Last fall, my buddy and fellow car-writing blowhard, Bryan Campbell sent me what started as an extremely exciting text that quickly morphed into an ear-warming flush of nervousness and self-doubt. Bryan told me he was supposed to interview Horacio Pagani for [redacted] (big ol famous publication) in two days, but something came up and he couldn’t make it. So, he wanted to offer me his slot to interview one of the most successful and talented car designers of all time for [redacted] (one of the biggest and most successful publications of all time). I said, “hell yeah” so fast I nearly choked.
The buzzing excitement almost instantly dissolved into sluggish self-doubt thicker than day-old grits. [Cue panicky internal dialogue]
Me: What the hell am I thinking?
Also Me: Its cool, man. You got this
Me: There are gonna be real journalists there.
Also Me: Nah, playboy. You’re a real journalist, too.
Me: I don’t know, man. I don’t know what to ask.
Also Me: It’s cool, man. That’s what Google is for.
Me: [Starts typing] You right…
Me: [Stops typing] Oh, God! I don’t even know how to spell his name!
Also Me: Dude! You can’t even spell his name? Yeah, you done, son.
After the blistering interview with myself, I sat down and decided to get proactive. I read and read and read. I learned as much as I could in two days and wrote three pages of “thoughtful” and “hard-hitting” journalistic questions. The only things I knew about Pagani’s car were that they are scary fast and shamefully expensive. I reckoned that was all I needed to know.
“I bet Horacio will expect me to be nervous around him. I bet he thinks he’s better than me. I don’t think so.”
I decided I was gonna go in with a hard-nosed approach of being too cool to be intimated by him. “Just cause he builds multimillion-dollar cars doesn’t have to mean anything to me.”
I figured all the other journalists were gonna be licking his boot heels because he’s famous and rich, but I wasn’t gonna do that. I’m a different kind of journalist who tells the truth and blah, blah, blah.
It was bullshit. Everything I’d told myself. It was all bullshit.
Why did I think Horacio would expect me to be nervous? How did I know how the other writers would conduct themselves? Who the hell was I to decide that it was wrong for fans to be pumped to hang with the person they’re fans of?
I was so sure that I wasn’t good enough to be in the room that I believed everyone else had to be thinking the same thing. Nevermind the fact that Horacio didn’t know me, and probably didn’t care about where I was in my career, even if he did.
So I went down to Grand Central Station to sit down with Horacio Pagani for a chat. Grand Central is magnificent on its worst day. That day, the commuter hub was looking particularly strong with a lineup of six cars from the bespoke hypercar company. One of these cars alone can be a bit much to take in. With six gathered together, especially in NYC, the art deco train station looked like a newly annexed wing of the Bat Cave. The intimidation came rushing back in.
The cars were carefully roped off from the tens-of-thousands of tourists and commuters coming through the train station. Not only did a psychological barrier need crossing, but there was also apparently a physical one I had to cross without any sort of ticket, pass, or credentials whatsoever. I nervously told them my name and that I was there with [redacted] (the fancy publication I hoped to maybe possibly, one day, sell this article to).
“I’m sorry Mr. Corn. You aren’t on the list.”
No name on the list. There it was, the physical manifestation of feeling like a fraud unfolding right in front of me. Thousands of my new friends stared at me being denied access to the fancy people side of the ropes where the fancy cars are. I just kept rambling at the lady with the clipboard until I put together a string of enough important names and industry jargon for her to believe that I was supposed to be there.
She let me in. I walked around the cars and inspected each one the way one approaches an unbroken horse — like they might spook if I moved too suddenly. They are beautiful things, though. Each one is a truly inspired work clearly made by someone who cares deeply for them. As I sat there at the table with a politely-portioned plate of finger foods, I read over my three pages of “hard-hitting” journalism questions and felt embarrassed by them. I was embarrassed of myself. I like getting to know people. I like talking to folks and figuring out who they are and letting them do the same with me. These questions were crap and my devotion to being someone who needed to fit into this group was double crap. I decided I just wanted to talk to the guy. Forget the internet and learn who he is and why he does what he does the old-fashioned way.
As I unpacked all my mushy self-realizations, a tall, strong-looking woman walked up to me with a small, grey-haired man with a sweet face and small glasses, and asked in a charming Italian accent, “Are you ready to talk to Mr. Pagani?” I said, “Sure! Where is he?” She laughed and spoke Italian to the sweet-looking old man next to her. She turned back to me and said, “This is Mr. Pagani.” He just smiled. I dried off my sweaty hand and said, “Hey, man. My name is Peter Corn. It’s nice to meet ya.” He reciprocated my politeness via his translator. I proceeded to ask him the first question that popped into my head.
Peter Corn (PC): So Horacio, are you a morning person? You know, a breakfast guy?
