The Pagani Zonda Field Guide

Horacio Pagani’s baroque street racer has turned ten and is leaving the supercar scene with the Zonda R track special. We celebrate with an illustrated guide of every Zonda model ever made, complete with Harry Metcalfe’s galactic scoutship and a guest appearance by Scarlett Johansson’s breasts.

In addition to dreaming about space travel and putting out warehouse fires, longing to build your own supercar is a clearly marked phase in the development of the male forebrain. It is triggered by a spike of testosterone at around the age of six, quickly subsiding as Ferraris are replaced by dinosaurs then girls as the focus of attention. The chance of retaining the supercar dream is infinitesimally tiny: just compare the number of human males beyond the age of six to the number of supercar marquees currently on sale. Far more men have seen the dark side of the Moon with their bare eyes.

Detail of Harry Metcalfe’s Zonda traversing Saturn

Yet in some outliers, the desire remains. A telling note of every supercar’s origin in the juvenile brain is that most of them can easily be sketched by kindergarten tools of art. Supercars have wings, streaks, stripes, guns, jet engines, they sit low and wide and long, they capture the very essence of the automobile. Everyone with working hands can Crayola a recognizable Ferrari Testarossa—try that with a Crown Victoria.

Horacio Pagani is one such outlier. His first car has turned ten this year and is about to go out with a bang in the form of a rocket ship track special called the Zonda R. And just consider the sheer improbability of that! Every single supercar manufacturer since Lamborghini has failed. People who built their own engines, people who used borrowed parts and big block V8’s, they all failed. Giotto Bizzarrini failed, Alejandro de Tomaso failed. Gerald Wiegert failed.

Maybe because grown men simply are not supposed to retain their childhood habits, the world is out against the supercar. Most products benefit from individual manufacturing, from artisan goat cheese to Savile Row suits, but supercars are the exception. A car is such a complicated piece of machinery that industrial production lines enable manufacturers to shake down their designs to a quality much higher than allowed by the human hand. Supercars are mostly handmade and they rarely number more than a few hundred. Creating one that is the equal of but a mundane Civic is a gargantuan task.

And the economics of the business are brutal. The average supercar may have an asking price ten times that of a regular car, but Toyotas don’t outnumber Ferraris by a factor of ten: they do by a factor of one thousand. As for Pagani, he has built and sold around a hundred Zondas so far, and even at an average price of half a million euros, he has earned at most fifty million from his cars. Unlike high-tech windfalls, such income cannot be spent on Ferraris: instead, he has to design, build and sell actual product to people with taste, demands and money.

There have been a large number of Zonda submodels over the years, but they add up to a scant hundred cars. Drag them all to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and the mountain gorillas will outnumber them.

I have only seen a single Zonda on the road in my life and even then, I wasn’t sure of what I’d seen. All I know is that it was low, it was purple, and it zagged with a lateral speed more common in video games than on the surface of the Earth, where coefficients of friction are not left to the whim of a text string.

You, dear reader, shall never have to face such harrowing moments of automotive doubt. Presented here is our guide to every Zonda model ever built so you will be able to tell them apart with supreme confidence. All ten of them.

Make that eleven, should you ever leave the gravitational field of the Earth.


Horacio Pagani must be an extremely humble man. Just imagine his sheer focus over the decades. His restraint. After hacking together race cars in his native Argentina, escaping Galtieri’s dictatorship to Italy, sweeping the floors of Lamborghini to get closer to the cars—learning all about carbon fiber in the process—then setting up Modena Design, this is where he began: five prototypes in 1999. And it would still take years until the Zonda would become the Miura of our age and I wouldn’t hear about it for another three years.

The C12 had an AMG Mercedes six-liter V12 to give it four hundred horsepower, which is about as much as the Volkswagen Golf GTI will have in 2011, but of course this is 1999 and you’re still using Windows 98. It was more than enough.

All five examples of the Pagani Zonda C12.

