By Laurance Yap

Whether you’re making cars or watches or electric razors or clothes, it means a lot when you put your name on a product. Not only does it show that you have a certain amount of pride in what you’ve produced – that it, at the very least, lives up to your own probably high expectations – but it introduces the concept of accountability to your product’s consumers. If they like what they buy, they know who to thank. If they don’t, they know who to blame.

Throughout history, there have been many cars with someone’s name on them, and you could quite easily make an argument that many of those cars haven’t been much to write home about: the automotive world has seen more than its fair share of leaking Lotuses, fire-hazard Ferraris, coquettish Citroens, and Mercedes-Benzes that were less than magnificent. But whatever rational criticisms you could level against any of these vehicles, the one thing that they all have possessed is a certain soul; a feeling that, deep down somewhere in the engine bay or suspension control arms or the bodywork that it all stemmed from someone’s personal philosophy of what a car should be.

Take Ferrari, for example. Even today – almost two decades after the great man’s death – all of its models are fired by the same passion for racing that Enzo held while he was alive.

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti 2006
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

Ferrari F430
Ferrari F430

That’s why even its most comfortable car, the four-seat 612 Scaglietti, features a paddle-shifted sequential transmission rather than a comfortable automatic and a V12 engine that’s situated behind the front axle line, compromising its interior space and comfort. It’s why even the firm’s (ahem) cheapest car, the F430, has an electronically-controlled differential, with a rotary switch on the steering wheel just like Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 race car. It’s why some of the company’s latest models look a bit strange from more than one angle, because they’ve been honed in the wind tunnel rather than the styling studio.

Indeed, much like it was before, it can sometimes seem that Ferrari is really in the business of building production cars so that it can fund its racing efforts. While its F1 team budget has been eclipsed lately by the likes of Toyota and McLaren, Ferrari’s F1 team is still spectacularly well-funded and has access to state-of-the-art wind tunnel and testing facilities. More importantly, the way it functions could be likened more to the interactions of a big happy family rather than a big business or engineering concern; all members of the team dine together in the same small restaurant, Montana, just across the street from the Mugello test track, and Schumacher, when he comes to test the race car, actually stays in a small room in Enzo’s old house.

Over in Sant’Agata Bolognese, where they build Lamborghinis, founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s desire to outdo Ferrari at every turn still burns bright, even though the company is now owned by the Volkswagen group.

Lamborghini Murcielago
Lamborghini Murcielago

Originally a Ferrari customer, Lamborghini parked at the factory gates one day, complaining about his car’s high-speed handling. Ferrari himself shrugged off Lamborghini’s complaints, calling him a mere tractor builder who couldn’t possibly know anything about high-speed handling. Not long after, Lamborghini launched the Miura, a supercar with a transversely-mounted V12 engine that could not only outrun the Ferraris of the time, but also turned the entire auto world’s heads with its styling. Its name and shape remain so evocative, in fact, that at this year’s Los Angeles auto show, Lamborghini introduced a concept-car “homage” to the Miura that will likely see production in the next eighteen months.

Aston Martin DB9
Click image to enlarge

Some high-end car manufacturers believe in the power of a name to the extent that the names of actual people that work on a car appear somewhere on its engine or body. Each Aston Martin that rolls out of the company’s brand-new facility in Gaydon, Warwickshire is fitted with a plaque underneath the hood with the name of the assembly-line worker that performed the final inspection (Rob Poulton did a superb job on the DB9 I drove last summer; it was beautifully-finished and free from squeaks and rattles).

Over in Germany, at Mercedes’ high-performance AMG division, the whole car may not have been built or signed off on by an individual,

AMG 6.3-litre V8
AMG 6.3-litre V8

but they do strictly adhere to a “one man, one engine” philosophy, where the same engineer shepherds an engine from boxes full of rough-hewn parts to a fully polished and complete monster motor tested on a dynamometer. The engineer’s name and signature are displayed prominently between the cylinder banks on the new AMG 6.3-litre V8, the division’s first in-house movement – one which shares no parts with any other Mercedes engine.

Porsche’s engines are still built using very much the same philosophy as AMG uses, but you’ll no longer find an engineer’s name or signature on the engine. A few years ago, Porsche owners – in discussions at club meetings and in online discussion forums – were discovering that engines that were built by certain engineers were consistently producing more power than those built by others. The factory was inundated with requests from new-car buyers that their engines be built by a specific person. Nowadays, while you won’t find a signature on the engine block, there still resides on the inside of one of the rear body panels (in permanent marker) the names of the men and women who signed off on the car’s engine and body.

These days, car design and production is more than ever dictated by legislation concerning safety, fuel economy, emissions, and even drive-by noise levels, and it’s more difficult than ever for even the most exotic and well-funded of carmakers to build products that truly reflect the philosophy of their founders.

Pagani Zonda
Pagani Zonda

Which is why it’s so refreshing to see that there are still people who are willing to overcome all the hurdles placed in front of them to build something truly special.

Perhaps no car you can get today better exemplifies this than the Pagani Zonda. Built in Italy by an Argentinean carbon-fibre specialist who worked on the shop floor at Lamborghini just to be around the supercar scene before establishing his own company, the Zonda is shot through with Horacio Pagani’s personality from its twin-pod headlights to its four bazooka exhausts. As Pagani himself is more than willing to admit, its exterior styling (complete with leather straps to hold the body panels in place) and its cabin environment (replete with planks of aluminum, carbon, and pleated red leather) are his childhood fantasy sketches come to life. While it’s hardly subtle, or some would argue, even tasteful, to see and sit in and – one would imagine – drive the Zonda is to celebrate the fact that dreamers can still dream big dreams and produce even bigger cars.

2007 Bugatti Veyron
Bugatti Veyron

The best part? If you believe the European press, the Zonda’s naturally-aspirated 7.3-litre V12 is torquier and more flexible in
its thunderous power delivery than any supercar engine save, perhaps, the Bugatti Veyron. The Zonda’s engine is also a one-man effort, hand-built in AMG’s workshops in Germany.

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