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Hypercars bring NASA-level technology to the streets

In the evolution of top-tier sports cars, we are in the midst of the hypercar. It is defined by cutting edge proprietary technology that is an order of magnitude above the previous generation in terms of construction methods and materials, design and engineering, and of course, performance figures. The current crop may use hybrid technology but these systems cannot be confused with what is found in a Prius. Hybrids can get power to the ground in ways the combustion engine cannot; priorities are a little different here and gas mileage is not one of them. Other advancements include carbon fibre developments that allow the material to be used in places not dreamt of before, as in the case of the wheels on the Koenigsegg Regera. The best and newest examples of hypercars often represent the first time that space-age technology can belong to a civilian. Many technologies found in hypercars today were once exclusive to NASA and Pentagon projects. Once these technologies break into the automotive industry their benefits filter down the market as they become cheaper to produce, much in part to hypercar builders who take the required risks and costs involved with implementing them. For example, while carbon fibre was once only found in the most exclusive vehicles, today it can be found for under six-figures in the Alfa Romeo 4C, Corvette Z06 or even the 50k BMW i3 — performance for the masses!

 In order to get the attention of would-be buyers, a breathtaking design is a must. If yours is not a never-been-done, attention grabbing show of excess you are going to have a hard time finding people to shell out seven figures for it. This is where Christian von Koenigsegg and Horacio Pagani have made their mark on the industry. Koenigsegg and Pagani are two of the most significant automotive entrepreneurs of the 21st century. The establishment of their respective companies, Koenigsegg Automotive AB and Pagani Automobili Modena, follow the supercar tradition of naming the company after its founder, but that is where their similarities end. Christian and Horacio have had a major role in taking the high-end auto industry to a new level of Hypercar, or in one example from Koenigsegg, what he calls the “Megacar.” These two are not just exceptional designers and engineers, their distinct personalities translate into the creation of some of the world’s greatest bespoke automobiles due to their own and unique visions of what the world’s greatest sports car should be.

Both Horacio and Christian come from varied backgrounds, which is well reflected in their final products. Horacio, born the son of an Italian baker in Argentina, and Christian from a wealthy noble family in Sweden, have in essence swapped roles. Where Christian has a relatable personality and is often found in jeans and a tee shirt, Horacio is more secluded and always impeccably dressed. As in many cases, their divergent paths started in childhood. Christian was first inspired by a stop motion film he saw as a child that told the story of a local bicycle repairman building his own race car. This influence is at the centre of his engineering focus. Horacio, on the other hand, finds his inspiration in design. From everyday materials and appliances to high-heeled designer shoes, he is relentless in searching out new sources to find something that will lead to a new feature or design element. Pagani spent his childhood building models out of balsawood or flour and water from his father’s bakery, and he still has many of them sitting in his office behind glass showcases. One look at the interiors of their newest models, the Koenigsegg Regera and the Pagani Huayra, and the contrast of their approaches cannot be overlooked.

These companies have to deal with all the same regulations and standards that major manufacturers do, but with low volume production this can be tremendously challenging. Both Pagani and Koenigsegg had difficulties getting into the lucrative US market due to more stringent crash test and emissions standards. Crashing multiple 500 thousand dollar cars gets expensive very quickly and was beyond their coffers at the time. The Zonda never made it to the US for this reason, however the success of it in Europe and elsewhere provided Pagani with the capital it needed to bring the Huayra over and into the Canadian market, as well. Koenigsegg had gotten into the US market in 2008 (their main market at the time) but had to pull out due to the financial crisis. Luckily for them, the Chinese market was booming at the time and after a six year absence, returned back to the American market in 2014.

Environmental and safety demands present challenges but Horacio and Christian also see them as opportunities to innovate. This is a major factor in their success. They see roadblocks but utilize them to innovate and create a better product. They don’t get dissuaded from pursuing their dreams; rather they find new ways to accomplish them, as was the case with Koenigsegg’s use of E-85 biofuel to reduce emissions. Christian accepted from the beginning that he was likely to fail but once he had accepted that, he said it made him feel bulletproof in a 2016 interview with the Presidents Institute.  He still wanted to prove that anything was possible and often read how others had failed, asking himself how he would have done it differently. He remembered to relish the process because fear and sadness would have prevented him from enjoying success.

Horacio Pagani moved to Italy to pursue his dream with nothing to his name but a letter of recommendation from the Argentine Formula 1 racing legend, Juan Manuel Fangio (he later named the Zonda F in his name.) He climbed his way up the ladder to Chief Engineer at Lamborghini and designed a later version of the Countach. When Lamborghini shut down his request to produce their own carbon fibre parts in-house because, “if Ferrari didn’t need to, we don’t either,” he raised the capital to buy the equipment himself and started his first company, Modena Design, where he built parts for Ferrari and Formula 1 teams. He founded Pagani Automobili Modena just a year later.