Horacio Pagani (HP): All my life I’ve woken up very early. There are many beautiful ideas going around early in the morning and if I get up while everyone is still sleeping, I can be the one to grab the good ideas.
PC: So I’ve heard that music is a big part of your process. Where else outside of the automotive world do you find inspiration?
HP: My mentor and idol is Leonardo Da Vinci, and I have been studying his entire body of work for over fifty years. My curiosity comes from observing the world, from observing other people and the details of life in the world. I live in a small town, and I take my bicycle from my house to the office. In the morning I take a one hour walk around a small lake near my house to observe the details of nature.
PC: I’m a musician, and I noticed that in your cars, which are so performance-driven in their design, that you chose to put big, very prominent, high-end speakers directly behind the seats, whereas many other serious performance cars might choose to save weight by not adding comforts like this. How else does your love of music affect the design of your car’s interiors?
HP: Music has accompanied me all my life. My house in Argentina used to have a piano and now there is a piano in the factory.
PC: You play?
HP: Yeah. Also at my house in Italy, there is a piano. I never studied music, but I love to play.
PC: Which piano is your favorite?
HP: Steinway and Sons.
PC: I had read somewhere that you were listening to music and noticed the speaker’s design when you came up with the quad exhaust design. Tell me more about that?
HP: I said to myself, could I make the exhaust system project like the speakers in my room? I wanted to make the sound exit the car like that. [He continues his explanation by acting like he is shooting a gun]. Do do do do do do do do. There was a machine gun in WWII that I also thought of when designing the exhaust. People used to always stop me and say that it looked like Batman’s car. The exhaust has become a signature of Pagani.
PC: Of everything you’ve designed on these cars, is there one specific piece that you love the most? The one part that when you see it, it makes you smile?
HP: [ Without hesitation or speaking a word, he pulls on my sleeve and leads me across the showroom and points] This is the shifter and gearbox of the Huayra. It’s handmade with layers of wood and carbon fiber.
PC: Speaking of the Huayra, I heard that the Huayra is named after the Incan god of wind, I wondered if you had a history of studying the Inca or was that a way to connect your work with your South American Heritage?
HP: The Zonda was also named after the wind. It was picked by my friends in Argentina. When we were working on the Huayra, I started thinking about names, and I wanted to continue the wind theme. I was flying through Bolivia and passed over Lake Titicaca and thought I could give that name to my car.
PC: Do you think you’ll follow the wind theme for the next car?
HP: Well, the next car will come out in the first weeks of November 2022, but three years ago, I started to do the first sketches of the new car. The first lines I drew for the new car, I saw the name of the car, but it has nothing to do with the wind, but I don’t know. We will see.
PC: What is the next thing for Pagani that you are most personally excited about?
HP: We need around six to seven years to design a new model. The first three years are dedicated to studying the structural design, bodywork, and dynamics of the car. The next three years are dedicated to the details.
Sometimes my employees will spend large amounts of time redoing one small detail over and over, and sometimes, they can’t see the difference in what I am asking for, but I can see it. Sometimes, they will eventually get psychologically exhausted from redoing one task over and over. When I see someone getting exhausted, I will ask them to do the design of merchandising, t-shirts, or let’s say interior design for airplanes. You should come to the factory and you will see everything in the factory is designed by me and my team: cups, plates, and even the bathrooms. Many things made of carbon fiber.
PC: Do you recall something specific that you felt or noticed from the very first time you were in a car that you designed?
HP: I am claustrophobic. I don’t like to be in a closed space. Many of my cars have glass in the roof so I wouldn’t feel trapped. The night before the first drive I did in the second car, I had a nightmare that the roof was too low and I couldn’t move. I was afraid that I created a car that was too small. After I did the test and everything worked, I was happy to find that I did well, but I am very critical of my cars. I am never in love with my cars.
When I drive my cars, I only focus on ways to make them more perfect. It’s the opposite when I drive other cars like Ferraris or other cars. I don’t care; I’m relaxed.
PC: Other than your bicycle, what car do you drive the most?
HP: [He pulls out his phone and starts showing me pictures of his car collection: Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes, and so on.] I will often go to my garage to see my cars, and I’ll ask myself ‘which one?’ and I usually end up taking my bicycle.
PC: Now for the serious stuff. If you had to buy a pickup truck, what would you get?
HP: In the 70’s I worked a lot with pickups when I was a cabinet maker, but Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota… I don’t care.
PC: Last question: If cars didn’t exist, in fact, no planes, or any major transportation machines exist, what do you think you would be doing? What would you want to do?
HP: If there was nothing, I would be most happy in the world if I could invent the bicycle. The bicycle is the most amazing means of transportation ever.
PC: Thanks, Horacio
HP: Thank You.