Saturday, January 21, 2012

1999 Pagani Zonda C12: Childhood Ecstasy

I wish I would have grown up in the late 90s or early 2000s, because if I had, I would have had the chance to hang a poster over my bed of the Pagani Zonda. In my opinion, the Zonda is the Testarossa of the 80s and the Countach of the 70s. It's a car that captures the childish fervor inside every car enthusiast, who really just wants the scariest looking car to be their favorite.

The Zonda's car design had been worked through in the past by former Formula One driver, Juan Manual Fangio, but unfortunately, it never came to fruition due to his death in 1995. Four years later; however, due to the resilience of Pagani owner, Horacio Pagani, the first Pagani Zonda debuted at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show as the first Pagani production vehicle: the Pagani Zonda C12. The Zonda C12 would continue to see enhanced versions and variants over next decade, such as the Zonda C12 S, Zonda C12 S 7.3, Zonda F (C12 F), Roadster F, and the Zonda R. Although Pagani is often poked at for releasing an additional dozen or so variants, they are also commonly called out for releasing several "final" versions of the original Zonda C12. One thing is certain though, the Zonda will hold children in awe for many years as Zonda posters hang on bedroom walls but the final final final Zonda was finally succeeded in January of 2011 as Pagani officially debuted the Pagani Huayra.

Pagani has fascinated car enthusiasts around the world just like Koenigsegg has done with the CC and Agera. Pagani and Koenigsegg sprung out of nowhere in the late 90s into the same class as the Bugatti Veyron and Italian hypercars like the Lamborghini Reventon and Ferrari Enzo. Pagani has managed to captivate and fascinate car enthusiasts because of the fact that the Zonda C12 is a purely raw, manly machine that requires so much courage to drive that not even Batman would take one as his next Batmobile.

Back in 1999, when the original Zonda C12 debuted, it was mated to a tuned 6.0 liter Mercedes-Benz M120 V12 engine that produced 389 horsepower at 5,200 RPM and 420 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 RPM. By today's standards, those numbers are not overly impressive, considering that the 2011 BMW M3 produces 414 horsepower from a 4.0 liter V8. However, the numbers must be considered in the context of 1999. First, consider the Ferrari 360 Modena that also came into production in 1999, it has a 3.6 liter V8 that produces 400 horsepower, while the 360's V12 counterpart of the time, the Ferrari 456 produced 436 horsepower from all 5.5 liters. But this is Ferrari we're talking about, with over 2,700 employees and dozens of engineers building custom engines. Pagani, which started in 1992, has about 50 employees and some friends at Daimler's AMG subsidiary, so why not use their R&D dollars for your engine?

Pagani's first engine, the 6.0 liter M120 V12 can also be found in the Mercedes Benz SL600 from 1992-2002 but by building this relationship with AMG, Pagani was later able to refine the engine components and needs to build better, larger, more powerful engines in the future versions, namely, the Zonda S and Zonda S 7.3. Despite the fact that it came from an SL600, the AMG engine pushed the Pagani Zonda from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, nearly a full second faster than the SL600 and on to a top speed of 211 mph. The difference can be attributed to the 1,700 lbs (771 kg) difference in weight. The 1999 Pagani Zonda C12 weighed in at 2,756 lbs (1,250 kg) which was 220 lbs (100 kg) lighter than the Ferrari 360, and 970 lbs (440 kg) lighter than Ferrari's V12 456. I find that to be an interesting difference considering that the Ferraris have more power, yet lag in weight reduction. In my mind, that essentially puts Pagani back in the playground with Ferrari. The Pagani was specifically built as a carbon fibre monocoque, allowing for critical chassis integration to both form and function, and for optimizing performance to the paired 6.0 V12, hence the drastic weight difference and performance figures.

Mated to a 5-speed manual and an interior that'll make you feel like you're about to dogfight in a P-51 Mustang is exactly what should and would get anyone excited about this car. At the end of the day, the Pagani Zonda isn't just the brainchild vision of Horacio Pagani, it's the car experience that we all dream about.

However, with only 5 original Zonda C12 models built, very few people on this planet will ever get to experience the original C12. One Zonda was used for a crash test and another was used as a show car, that leaves only three C12 Zondas that were delivered to customers for a competitive price of $320,000 USD. It's unfortunate though that since 1999 and as of 2012, that the US safety regulation body, the NHTSA, has prohibited the sale of Pagani vehicles in the US. Yes, that includes the Huayra. Nonetheless, we can continue to dream on in our childhood dreams of the Pagani experience. Who knows, maybe one day we'll see Pagani in the US. Dreams, after all, were meant to come true. Until then, keep dreaming and I'm sure you can see why I would still hang a ferocious Pagani Zonda C12 on my imaginary childhood wall, a Mercedes Benz is comfortable, a Ferrari is fast, but a Pagani is why life insurance was invented.

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