Pagani Zonda: Say Goodbye to an Instant ClassicS

A few months back at Top Marques Monaco, I heard some slightly distressing news. Not only would there not be a Pagani Zonda F Roadster available to drive for the foreseeable future, but they also had just five left for sale. And that will be the end of the Zonda, one of the few supercar success stories in recent years. Not quite, in fact, as the Zonda F track project has gathered momentum and we can expect a backslapping, $1 million+ Ferrari FXX-style project. But in terms of the road cars then the end is nigh, and the high-rolling Top Marques show might have pushed it over the edge into extinction. They'll need to build the remaining cars, but that will be that until 2008.

I pretty much dealt with the fact I won't ever get the funds to buy a Zonda long ago, but now I can't have one, not a new one anyway, so if those lottery funds drop into my account right now it is still too late. And that's what confirmed it, I would have had one.

Some people say the Zonda is a little fussy, overly ornate and impractical. It managed to beach itself in inner city Paris on a memorable episode of Top Gear and is hardly the kind of machine you could happily drive round town and leave outside Starbucks. But, had the money popped into my hand, a Zonda F would have found its way into my drive.

The 650 bhp Clubsport version of the Zonda F is a magnificent beast, with a 7.3-litre AMG engine at its core. And when I finally got my invite to the Italian factory to drive the Zonda F hard top, it felt like a casual call from Shakira to see if I was free for dinner and sultry Latin adventures. This is the kind of car that defines careers like mine, it's why we turn up for work.

Pagani worked at Lamborghini as a carbon-fiber specialist and also supplied aerospace companies, but he had a vision for a car. And with the help of legendary driver Juan-Manuel Fangio he honed the Zonda concept for more than a decade before it hit the market in 1999. A brief run in the C12 S in England was a tantalizing look into its talents, but then the full bore Zonda F on Italian soil was something else.

The factory tour showed the precision that went in to each and every component. If the carbon-fiber weave isn't lined up perfectly the whole front section is thrown away, and Pagani has settled on a pace of building just 17 cars a year despite initial projections of 35.

In the flesh it is devastating, with the signature Gatling Gun exhaust at the rear and the cab-forward design of a Group C World Sportscar brought storming into the 21st Century. It's a modern design, using modern materials and intricate touches that could keep a real enthusiast poring over the car for hours with its respective nods to the past age.

Leather straps hold the luggage compartments at bay, the vents sit atop carbon-fiber swan's necks and the pedals look like the came from some 25th Century Grand Piano. The interior is easily overdone, and a muted shade of leather works best with the skeletal binnacle, the ornate, wooden flat-bottom wheel, exposed carbon-fibre and deeply crafted seats. With that aircraft-style central console there's enough jewelery inside this thing without the dramatic finishes on offer.

It's like climbing into a cockpit getting into the Zonda F and the olde world styling touches inside the car give it the instant character it needed to have, a USP to compete with the heritage of Ferrari and Lamborghini.

This car comes packed with electronic assistance, ABS brakes and a carbon-fibre monocoque and an Ohlins and Bilstein suspension set-up designed to soak up bumps in the road rather than jump around like an excited drunk on New Year's Eve.

You can't even stall it, as the car can cruise round town in sixth gear from just 500 revs and will blip the throttle for you to prevent embarrassing gaffes in front of 1000 gawping bystanders. It's amongst the easiest of supercars to drive and it weighs just 1230kg despite its slab-like sides and substantial proportions.

Acceleration, then, is predictably explosive, with the 60mph mark passing in 3.6s and the Zonda F will have racked up 125mph by the time you've counted to 10. We weren't allowed to test the top end speed of 216mph, but the way it blasted through the 100mph mark on a broken ribbon of Italian backroad confirmed it was more than up for the task.

Horatio Pagani was allowed to drive fast, and proved the point himself by diving into the driver's seat and setting off like his hair was on fire, mulching internal organs as I sat bewildered in the passenger seat. He braked later, harder and more aggressively than I ever would have with his half-million Euro show car.

There was the sound of traction control battling with Physics underneath, the dash lit up and then this broad inverted wing just took the line anyway. On track it is apparently a laugh riot, but then you'd need to be loaded beyond all of our wildest dreams to be able to bin your Zonda and the guy that does 20,000km a year in his probably has more fun out of his car than the one that uses it purely for track work.

Because he gets to soak up the noise of that charitably liberated 7.3-liter Mercedes engine blasted through a hydroformed sports exhaust built to F1 standards of fit and finish. At low revs it sounds like distant thunder, strangely insulated from the driver at normal speeds. Give the car its full head, though, and that glorious V12 feels like it's moved inside your inner ear as the car tears up the road.

Those that own a Zonda of any vintage now have a piece of rolling history and it is assured of instant classic status. Now we have to wait for 2008 and the new car, which will almost certainly debut at Geneva, but I do feel a pang of regret that I won't be able to call the factory and order my Zonda with a self-satisfied grin.

Like I say, made me realise that, if the funds were there, I genuinely might have. And the Zonda F joins an ever-growing list of cars I should have owned, if only life were different. If you had the money and thought about it, but didn't, you have missed something truly special.

[Birmingham, UK-based Nick Hall's Car Hack's Notebook column runs whenever he has a free moment between flogging exotic tuners and supercars on European highways and test tracks. Right now, he's between sips of sherry cocktail in his favorite chaise lounge, positioned somewhere in southern Spain.]

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