THE LAST COUNTACH Horacio Pagani’s Lamborghini
Horacio Pagani’s name may be best known today for his own supercar brand, but he cut his teeth down the road at Lamborghini’s Sant’Agata factory. Pagani started off sweeping the floors – literally – before his engineering skills were appreciated by Lamborghini’s management. He ended up being a key figure in the development of the 1988 Countach Anniversary, a model built to celebrate Lamborghini’s 25th anniversary.
So when we found out that – after two successful decades making Pagani supercars – Horacio had recently bought himself a Countach Anniversary, this felt like the ideal moment to visit the Pagani works and quiz him about his days at Sant’Agata.
It’s a now-familiar chapter in motoring history that, when the Argentinean-born Horacio Pagani decided to move to Italy, he was buying a one-way ticket to a dream life. And by force of will, his dream actually came true. He had the vision and the skills to become a master craftsman, and within a few years, he would achieve legendary status with his own supercar company.
Horacio Pagani was born in Argentina on 10 November 1955 as the son of Italian immigrants. On arriving in Italy in 1982, he beat a path to Lamborghini, home of the Countach. “I already knew the Countach by heart because it was the dream car of my generation,” Pagani told us. “I had a poster of that car in my bedroom. It was black – I still remember it.”
His mission came full circle in 1988 when, having been at Lamborghini for five years, he was asked to update the Countach for the company’s 25th anniversary. This was not an easy task, because Marcello Gandini’s masterpiece was very much a creature of the 1970s. Now, some 15 years on, we were in the brave new world of VHS, floppy discs, Miami Vice and, crucially, the headline-grabbing Ferrari Testarossa. “The makeover of the Countach was an interesting challenge,” says Pagani. “The model was, at the time, ageing badly and it was proving hard to sell. Apart from the aesthetics, there was also the issue of United States homologation rules. I immediately realised it would not be an easy task. The first prototype was ready in three months. I had the opportunity to show it to Juan Manuel Fangio, as well as Paul Frère, who happened to be in Sant’Agata at the time.
As soon as he saw it, he was particularly impressed by it. Ultimately, Lamborghini sold over 650 units in just a few months – it was a real success.”
Compared to the outgoing Countach QV, it was the Anniversary’s air ducts that were most striking, with the shadow of Ferrari’s Testarossa looming large. New rear intake ducts gained prominent strakes, which gave a better airflow but looked like the stylistic equivalent of 1980s shoulder pads. The engine lid was also redesigned, as were both bumpers, and the side skirts were also ‘treated’ to strakes.
The Anniversary proved to be the swansong of the Countach line: made from 1988 to 1990, some 657 were built in total. Pagani continued to work on Lamborghini projects, including the LM002 and the 1987 Countach Evoluzione, the very the first supercar to use a carbonfibre monocoque. He left the home of the Raging Bull in 1991 to set up his own company, Pagani Automobili Modena, as had always been his intention.
“I was in the heart of Modena’s ‘Motor Valley’. At the time, the Modena area was not yet known by that accolade, but my goal had always been to move to Modena to build my own cars.” Having gained experience and skills by learning from some of Italy’s greatest craftsmen and engineers, he was fully qualified to create his own car.
The Pagani Zonda finally emerged in 1999, and its many evolutions – together with the new Huayra – qualify Pagani as a serious and innovative player, high on the slopes of the supercar Olympus.
The secret of his success?
The clear understanding that supercar customers were seeking not only performance, but also uniqueness, personalisation and a different way of thinking. In 2017, Horacio Pagani bought himself a 25th Anniversary Countach – a superb silver example with a red leather interior, with just 2000km on the odometer. We caught up with him where the car currently resides – at his own museum – to ask him about his experiences at Lamborghini.
How did you get to Sant’Agata?
“I knocked on Lamborghini’s door in 1983, carrying with me five endorsement letters written by Juan Manuel Fangio. One of these was addressed to Giulio Alfieri (who had been, from 1982, general manager of Lamborghini). Alfieri told me that there were no opportunities at the company because it was in very bad shape.
“I told him the words that everybody refers to today when they apply for a job with me at Pagani. ‘Allow me to wipe the floor. Remember I’ve come here to make the most beautiful car on earth.’ Alfieri laughed and felt guilty enough to give me a job. The situation was really critical at Lamborghini in those years but Alfieri was an extraordinary person. ‘You must be willing to start as a third-level factory worker,’ he said, which was the very lowest position in Italy’s engineering industry.
That’s how I started at Sant’Agata. Soon I was assigned to the bodywork department, using metal sheet, glassfibre, whatever: I would process any material. There were 170 of there us at the time, a few more than the current staff at Pagani.”