Five C12’s were made, which means you have a better chance of coming across a specific grain of sand in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the Rub’ al Khali, than ever spotting one on the street. A street which may very well be in more developed parts of Saudi Arabia and where you will have to look for two features. Snail-eyes rearview mirrors which are—unlike the split wings of later C12’s—combined with a one-piece rear wing, carried straight over from Pagani’s previous automotive project: the 25th Anniversary Countach.

C12 S

If you’ve ever seen a Pagani Zonda, it was probably a C12 S. AMG must have been impressed with where Pagani put their big V12, because they gave him an even bigger one: seven liters instead of six, forever abandoning hot hatch doses horsepower for five hundred and fifty.

Wyclef Jean and his Pagani Zonda C12 S

Look for the snail eyes on the A-pillars, the split rear wing in the rear, and listen for the Haitian groove on the stereo: Wyclef Jean owns one.

C12 S 7.3

The people at Mercedes—whom Pagani was introduced to by his mentor, Juan Manuel Fangio—must have been real super happy with Pagani at this point, as they squeezed another three hundred cubic centimeters of combustion chamber into his monster of an engine, which is now approaching Viper levels of magnitude: 445 cubic inches in Mopar-speak.

You will probably be in grave trouble should a C12 S and a C12 S 7.3 pass you on the street if your street cred depends on telling cars apart. We at Hyperleggera Labs have obtained a copy of each, put it under our microscopes, but the differences were still not visible at the level of diatoms. Of said diatoms, an impression:

Haeckel’s “Kunstformen der Natur” does not feature Zondas, nor the differences between the C12 S and the C12 S 7.3

C12 S 7.3 Roadster

The 7.3 Roadster was built so that people who think roadsters are for sissies can shut the fuck up. Thanks to Pagani’s inhuman knowledge of carbon fiber, the strengthening necessary after getting rid of the roof was done by realigning the strands of carbon fiber instead of bolting big lumps of steel on the bottom, as common on most roadsters. The car weighs no more than the 7.3 coupé and comes with a space warp device to morph all the paved tunnels in the world into a continuous whole at the push of a button. Just so you can shriek your passenger and yourself into lunatic, giddy joy with that V12 at full throttle.

Please direct your gaze from Ms. Johansson’s breasts to the Zonda C12 S 7.3 Roadster parked on the pier.

The C12 S 7.3 Roadster was featured on Top Gear once, where Richard Hammond managed the unlikely feat of turning it into the second most interesting thing on screen, as he opened his segment riding a carbon fiber and titanium 118 Wallypower speedboat. And in a cruel twist of fate, the boat later showed up in Michael Bay’s The Island, who managed the unlikely feat of turning it into the third most interesting thing on screen, after Scarlett Johansson’s left and right breasts, respectively.


Pagani has repeatedly mentioned that the Zonda’s fighter-pilot-meets-aircraft-carrier aesthetic was inspired by the Group C racers of the Eighties. It was three years into the Zonda program when he was approached by race car builder Tom Weickart to turn the Zonda into a proper endurance racer. The interior was stripped, a large rear wing was added, and due to regulations, the 7.3 was replaced with a six liter engine.

Lamborghini’s Law kicked in at this point, which states that with the exception of Ferrari, a boutique carmaker cannot successfully make both road and race cars. Thus the superb Zonda of the road became the lame Zonda of the track. Even though its snail eye rearview mirrors were replaced with conventional units, the car qualified at the bottom of the grid both at Sebring and at Le Mans, and quickly broke down in both races.

A Zonda GR bogged down in the sand.

You will, of course, never see a Zonda GR on the road, so all this is irrelevant. Unless some rich dude buys one to make donuts on a beach.

C12 S Monza

Continuing the line of race specials, the Monza was a GR you could actually buy, although I can’t tell if anyone ever did. Potential owners could sigh in relief: freed from race regulations, the Monza got the 7.3 back, good for 600 horsepower.

