Supercars are a strange thing these days. In the era of the Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Boxer, BMW M1 and the rest, supercars were objects of desire, hand built in small numbers by esoteric companies perpetually flirting with bankruptcy. Today Ferrari is one of the most valuable automakers in the world and Lamborghini makes a very nice contribution to the Volkswagen Group's bottom line.
So there are more supercars in the world than ever, and consequently, the sight of one isn't quite the event it once was. Lamborghini has built well over 10,000 examples of the Aventador, while it only managed to make 2000 Countachs.
Seeing a Pagani Huayra, though? That's an event.
We get to try out a lot of cool cars at R&T, but the opportunity to drive a Pagani comes around only once every decade or so. Unfortunately for us, it came on a rainy Tuesday morning in bustling Greenwich, Connecticut, not the ideal scenario for a car with a 791-hp twin-turbo V-12 and just two well-worn Pirelli Trofeo Rs to deal with all that power. (The photos here were shot the next day, right before the car headed to a fancy Manhattan party.) The only honest thing to do was to treat it like the event that it is.
This is the Huayra Roadster BC, the open-top version of the track-focused BC model. Everyone at Pagani referred to it as the RBC, which has a nice ring to it. The car is an exquisite thing, with its central monocoque made from carbon fiber woven with titanium, steel tubular space frames front and rear, and carbon fiber body panels. With all the clamshells opened, it's hard not to think of later Group C prototypes, especially the Sauber-Mercedes cars which founder Horacio Pagani named as an inspiration.
But a race car is a single-purpose tool. A Huayra RBC is more like a piece of art, or rather, many pieces of art bolted together into something vaguely resembling a transportation device. Pagani's thing is attention to detail, and every component of this car is lovingly designed and made, from the beautifully sprung gear selector to the very bolts, each made from titanium and stamped with the Pagani logo. You approach a Pagani like you do a painting or sculpture, reveling in the perfect little details yet appreciating their contribution to the object as a whole. I could almost understand why you'd buy one just to admire it in your garage.
Almost. The Huayra still has an AMG V-12 right up against the rear bulkhead, and it deserves to be run. And running the Huayra is charmingly old-school. The steering is a particular highlight, offering levels of communication unmatched by pretty much anything else on sale today. It seems strange to compare the Huayra to cheaper cars, but it's high praise to say the steering brings to mind McLaren and Lotus, which remain the benchmark for steering feel. And the steering is pleasantly weighty, too, a nice change of pace from the over-light wheels we now get from Ferrari.
The whole thing verges on sensory overload. You hear the pebbles bouncing off the carbon monocoque. There's everpresent turbo whooshing going on just behind your head. Even at relatively low speeds, the car's active aerodynamic flaps, two just below the rear wing and two near the nose, are constantly moving up and down, constantly catching your eye. And while other automakers have moved away from popping, crackling exhaust notes, the Huayra RBC embraces this sort of thing. One imagines it’s pretty easy to scare children when coming off throttle.
Along with the Aventador, the Huayra is one of the last cars on sale today to use a single-clutch automated manual transmission. When the Huayra first arrived in 2011, dual-clutches hadn't yet become the standard for supercars, and Pagani went with a single-clutch for weight savings. As you'd expect, the transmission game has moved on quite a bit in the last decade, but consequently, this makes the Pagani single-clutch feel more charming. The car isn't just feeding you gears relentlessly, with total smoothness; you know when a shift occurs here. Plus, there's that delightful shifter in the center console to play with.
Shockingly, the Huayra RBC was almost daily-drivable. Of course, it's a big car, and you have to be mindful of how much is behind you, but there's a great view out the front and the huge fender-mounted mirrors perfectly point out the car’s extremities. The car is still quite stiff with the adaptive dampers set to soft, though the quality of damping means that everything is kept under control. If you can get over the pressure of driving a car worth around $4 million (and I suspect that if you can afford it, you will) it's not much harder to use than a McLaren or a Lamborghini.
Oh, yeah: As tested, this thing costs $4 million, give or take a few hundred thousand. I don't think it's worthwhile to talk about value here, because at a certain point the idea of “value” becomes irrelevant. The Huayra RBC is as much about its intangibles, like the sense of occasion it brings to all proceedings or the artful nature of its components, as it is a driving experience. You could just get a McLaren 765LT if you wanted a similarly fast car, but it would never drop jaws in quite the same way.
I had as much fun poring over the car in the photo studio as I did driving it. Maybe I would feel differently if I had more time, better weather, and the hills outside of Modena to really experience the car. But a true supercar is about far more than steering feel.
My generation can never know what it must've been like to see a Countach in the Seventies. But I imagine seeing a Huayra now gives us a pretty good idea.
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