How was your welcome?
“I showed up very early to work, I recall. I went to see Lamborghini’s ‘babies’ as they were being built.
Then it was the aluminium modellers’ turn to arrive: they assembled the cars, polished them and got them ready for painting. Before leaving, in the evening, I would check every single example, look at them, caress them. In August one year, a cat gave birth to kittens inside a Countach. I kept one of the kittens for myself [he laughs]. Why am I telling you this? To explain that it was different then. Those were romantic years. “I liked to get to work at around 5.00 or 5.30 in the morning. But I was forced to stick to the official working hours: the unions kicked me out at 5.00 pm. They would yell ‘Argenten’ and signed me out. I longed for freedom and independence in my working hours. I wanted to come and go as I wished. I wanted to organise my day without the union getting in the way. Why not also make extra money? Alfieri found a way to employ me in a different way, and I took a job as a craftsman. In fact, I was the first Lamborghini in-house craftsman. The unions couldn’t complain; they were tied to old habits.”
What project was key to your success?
“No question, it was the Anniversary Countach. We had orders for 170 cars and we ended up making over 650 in all. Also buying a bodywork autoclave brought real change. Lamborghini had refused to buy one, so I decided to make the investment on my own. I founded Modena Design, eventually leaving Lamborghini behind. The research work on composite materials from that investment was impressive. At the time, even I didn’t realise what I was doing. We were still in virgin territory. The Eurofighter manufacturer would give me materials to review; I would do the testing for them and try new composite options. That autoclave equipment now forms part of our exhibition in the Pagani museum.”
Horacio’s flow of memories and anecdotes comes thick and fast. For instance, how he developed a full carbon Lamborghini that sadly didn’t reach production. “The L30 dated from 1990- 1991. Had Lamborghini been cleverer, the carbon-type chassis, similar to that of the Aventador, would have been developed 15 years earlier.” Then there’s his relationship with Dieter Zetsche’s Mercedes-Benz. “He always stood up for me against those in the company who were reluctant to supply V12 engines. He said Pagani is a small company that makes an Italian product – what damage can it do to us? Better let Pagani have our engine than the competition’s powerplants.”
Of all these stories, however, the most fascinating is about the Anniversary Countach. This supercar marked the changeover from Marcello Gandini to Pagani. In many ways, they are polar opposites although both made their own supercar visions a reality and both men certainly know how to make dreams become true.
DRIVING THE COUNTACH ANNIVERSARY
The Anniversary is easily the most refined of all the Countach models, but that’s not saying much. It’s still the same concept car-turned- raging-bull with its heart from the 1970s.
The V12 engine, with its four valves per cylinder and two overhead camshafts on each bank of cylinders, delivers 455hp – pretty monstrous by the standards of the 1980s. It means this Countach is a very fast car but it’s not the speed that stays with you: it’s the sound that makes the biggest impression. All 12 cylinders chattering away; six vertically-mounted twin-choke carburettors sucking in air; and a quite extraordinary exhaust. Stamping on the throttle pedal – which is awkwardly offset – makes the meaty Webers sound like Jack and the Beanstalk’s giant breathing in, while the four exhaust pipes bellow with a ferocious intensity.
There’s no ABS, no power assistance for the steering, no traction control. The clutch is heavy, the gearchange is awkward and no human being on the planet could find the offset pedals comfortable. Horacio Pagani even demonstrates how he has to reverse the Countach. From the inside, rearward visibility is virtually zero, so you plonk your posterior on the sill and manoeuvre the car from there. But you quickly forget about such petty, mundane considerations: this is an untamed beast of a car. One that, after all, you really expect to put up a fight.
HORACIO PAGANI MUSEUM
Recently finished after careful preparation, the Pagani Museum houses Horacio’s first ever supercar, the Zonda, the Nürburgring Zonda R prototype record car and the latest Huayra. You’ll find it at San Cesario sul Panaro, Modena.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS Lamborghini Countach Anniversary
ENGINE: 5167cc longitudinal 60-degree V12, 48-valve DOHC
BORE X STROKE: 85.5mm x 75mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.5:1
MAX POWER: 455hp at 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 500Nm (369lb ft) at 5200rpm
INDUCTION: 6 x Weber 44 DCNF carbs
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
SUSPENSION: Transverse arms/coil springs (front), triangular arms/coil springs (rear), anti-roll bars front and rear
TYRES: 225/50 VR15 front, 345/35 VR15 rear
DIMENSIONS: 4140mm (L), 2000mm (W), 1070mm (H)
MAX SPEED: 183mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 12.7mpg
VALUE TODAY: £350,000