The Zonda Monza is very, very fast.

Aspiring zondologists should conceal themselves in the foliage by the Monza racetrack’s abandoned Parabolica curve and listen for the car’s high shriek. Patience will be awarded with a lightning dash of blue: the C12 S Monza had its doorsills and its engine cover painted electric Lego blue.

Please do not forget to pack enough water and sea salt. It gets very hot in Italy in the summer.


All that race car distraction brings us back to the Zonda’s one major revision. Named F for Juan Manuel Fangio, the man who on August 4, 1957 slipped the surly bonds of the Nordschleife to become one of the greatest racing drivers ever when he broke lap record upon lap record in a three-year-old car to win his last Grand Prix and his last F1 Championship.

Chassis number 2529 happens to be the Maserati 250F race car the Pagani Zonda F’s initialsake, Juan Manuel Fangio, won his last Grand Prix with. Pictured here is the F’s rearview mirror.

Fangio was the man who took the young Pagani under his wings and although he did not live to see his initialsake, he would probably be pleased. The car has evolved in every regard, with tweaks to the engine, the aerodynamics, the weave of the carbon fiber, the whatnot.

You will identify this car by the world’s most beautiful rearview mirror ever designed. It also has a single rear wing as opposed to the C12’s split one.

Roadster F

This is so you can check your smug expression in plain view of all passersby in the most beautiful rearview mirror ever designed, caused by owning a car with the most beautiful rearview mirror ever designed.

Try counter-periscoping on a medium-format camera to peek inside their Zonda Roadster F’s

It will not hurt if you’re a Kuwaiti with a penchant for gilded Playboy baseball caps, like Al Roudham Bader, a peculiar man who owns at least three Zondas and stores them, along with his extraordinary lot of other supercars, on a garage row in a Hungarian industrial town. He keeps them padlocked.


In the Ferrari tradition of dealer-inspired special editions, the Cinque—sans cento—is a more extreme version of the F. If you ever find yourself in Hong Kong and you’re distracted by a large Japanese athletic shoe moving through traffic with great agility, congratulations: you will just have seen twenty percent of the world’s Cinques. Head for the nearest snack store and buy yourself at least five different kinds of M&M’s.

Albatross, meet Zonda Cinque. Zonda Cinque, meet albatross.

By the time you’re finished with your first pack, the Cinque will have sped across the South China Sea and all the way across the Indian Ocean to land on the Subantarctic island of Kerguelen, where it will be eyed with suspicion by a resident albatross and where the car will get bogged down, forcing its rich owner to subsist on the Kerguelen cabbage Pringlea antiscorbutica until the Marion Dufresne comes to his rescue.


Rumored and photoshopped and rendered since 2007, this is to be the last Zonda. Sharing only ten percent of its parts with earlier Zondas, it’s a full-on track menace, a car built to out-MC12 the MC12 and out-FXX the FXX. We car nerds of the world shall hope and pray that there exists a person who had not given his money to Bernie Madoff and who, in spite of the financial maelström this lovely, ludicrous car happens to co-habit, will buy one, do whatever it takes to make it street legal, and head for the line of black poplars at the head of the Hunaudières straight in Le Mans.

Please be careful with hot beverages if you’re in the vicinity of a Zonda R

But not on race weekend, when the Straight is fouled with chicanes, but on a breezy spring afternoon. Buy a café au lait at the Tertre Rouge Bar and wait for the inevitable twelve-barreled shotgun blast to your nerdy heart.

What a way to go!


So, one more Zonda. Readers of Evo magazine will, of course, be familiar with founding editor Harry Metcalfe’s C12 UFO, the car he replaced his Ferrari 550 Maranello with. Constant readers will also be aware of his frequent trips to Pagani HQ, which have resulted in a wholly unique car over the years, with mostly everything upgraded to F-spec.

