Blowin’ in the Wind

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TREND -

For car lovers, there’s al­ways been some­thing spe­cial about hit­ting the high­way in a two-seater, drop-head sports car, the wind blow­ing in your hair as the roar of the en­gine fills your ears. Of course, the very first cars were all open — it was only later, as the in­dus­try de­vel­oped, that hav­ing a con­vert­ible be­came a life­style choice.

The golden age of the road­ster be­gan after the World War II, when mass pro­duc­tion brought the open­topped sports car ex­pe­ri­ence into the price range of the nor­mal work­ing per­son. The Amer­i­can road­sters were dis­tinc­tive with their sweep­ing curves, lav­ish use of chrome and mas­sive en­gines, while in Europe, there were the el­e­gant de­signs of Ferrari, Jaguar and Porsche. In fact, screen icon James Dean’s life ended in 1955 at age 24 be­hind the wheel of a Porsche 550 Spy­der, not an Amer­i­can mus­cle car, as he be­came an eternal sym­bol of re­bel­lious youth.

Road­sters — two-seater con­vert­ible sports cars — have al­ways brought out the best in de­sign­ers. The sim­ple per­fec­tion of the Jaguar E-Type led Enzo Ferrari to com­ment that it was the most beau­ti­ful car ever made, while vin­tage ad­ver­tise­ments for road­sters al­ways fo­cused on youth and ro­mance.

In­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship

So what is it about the road­sters that so cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion?

Kim Wolfkill, a sports car racer and edi­tor-in-chief of the old­est Amer­i­can car mag­a­zine, Road & Track, ex­plains that much of the ap­peal of driv­ing is the in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man and ma­chine. “In a road­ster, a third el­e­ment is na­ture — so the world out­side the car’s cock­pit is added to the ex­pe­ri­ence, mak­ing it richer and more en­gag­ing,” he says in an in­ter­view from Road & Track’s of­fices in Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan. “There’s some­thing spe­cial about driv­ing a road­ster down a wind­ing road in the au­tumn, smelling the leaves and feel­ing the air swirl around you, while also hear­ing the tires claw at the road and the ex­haust bel­low un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion.”

Why did road­sters be­come such a part of Amer­i­can folk­lore? “Amer­i­cans have a long his­tory with the au­to­mo­bile and as a re­sult, many peo­ple see their cars as re­flec­tions of them­selves and America as a whole,” says Wolfkill. “They rep­re­sent the free­dom to ex­plore and to travel around the vast­ness of the coun­try.” An­other im­por­tant fac­tor, he says, is the so­cial side of rid­ing in an open­topped car, where you can in­ter­act with peo­ple out­side of your car: “Road­sters are highly so­cial as well as func­tional.”

This led to the enor­mous pop­u­lar­ity of road­sters in the ’50s and ’60s, when they were seen as ideal cars for drive-in movies and restau­rants, car shows and mo­tor sports events.

The draw­backs of road­sters were plain to see as well — the re­tractable can­vas roofs could be tricky to at­tach, draughty and li­able to leak in the rain, while the ab­sence of a fixed roof meant a lack of struc­tural rigid­ity. But Wolfkill says that road­sters have greatly evolved over the years. Chas­sis rigid­ity is as good or nearly as good as that of their coupé coun­ter­parts, and the tops are much im­proved — qui­eter, warmer, more durable and bet­ter look­ing, and they raise and lower much faster.

The pur­suit of beauty

And what about the Huayra Road­ster, which was un­veiled at this year’s Geneva Mo­tor Show? “Like all Pa­gani au­to­mo­biles, the Huayra Road­ster is a work of art,” says Wolfkill. “The at­ten­tion to de­tail of ev­ery­thing you see and touch is sim­ply stag­ger­ing. The Huayra Road­ster stands alone for its stun­ning com­bi­na­tion of style, el­e­gance, qual­ity, ex­clu­siv­ity and breathtaking per­for­mance — all in a hand­crafted road­ster, not a coupé.”

The brand was founded in 1992 by Ho­ra­cio Pa­gani, a baker’s son born in Ar­gentina who had a boy­hood ob­ses­sion with de­sign­ing cars. In 1983, he moved to Italy, where he joined Lam­borgh­ini. In 1985, Pa­gani and his team built the Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach Evoluzione, which es­tab­lished him as a pi­o­neer in the use of car­bon fiber and other com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als.

The Pa­gani Zonda, his first car un­der his own name, was pro­duced in 1999.

He pro­fesses that his lat­est cre­ation, the Huayra Road­ster, was “the most com­pli­cated project we have ever un­der­taken.” The project be­gan in 2010, with the ini­tially sim­ple idea of pro­duc­ing a Huayra coupé with a re­mov­able roof and con­ven­tional doors. But in 2013, the de­sign was scrapped and work on the project started from scratch.

The pri­or­ity be­came sav­ing weight. With its use of ex­otic ma­te­ri­als such as car­bon fi­bre-ti­ta­nium and a new com­pos­ite ma­te­rial called Carbo-Triax HP52, the Road­ster is 80 ki­los lighter than the Huayra coupé — and more rigid. It’s pow­ered by a V12, twin-turbo, six liter Mercedes-AMG M158 en­gine that pro­duces 764 HP, and uses a seven-speed gear­box. “Ev­ery­thing had to come to­gether as if it was a car carved out of a block of Car­rara mar­ble,” says Pa­gani, adding that the de­sign was based on “the pur­suit of beauty as a fun­da­men­tal con­cept — an un­bri­dled work of art, in­tel­li­gence and open-air pas­sion.”

Pa­gani was in­spired as a young boy by the works of Leonardo da Vinci, and the Huayra Road­ster may well be his mas­ter­piece. But those who dream of tak­ing their Satur­day night date to a drive-in movie might be in for a dis­ap­point­ment. The price tag is an eye-wa­ter­ing €2,280,000 (US$2,558,000) be­fore tax — and even if you could af­ford it, the lim­ited pro­duc­tion run of 100 cars is al­ready sold out.

PA­GANI AU­TO­MO­BILI

Pa­gani Huayra Road­ster.

An early 1960s Sun­beam Alpine;

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