Koenigsegg’s products are based on innovative engineering from the ground up. The vast majority of the components in every Koenigsegg are designed, developed, tested and produced in-house. One of their newest variations of the Agera is named the One: 1 for the ratio of power output to kilograms. The One: 1 produces a whopping 1361 horsepower while weighing in at 1360 kilograms; a level of power not seen in any production vehicle before. That is precisely one megawatt of power, making the One: 1 the “world’s first megacar,” according to Christian. For other vehicles to qualify as a megacar they must also produce this amount of power, which may be the direction premier vehicles of the world are headed; but that’s far from a guarantee.

Power has rarely been what has held back performance. Getting that power to the ground and making it useable is a far greater challenge for a road car and is the direction hypercar builders will most likely pursue. Koenigsegg’s other recent model, the Regera (meaning to reign or to rule) is named after Christian’s childhood dream of building the perfect sports car to do just that. Elements of the engines, transmissions and suspension are revolutionary and not found elsewhere. Christian and his team of engineers have created an engine that uses electronic actuators instead of the mechanical camshafts that are found in every other car on the market. This allows for precise and adjustable tuning of the engine to meet any street or track requirements, giving the driver additional comfort.

Koenigsegg has developed another first with his method of transferring power from the engine to the wheels that ditches the transmission altogether. Instead, it uses what can be described as a torque converter or what would be found on any car with an automatic transmission. It drastically reduces inefficiencies without compromising acceleration at any speed or even driveability. Mashing the accelerator results in a constant and never-ending surge of power, pinning you to the seat without the reprieve of gear changes, an experience that is akin to hitting the hyperspace button in the Millennium Falcon and seeing every light turn to a blur than merely being on a road. It will go from naught to 250 miles per hour in 20 seconds. For comparison, the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport takes 22.2 seconds just to get to 200mph. On that note, the Veyron first produced over ten years ago broke the record books, but was backed by the giant Volkswagen Group. Today a small and privately owned manufacturer like Koenigsegg is able to push those same boundaries and beyond.

The newest creation from Pagani, the Huayra, is most simply pronounced as ‘why-rah,’ or ‘hoo-aii-ra,’ or one of about a dozen other attempts. Named after an ancient Incan wind god, its name is not just for show. It is the application of a bold direction for active-aero where four panels (two on the front and two at the rear) move up and down to apply downforce exactly where it is needed and when it is needed; and it does it automatically, calculating in the hundredths of a second. The Huayra’s active-aero is credited with earning it a top spot on Top Gear’s test tack. Pagani chooses to use Mercedes-Benz AMG-sourced drivetrains specially developed for the Huayra to reduce turbo-lag and increase response. While Pagani is certainly no slouch in the engineering department, what truly sets Horacio apart from his competition is his flair for opulent yet substantial design. One look at the interior of the Huayra and you may be inclined to take a step back in shock while being drawn in and devoured by it simultaneously. Pagani uses raw materials in their most refined form to give the driver an enveloping experience behind the wheel. Solid aluminum and titanium blocks form the shifter, paddles and gauge housings; while supple leather embraces the seats and door trim, and carbon fiber underpins it all. His Italian blood showcases Renaissance art and haute-couture fashion with a little steampunk thrown in. Borrowing and finding something of value in nearly everything he sees, no detail is missed. 

Christian and Horacio embody two different lifestyles, each taking their own to its limits. One, more down to earth, pounding the pavement; the other with his head just slightly in the clouds.  Whether you find yourself in one category or the other, these two are walking proof that success can be found along either path as long as you stick to your dreams. They both stay focused on their visions and do not let the distractions of their competitors or industry trends get in the way of their vision. There are no other designers or engineers in the industry today that have accomplished what these two have. Only they have managed to take on the heavy hitters of Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bugatti and McLaren; they were the first to do what they did. While General Motors was busy building the land yachts of the American Dream, people like Enzo Ferrari found a niche. This is what Christian and Horacio have done today. As companies like Ferrari have been swallowed up by Fiat, and Lamborghini by Volkswagen, a niche for the 21st century hypercar created an opening that only Christian and Horacio were primed to fill.

The newest hypercars represent an unrelenting search and passion to create something better, and no two entrepreneurs in the industry today represent this passion better than Horacio Pagani and Christian von Koenigsegg. Both have succeeded where countless others have failed and they owe it to their dedication to build the best. Creating some of the world’s most exclusive and technologically-advanced automobiles is not for the faint of heart. The dedication and purity in Christian and Horacio’s work are exceptional examples of what it takes to reach the upper echelons of the automotive food chain. Their creations are distinctly their own, each encompassing and embodying who Horacio and Christian are, down to the last nut and bolt. While neither Christian’s lack of design flair nor Horacio’s use of parts suppliers represent any kind of weakness, playing to their individual strengths has unleashed their potential in ways not seen since Enzo Ferrari or Ferruccio Lamborghini, and there is no sign of them slowing down. 

Photos courtesy of Pagani and Koenigseg