Yet the car is—in the great tradition of obvious misdirection favored by Italy’s secretive space program—no longer a car. On summer evenings, Metcalfe takes off from his high-tech farmhouse to scout nearby solar systems. In an entirely unpublicized episode, for instance, he made a pitstop by Saturn on his way out to repair NASA’s Cassini-Huygens probe, thereby extending its mission by another two years.

Harry Metcalfe is using the gravitational field of Saturn as a sling in his Zonda C12 UFO.

Not much is known about the propulsion system of C12 UFO, but it follows a proud line of Italian spacecraft disguised as Italian supercars, a line that began on the evening of March 12, 1915 in the Milan suburb of Portello with the A.L.F.A 40/60 HP Aerodinamica, a spacecraft with carried, among others, Ferruccio Lamborghini’s paternal aunt Lucrezia Lamborghini-Gianpoeano to Gliese 876.

Please don’t feel confused! The Italian automotive space program will soon be chronicled here on Hyperleggera.

Until then, to the streets, Zonda spotters! Armed with your field guide, you will no longer call every long, loud and low car a Ferrari. You will impress your friends, Aspies and non-Aspies alike, and may even impress certain women.

Look for blondes who can high-heel-and-toe.

Published on Thursday, February 12th, 2009


By Tuan:

This is a very odd blog.

You are very odd people.

I am definitely going to visit this site often.

Posted on Thursday, February 12th, 2009

By Al Navarro:

I was turned on to this site by David Traver Aldophus, who claims that Peter is his “favorite living autowriter”.

After reading this entertaining but chock-full-of-information piece, I immediately forwarded the link to everyone I know who cares about cars. Bravo!

Posted on Thursday, February 12th, 2009

By PeterD:

Was the Stout Scarab the American cousin of the 40/60 HP Aero­d­i­nam­ica? Learning of this Italian automotive space industry makes me wonder if the Scarab was the founder of a similar, American program.

Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2009

By kreto alak:

Never quite understood the fuss about the Zonda, even though I’ve once seen it proceed on civilian tarmac. Nice text though. Keeping it unreal.

Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2009

By Misi:

Hi Peter,
One has to bow respectfully reading this wonderfully stitched patchwork of information.

The newest offering of the web on this subject is a fresh video of the ZONDA R, the meanest bastard of them Zondas. Check it out here: http://stipistop.com/zonda-r-megy/

I have been nagging you to meet up before, and am continuing to do so in the form of this comment. We should have coffee.
Let me know, if you drink coffee.

Posted on Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

By Nick Kulczak:

Peter, your blog has blasted me back to the happy age of seven, when I dreamt of building my own “Zonda” with improbably-placed exhaust outlets and Spaceman Spiff styling. But because I thought it improbable that I’d be able to generate the funds to build such a machine before my eigth birthday, I developed an alternate plan for great automotive satisfaction:

I’d liberate a 962C factory car from the Le Mans track. Skidding into the waiting bay of a nearby garage, Barbara Bach would hose off its racing paint and decals in the style of Cannonball Run II, before leaping into the “passenger seat” for a wild ride through Sarthe and West Germany. We’d encounter Willi Koenig in his twin-turbo Ferrari 512–who, upon losing the race to 215mph, would be so jealous he’d build his own 962!

We would have changed the tuning world forever, and after riding (loudly) into the sunset, Ms. Bach and I would set the car free to live in the wild, away from the restrictions of the track. Proudly it would roll to Stuttgart to rule the asphalt jungle as the head of the Porsche pride, and to mate with a 959.

The Porsche company would recognize this strengthening of their bloodlines, and give us each $150k, with which we’d quad-turbocharge our existing Lamborghini Countaches, and race back to America.

Ah, to be seven again. I don’t think I’d considered at the time that Barbara Bach was about two and a half feet taller than I was. *Sigh*.

Anyway: The picture of the Cinque cruising upside-down over the sardonic albatross is my new desktop background. I laughed out loud when I saw it.

Posted on Monday, March 9th, 2009