The Bugatti Veyron

There are few cars afforded almost mythical status. Similarly, there are few cars considered to be a marvel of design, technology and engineering. Like the Concorde or the Saturn V rocket before, the brains at VW took an established concept and absolutely and permanently changed the game. Welcome to the Bugatti Veyron.


Bugatti Veyron Grill © J.Smith831

In the late 1990s, Volkswagen bought the Bugatti brand and after releasing three largely underwhelming cars – the EB118, the EB218 and the 18/3 Chyron – they released a concept at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1999 called the EB 18/4 Veyron which had a 6.3-litre, 18 cylinder engine with 555bhp, a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 187 mph. Even then, those figures weren’t spectacular by any criteria in which the world’s fastest cars were judged.

However, with that car, a paradigm shift in the world of automobile design and technology was about to happen – and how.

A year later at the Detroit, Paris and Geneva shows they displayed a modified version called the EB 16/4 Veyron. Just so you know, ‘EB’ are the initials of the company’s founder Ettore Bugatti, 16/4 refers to the number of cylinders and turbochargers respectively and ‘Veyron’ is named for Pierre Veyron, the Bugatti engineer, test and race driver who won the Le Mans 24h in 1939 with co-driver Jean-Pierre Wimille.

One year on and things were starting to heat up. Another concept was released, this time at the world’s largest motor show, the IAA in Frankfurt, and this version had the full 1,001 bhp, 8.0-litre W16 quad-turbo engine and on the strength of that model, the bosses at VW decided to put it into production.

Given that fact that the designers and engineers, led by chief designer Hartmut Warkuss alongside exterior designer Jozef Kabaň and engineering chief Wolfgang Schreiber, used space-age materials and no parts, tooling, components or systems could be harvested from any existing projects, they built what became known as ‘The Studio’ in Alsace in France to manufacture what was to become the fastest car in the world.


2008 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Mirrored © Georg Sander

Come 2004 and the final testing phase was close to completion. They built 11 prototypes ‘that were extremely close to production maturity’ and put the cars through seriously tough tests under the harshest of conditions in all weathers and terrains for 100,000km. One particular severe test was, for five times in quick succession, braking from 155mph to 50mph and then accelerating hard up to 155mph again.

According to US motoring journalist Tony Markovich, ‘the goal was to create a car that was as close to a street-legal race-car, while maintaining comfort and luxury, as possible.’

 Now’s the time to take a closer look at the staggering numbers that put the original Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 at the top of the automotive tree:

  • Dimensions: L – 4,462mm W – 1,998mm H – 1,204mm
  • Kerb Weight 1,888kg
  • Engine/Cylinders – W16
  • Engine Size – 7,993 cc
  • Performance – 1,001 bhp @ 6,000rpm
  • Gearbox – 7-speed DSG
  • Brakes – Carbon-ceramic
  • Maximum Speed – 407 km/h (252.8 mph)
  • Acceleration – 0-100 km/h 2.5sec, 0-200 km/h 7.3sec, 0-300 km/h 16.7sec
  • Braking Distance – 100 – 0 km/h 31.4 metres

So, after six years of design, development, engineering, testing  and convincing the world that the most outrageously spec’d car the world has ever seen would be, in the words of Clarkson, ‘no harder to drive than a Golf’, the Bugatti Veyron was delivered to the first lucky customers.

Talking of Clarkson, if you remember that episode of Top Gear where he raced Hammond and May from the South of France to the NatWest Tower with truffles, he said that VW made a loss of £5m for every one they sold and at the time, it was hard to believe, but it appears it’s true, according to this fascinating infographic from The Economist. The article essentially says that they knew they wouldn’t make any money with the Veyron project but they had hoped that after years in the wilderness being outdone at every turn by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Aston Martin that this car would reinvigorate the Bugatti brand. It did.


Bugatti Veyron 16.4 SuperSport Interior © Automotive Rhythms

Between 2006 and 2015, Bugatti released four main versions of the Veyron. The original Veyron 16.4 was the first off the production line then a roadster version in 2008 called the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport followed with chassis #1 selling at auction in the US for $3.2m.

Two years later, the Veyron 16.4 Super Sport, an upgraded version of the original arrived with a limited run of just 30 cars. It had improved aerodynamics, more torque and an increase from 1,001 bhp to a mind-blowing 1,200 bhp. Driven by Bugatti test driver Pierre Henri Raphanel, the car set an official world record for the Fastest Production Car at VW’s Ehra-Leissen test track near Wolfsburg on 4th July 2010. The speed was barely believable for a road car – 431.072 km/h, or 267.856 mph.

Lastly, the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012. The 1,200 bhp roadster version of the Super Sport at a launch price of close to £1.5m became the world’s fastest production roadster with a top speed of 408.84 km/h (254.041 mph).

Over the years, Bugatti have also made a series of special editions to honour some of the company’s legends including Pierre Veyron’s co-driver Jean-Pierre Wimille, patriarch Ettore’s eldest son Jean Bugatti whose model honours the Type 57SC Atlantic and Ettore’s close friend and two-time winner of the famous Targa Florio Meo Constantini.


Bugatti Veyron L’Or Blanc © Sebastien Cosse

Other very-small run versions have included collaboration between Bugatti and the Royal Porcelain Factory in Berlin called the L’Or Blanc. The Sang Noir takes inspiration from a Van Gogh quote that says ‘it often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly coloured than the day’ and the Bugatti Veyron Fbg par Hermès represents the perfect blend of technical and aesthetic finesse of Ettore Bugatti and Émile Hermès, founder of the Parisian luxury goods brand.

As for the future, Bugatti show no signs of, ahem, slowing down. While VW are embroiled in ‘dieselgate’, it was thought that hypercar production would cease pending fines of, depending where you read, $18bn to $50bn but 2016 will see the launch of a brand new model at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show called the Chiron.

Named after Louis Alexandre Chiron, Bugatti’s most famous and most successful racing driver who even raced in the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix, the name of the car was carefully considered. ‘In Louis Chiron, we found a worthy patron for a new model in the history of our brand,’ said Bugatti president Wolfgang Dürheimer. ‘The name of the best racing driver and the most successful Bugatti driver of his time for the best super sports car of the present day – that is the ideal combination.’

 Exact figures at the time of writing (Feb 2016) are speculation but it seems the Chiron will use a modified version of the 8.0-litre W16 engine with the same four turbochargers. Most motoring websites are being careful not to make claims that can’t yet be officially verified but the rumours are that it will have 1,500 bhp, will hit 0-60 mph in 2.2 seconds and will max out at 467 km/h (290.1 mph). The speedo is said to go all the way round to 500 km/h and if you want one – let’s face it, we all will – you’ll have to hand over a cool £1.6m and we should presumably expect Veyron-esque Grand Sport, Super Sport and roadster versions as the project moves forward pushing that £1.6m closer to £2m and beyond.


Bugatti Chiron Stitching © Bugatti

Founder Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti – who believed, half-jokingly that brakes were merely symbolic; ‘I make cars to go, not to stop’ – had a philosophy for his cars; ‘pure blood, absolute clarity, predominance of purpose and immaculate shape’ and that ethos has lived on in the Veyron and beyond.

Will we ever see a road car hit 300mph? Who knows, but if we do, you can be certain that Bugatti will be there or thereabouts.