. And with the £1.1m Zonda, some say he has built the world's best.

Horacio Pagani, 53, is proof that dreams really can come true. He has wanted to build a supercar ever since he came across the dramatic wedge-shaped design of an Alfa Romeo Carabo in Auto Mundo magazine in the 1960s. With the production of the Zonda, a £1.1m boy racer's fantasy, some say he has built the world's finest.

The son of a baker, Pagani grew up on Argentina's Pampas, in the small rural town of Casilda, where "my parents couldn't understand why all their son wanted to do was design and build cars". At the age of nine, he was making miniature cars out of balsa wood and Nesquik cans. Later, he built his own racing cars from scratch. However, with the political situation in Argentina precarious, Pagani knew that he would only be able to pursue his supercar dream by emigrating.

So, in 1982, he and his 19-year-old wife Christina (neither of whom spoke Italian) borrowed a tent and moved to a camp ground in Bologna, near the home of the Italian sports car industry in Modena. "My wife and I were both incredibly in love so we saw it more as an adventure. But the first night it was raining loads both outside and inside the tent", while "the blow-up mattress had a puncture and quickly deflated".

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It wasn't the best start to their new life abroad. Indeed, Pagani started off as a janitor with Lamborghini, sweeping the floors of the engineering department, before his dedication and enthusiasm (he was often the first to arrive and the last to leave) was noticed and he was offered a stint as a designer. He grabbed the chance and by 1991 was one of the company's best. That year he decided to set up his own firm, Modena Design, hoping to use the money from this venture to go on to make his own car.

It wasn't easy. Bugatti's bankruptcy in 1995 created big problems Pagani was by then offering the firm design and engineering consultation. Nevertheless, he persisted, spending 18,000 hours of his spare time between 1992 and 1999 analysing other supercars and assessing the exact parameters for the safety, weight, and comfort for his perfect car. "Nobody helped me financially and I came across more people who didn't believe in this venture" than who did. But "I have always followed my instinct and I am sure that the difficulties I have overcome are true testament to this".

By 1999, having designed all 3,700 parts, besides the engine and gearbox, Pagani was ready to make his debut at the Geneva Motor Show. Selling at 470,000,000 Italian lira (approximately e250,000), the car was a sensation, with Pagani landing 57 orders. "But we were very prudent in asking for deposits upfront," he says, which kept orders to a minimum. The company, however, has been profitable since day one, making just 17 cars last year and turning over e12m. This should increase as a new plant, capable of making more than 60 cars, comes on stream this year. Meanwhile, the company's order book is full for the next three years.

Pagani's advice to would-be car designers is simple: "Believe in your intuition, work and study hard. If you have talent, all the better; if you don't, you have to work that little bit harder."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and was a senior writer for MoneyWeek. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example digging into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.