What the Pagani Zonda tells us about the future of the sports car

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Pagani said the Zonda would be finished after 2013. AMG stopped producing the V12 at the heart of it, and well, the whole world was going turbo, right? Even so, there’s been at least one or two new Zondas produced every year since it’s production was supposed to stop. People have actually been willing to pay AMG to custom fabricate the V12 engine, paying astronomical sums that make a mere Huayra seem affordable. Prices of pre-owned Zondas are also through the roof at multiple millions, depending on model and spec.

It seems pretty clear that the market still has quite an appetite for the Zonda, and what’s more, many of them being ordered even have a true manual gearbox.

The Zonda you see above is the Pagani Zonda HP Barchetta, revealed just this past weekend at Pebble Beach. It looks pretty fantastic for a car that was originally designed in the early 1990’s, and that finished production four years ago. I know there is word going around that the three Pagani Zonda HP Barchettas may in fact be the last three Zondas, but I think that would be a big mistake on Pagani’s part.

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If the market wants it, they really should make it, and I think this is the direction that the entire enthusiast car market is going in the future. I mean in addition to Pagani, just look at Singer Vehicle Design. People are spending over $500,000 to rebuild simple old 911’s, and make them into works of sheer art. Furthermore, look at Porsche bringing back the manual in the new GT3 after they saw prices of used GT3s skyrocket when they went PDK only in the 991.1.

I’m going to tell you a secret. No matter what hype you hear in the industry, no car enthusiast really wants an electric sports car. There’s so little driver involvement and such a shallow depth to the experience, that it get’s boring after a few insane launches. It’s like making a baby with artificial insemination, more efficient, not nearly as enjoyable. And all this talk about self-driving sports and racing cars, that’s like a blow up doll that screws itself. Why would anyone want to bother with that?

So many people in the industry are all over the technology bandwagon, all about the newest stuff, but nobody seems to be asking if this is what people actually want, at least not in the realm of enthusiast cars. I agree, for most drivers, who don’t care about cars at all, self-driving electric cars are coming as soon as they can, and I think they should. But for those of us who go out and drive just for the sake of fun and letting off the steam of the week, it’s not about efficiency at all. It’s all about pure enjoyment for the senses, and little else.

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That’s why people like being strapped to a giant fire-spitting V12 engine on wheels, because it’s a total riot! And I don’t give a shit if the electric Rimac or Tesla is faster, the Zonda and the old Porsche both emit a sound that is wildly addictive, and they don’t do the driving for you. If you nail a perfect shift, that was all your own doing. A real driver’s car has a variety individual skills to be mastered in tandem with one another, that’s why the experience is timeless.

None of the new technology the industry has been peddling has added any driver involvement to the experience, quite the opposite, in fact. That’s fine if you’re commuting every day, but people who want to drive want something they get real satisfaction out of. That’s why demand spikes for the older cars when manufacturers make changes to new models that continue to further insulate that driver from the road. There’s no denying that Ferraris and Porsches fitted with manuals are holding value a lot better than those with paddle shifters. Money talks, bullshit walks, and as mass-market automobiles move away from driving all together, the enthusiast sector will have no choice but to return to making the driver’s cars that enthusiasts clearly actually want.

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The Pagani Zonda is probably the most extreme example of this. I mean why else would anyone spend at least double the money to commission a new manual Zonda when they could have a cutting edge Pagani Huayra with paddle shifters. I’m not trying to demean the Huayra here, I love it to death, but in experiential terms the Zonda just does more for me with its howling V12 and manual gearshift. The Zonda is an old school car, designed in the same era as the Ferrari F50, and it’s managed to endure because it’s the last analoge hypercar option left. Saying the Huayra was the Zonda’s replacement is like saying a 911 Turbo could replace the GT3. They’re not even the same thing, and there is surely room for both in the world. Maybe that’s me pleading to Pagani, in my own way, to keep making the Zonda. But mark my words, if the three Zonda HP Barchettas are the last ones made, you will see the values of all Zondas double or triple in the next few years. And in economic terms, that means the market still has an appetite for them.

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I know the Zonda is unobtanium for almost everyone, but it illustrates the issue at hand for car enthusiasts at all levels of the market. If the sports car ever dies, it won’t be because of demand, but because car makers aren’t listening to the market. Pagani has been listening, Porsche has been listening, and yes Ferrari and Lamborghini were listening too when they canned their manual transmissions. However, they replaced them with a genuine second best option, dual clutch paddle shifts, that are still quite engaging to drive. Going any further though, getting rid of gears, making the car drive itself, getting rid of the beautiful sound, that will ruin the appeal.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but the trick for the beauty of the human experience, is to know how far to take it. Just because we can do certain things, doesn’t mean they’re a good idea. In the end of the day, it’s all about desire, and that requires some imperfection.

-Nick Walker

(Image credits: Autoblog)

Check out this video on the new Zonda from Marchettino:

 

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