Mercedes Benz arguably created the first “supercar” when it marketed the 300 SL Gullwing to an awed public in 1954. Since then, most major auto manufacturers have at some point produced their own version of a supercar – exotic, “show car” looks combined with racing car performance and design principles. In the last few years, there have been numerous new entries into this market. The best producers – Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz (AMG), and Aston Martin – have given the public a group of sensational road cars with performance comparable to all-out racing cars of just a decade ago.
In 2005, the Bugatti EB16-4 Veyron will be introduced to this thriving, but highly competitive market, and will likely establish itself as the ultimate supercar. If maximum speed is an arbiter of success, the Bugatti will have no competition: the company is claiming a top speed of 252 mph (though this may be electronically limited to 230 mph or even less, because of concerns over high-speed aerodynamic instability). Equally incredible is the claimed acceleration: 0-186 mph (0-300 kph) in less than 14 seconds.
The Bugatti name is not widely known in the U.S. But between 1910 and 1963 this French auto manufacturer produced some of the most highly regarded cars the world has ever known. Certainly, the company’s glory days were ages ago, before the Great Depression when the huge, magnificent, and extremely rare Royale was produced, and when the light yet powerful Bugatti racing cars were essentially unbeatable in their class. These cars, and others, such as the Type 57 sedan, were both technically brilliant and aesthetically gorgeous.
During the ’90s a group of European investors resurrected the Bugatti name and produced a striking if ill-fated, supercar. This car, the first of the modern Bugatti’s, the EB110, has no direct ties to its ancestors – save its name and token “horseshoe” air inlet that mimicked the old radiator grille shape. None of these cars were ever certified for sale in the U.S.
Now with the Volkswagen Group as new owners, the Bugatti name is likely to have a much better chance at producing a viable ‘world’ product. The all-new Veyron is slated for initial production to begin in 2005, the price quoted is an even $1 million per copy. Compliance with U.S. certification requirements is all but guaranteed. So far, only a single prototype has been produced, and it was publicly demonstrated this year at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California, where Bugatti was a featured marque.
The car made a rather infamous first impression on the audience – and the automotive press – when it took a corner too fast, spun and almost crashed into a barrier; a near disaster that would have surely dealt a horrible blow to the model’s development.
In certain respects, the Veyron is very much like most of its top-dollar competition. The handsome styling is born of intensive wind tunnel testing, with carefully planned air inlets and surfaces designed to both minimize drag and high-speed lift. Front and rear overhangs are minimal, and the impressive wheels give an enormous sense of power. Again, the horseshoe grill is used, but much more prominently than in the EB110. Indeed, the oval shape is nicely integrated within the entire design.
Photographs released to the public show the Veyron with a handsome two-tone paint scheme, which subtly recalls the pre-WWII multicolored Bugatti sedans. Certainly, much of the styling is reflective of “machine age” principles popularized during the 1920s, but which also clearly influences modern cars. Audi’s TT coupe and Nissan’s Z car are two contemporary examples.
As befits its heritage, probably the most impressive aspect of the new Veyron is its engine. Bugatti’s of the past made their names primarily with inline eight-cylinder engines, oftentimes employing a supercharger – a relative rarity even today. Today’s Bugatti utilizes an 8-liter W16 engine, which is formed by combining elements of Volkswagen’s new and highly compact W8 engine. (To understand the “W” formation, think of two V-engines, sharing a common crankshaft, but with the V’s oriented at different angles.)
The new Veyron is reported to produce an astounding 1001 bhp at 6000 rpm. Cars that might be considered competition to the Veyron are currently producing around 500-600 bhp. (For perspective, consider that Charles Lindbergh needed roughly 1/3 that amount to cross the Atlantic).
A criticism of the earlier Bugatti EB110 was that its engine did not produce enough low-end torque. This was due to its relatively small displacement of 3.5-liters (which was asked to move almost 4,000 lbs. of car), and to the particular installation of its four turbochargers. These gathered boost in parallel, rather than in sequence (such as on Toyota’s Supra). Although this allowed huge top-end performance, it did not provide much power at low rpm. The new engine should have no such complaints: the company quotes 922 lb.-ft. of torque available at 5500 rpm.
The gearbox is equally superlative: a 7-speed paddle activated manual, which allows lightning-quick gearshifts – less than 0.2 seconds per shift, which compares very favorably to the usual best of 0.5 seconds available through a conventional manual gearbox. Power is transmitted to a permanent all-wheel-drive system and finds its way to the road surface via twelve-spoke alloy wheels, measuring 20 in. in diameter that is fitted with Michelin’s PAX run-flat tires with P245 fronts and P335s in the rear.
As with any new car, revisions are constantly being made before production. And whether or not Bugatti will be able to actually produce a 252 mph, 1001 bhp, $1 million cars is a major question. So far, the announced changes have been limited to the car’s dimensions. The wheelbase has grown 2.0 in. from the first show car – it is now 106.0 in. Still, overall length is a tidy 175.8 in, the height is a low 47.5 in., and width is a wide 78.7 in. The name, however is expected to stay the same:
EB stands for Ettore Bugatti (the companies founder), 16 for the number of cylinders, 4 for the all-wheel drive, and Veyron for the famous Bugatti driver Pierre Veyron. Like Bugatti’s of the past, this will be a very rare car: the Veyron will only contribute to between 50-100 of the approximately 7,950 Bugatti’s ever built.EB stands