Don't be fooled by the building's homely exterior of brown tile and glass, or by its location in a nondescript industrial area some 20 miles northwest of Bologna, Italy. Inside is the two-story workshop of Pagani Automobili, maker of some of the world's most advanced — and most expensive — cars.
To aficionados, the name Pagani is associated with supercars of exceptional performance and a level of craftsmanship achieved by a near-maniacal attention to detail. The price tag might seem crazy, too: the latest model, the Huayra, starts at about $1.3 million, before taxes and options.
Paganis "are not cars," says Alessandro Pasi, deputy director of the Italian edition of Evo, a magazine devoted to high-performance cars. "They are objects bought by people who get pleasure from owning something unique, like a Picasso painting. The more unique the object, the happier they are."
It is Leonardo da Vinci, not Picasso, whose inspiration is most often cited by the company's founder, Horacio Pagani, an Argentine-born designer who turned his childhood passion into his profession.
The da Vinci ideal was "that art and science could work hand in hand," Pagani, 57, says at the factory in San Cesario sul Panaro. "Leonardo's brilliance was his humanity, his curiosity that made him constantly doubt what he was doing. That's what's behind our work."
The Huayra (pronounced WHY-ra) is the embodiment of the Pagani philosophy. It is named for the Incan god of the winds and inspired, Pagani says, "by the moment when a plane is accelerating, just when it's about to take off."
An observer could be forgiven for thinking that the Huayra looks like something that came flying out of the Batcave. The aerodynamic shape helps the Huayra reach a top speed that Car and Driver estimated at 224 mph, and air brake flaps, which mimic those used by airplanes during landing, help it slow from such an extralegal pace.
In gushing reviews, writers have reveled in the car's handcrafted details, its carbon-titanium chassis and gull-wing doors. Praise has been lavished on the 720-horsepower twin-turbo V-12 engine, developed for Pagani by the AMG group of Mercedes-Benz, and on the seven-speed automated gearbox. There's a titanium exhaust system, which helps keep the car, at a little more than 3,000 pounds, relatively light.
Inside is an audio system by the Italian company Sonus Faber. Premium leather covers the seats and the six matching pieces of luggage that tuck into various nooks. There is also a special key — a miniature model of the Huayra, in aluminum, that costs more than $1,300 each to make.
Pagani was born in Casilda, Argentina, into a family of bakers. He honed his interest in cars as a boy, carving models out of balsa wood that are in a display case in the factory's showroom near his single-seater Formula 2 race car from 30 years ago.
As a university student, Pagani enrolled in industrial design courses and began a mechanical engineering degree before dropping out to start a design business, which spanned objects as diverse as furniture and camping trailers.
He moved to Italy in 1983 to pursue his dream of designing exotic cars.
His first car, the Pagani Zonda C12, was introduced at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show under the brand Pagani Automobili, grabbing headlines because it was not simply a prototype for display, but a showroom-ready model. The Zonda went through various incarnations, with the most recent — and final — version, the Revolucion, introduced this year.
The Pagani brand is expanding globally. There are now three dealers in the U.S. — in Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Huayra, introduced in 2011, went into production last year. Pagani produces about 20 Huayras a year, but that is expected to double once a new factory, across the street from the current one, is completed in mid-2014.
"We make cars for people who have worked hard all their life, and the pleasure of owning a Pagani is a reward for that effort," Pagani says. "Each car is made to measure, fitted like a suit."