Pegaso is a name more familiarly attached to the front of a bus or lorry than a sports car - if it’s familiar at all, that is. Despite being relatively unheard of on these shores, the Spanish company produced over 350,000 vehicles between its inception in 1946 and its absorption by Iveco in the 1990s. Of course we’re not interested in the vast majority of that noteworthy output today - no, our focus is on just 0.025 per cent of the vehicles turned out during that half-century run.
You see, over a decade before Ferruccio Lamborghini would turn the attention of his industrial auto business to sports cars, Pegaso did the same. The reasons for the step change were even strikingly similar; a personal desire to one-up Enzo Ferrari.
Pegaso’s leading light was Wilfredo Ricart, the famed engineer lured over to lead parent company Enasa from Studebaker. It was years earlier, though, whilst making his name at Alfa Romeo, that he had crossed paths with Ferrari, who was driving for the marque at the time.
It’s fair to say the two men were not the best of friends. Their feud ranged from the life-threatening to the petty; Ferrari did not have faith in Ricart’s designs, deeming them dangerous, but also mocked his oversized suit jackets and thick-rubber-soled shoes. This lead Ricart to famously retort that, “A great engineer's brain should not be jolted by the inequalities of the ground and consequently needs to be carefully sprung.”
Their antipathy resulted in Ferrari’s belief that Ricart was behind his eventual ousting from the team, and meant that over a decade later, with the resources of a government-owned motoring manufacturer at his disposal, there was only one thought in Ricart’s mind. With Spain’s economy floundering, he convinced Franco’s decision-makers that the best thing for the country’s image abroad and the development of a new generation of engineers at home, would be the production of a world-beating sports car.
Having started his career as a Hispano-Suiza salesman, Ricart now founding himself taking over the marque’s former factory in Barcelona to produce his all-conquering machine, and the resulting Z-102 took the hall by storm when it was unveiled at the 1951 Paris Motor Show. Powered by a 3.2-litre all-alloy V8 engine with 32 valves and a dry sump, it was among the most advanced sports car ever seen. It’s innovative pressed steel chassis featured stress-bearing inner panels, while Touring of Milan’s Superleggera alloy bodywork kept weight down to just 990kg and a rear-mounted five-speed transaxle provided perfect 50/50 weight distribution.
It was incredibly luxurious, incredibly rare - only 86 cars were built - and, therefore, incredibly desirable. Good thing too, given that a Z-102 cost four times more than a Jaguar XK120 in period. This was a problem, because while its 360hp made it quick on the road - the quickest, in fact, with a top speed of 155mph in 1953 - its emphasis on Gran Touring luxury inhibited the car on the track, where real notoriety was to be found. With production costs spiralling, racing success elusive and the economy on its knees, the plug was pulled on the project.
Ricart was ordered to resume his focus on commercial vehicles, although he resigned as Enasa CEO in 1959 amid criticism that he had become too focussed on the success of his pet project, and ignored the economic hardship of the time in the process. Today only around 68 Z-102s are known to survive, the final testament to the skill, ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Spaniard's reign.
And just look at the thing! Resplendent in its pristine two-tone metallic blue and silver paint without, and charmingly patinated within. Its classically beautiful shape punctuated with stand-out flourishes like the bonnet-top intakes and boot-mounted brake lights. As a piece of automotive art, a piece of engineering accomplishment and a piece of motoring history, the Pegaso may be a relative also-ran, but it's every bit as worthy of its Showpiece status as any of that man Ferrari's contemporary creations.