Blowin’ in the Wind
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.
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 Huayra Roadster.
An early 1960s Sunbeam Alpine;