The 1999 Geneva Motor Show was a very special occasion for lovers of supercars. At that show, a new manufacturer revealed what would be a ground-breaking car, one that would change the way supercars were viewed. The magnificent, outrageous and quite spectacular Pagani Zonda was that car, and at this year’s Geneva show, Pagani took to celebrating the 20th birthday of its first born.

The Pagani stand proudly displayed the very first chassis, Pagani Zonda C12 chassis OO1, fresh from a full restoration and looking as spectacular and futuristic as it did two decades ago. The Zonda has not aged, and in many ways is still the benchmark for hypercar design. Alongside it stood a very special Huayra Roadster, wearing a unique finish to its carbon body.

So what was so special about the Zonda, and why was it seen as a game-changer?

Craftsman Built

Horacio Pagani is nothing if not a car fanatic. The founder and chief designer of Pagani Automobili is a dyed in the wool enthusiast, a man who simply exudes a love for exotic, carefully crafted machinery such as the Zonda, and can be credited as the man who gave the world the ‘hypercar’ title. The Pagani Zonda C12 was the original hypercar, just as the Lamborghini Miura was – back in the 1960’s – the car that gave us the supercar.

The Zonda came about through the enthusiasm of this man, and through his friendship with the late, great Juan-Manuel Fangio, five times Formula One World Champion, and possibly the greatest racing driver of all time. Fangio was Pagani’s mentor, guiding this young man towards his dream, and without him, it’s arguable the dream may not have come true. Horacio Pagani himself explains where the influence for this amazing, quite revolutionary car came from:

“Essentially we are all car enthusiasts at Pagani Automobili. We just love all cars, but particularly those that nurtured our childhood dreams; that still inspire us and so will for future designers. It is a known fact that we ourselves took inspiration from Le Mans’ vehicles of the 80‘s and 90’s for the development of the Zonda which subsequently influenced the Huayra project; which, in turn, will do so with the next Pagani models. Today, we pay homage to the Zonda, the car that allowed us to grow up, confirm our initial gambles and, above all, share our great passion with the whole world”.

In a world of corporate speak, even from the likes of Ferrari, it is refreshing to read the words of a man who remains – above and beyond – and enthusiast, and who takes pride in his carefully selected team of artisans at the Pagani factory, who patiently hand crafted 140 Pagani Zonda’s, and who now offer restoration and preservation services for the owners of these very rare, highly sought-after cars.

Inspired by Mercedes-Benz

March 9th, 1999 was the watershed date for Pagani, the day upon which chassis 001 was first unveiled to an astonished crowd of onlookers in Geneva. Resplendent in silver – inspired and paying respect to the Mercedes-Benz Group C ‘Sliver Arrows’ – the Zonda C12 was unlike anything else on the road and, arguably, remains so.

That deeply curved screen and forward-stance cockpit give the Zonda the air of a fighter jet, and it’s a stance that makes the car appear as if it is always eager to go, and fast. The stunning detailing across the entire car is something to behold, and then there’s the engine.

The magnificent Mercedes-Benz 6-litre V12, hand built especially for the Zonda, punches out 450bhp. This may sound lame in the days of 1000bhp Bugattis, but in 1999 it was enough to give the Zonda performance beyond the reach of just about everything else.

Chassis 001 was used in period for crash testing, and by the time of its Geneva debut, had been driven thousands of miles to test and prove that the model was fit for the road. Most of the original parts were recovered and restored, with the restoration of Pagani Zonda C12 001 going right down to the nuts and bolts. This is as original as it gets, and it looked every inch the car it is displayed this year at Geneva.

If ever there was a car that could be called a work of art, it surely has to be the Pagani Zonda. Outrageous, fresh and original – the four exhaust layout has become one of the iconic hypercar motifs in the last 20 years – the Pagani Zonda C12 set the tone for what was to come, and kick-started the hypercar age.

For that alone, we salute Chassis 001, the Pagani craftsmen, and pay thanks to the enthusiasm and drive of Horacio Pagani, a man who made his – and many other people’s – dreams come true.

Images Copyright of: Pagani.