Love's Labour's Found
Marc K. Stengel, Sat, 31 May 2008 08:00:00 PDT
Sometimes, one must put aside all considerations of motive. Otherwise, one will never get past the introductory phrase "Why would...?" when the subject of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 arises in conversation. "Why would somebody need 1,001 horsepower?" Or more appropriately, perhaps, "Why would somebody pay $1.5 million for a car?" (Or, with the so-called Pur Sang "option package," over $2 million.)
One must simply assume that there are certain individuals (of whatever description) who are so inclined (for whatever reasons) to buy what is arguably the world's most sophisticated production car. In fact, to-date some 220 Veyrons are already spoken for. Not to worry, however. For the next several years, there will be 50 more Veyrons available per annum. And then it's au revoir Veyron, presumably 'til the end of time.
But one can never be sure. The automotive world has said au revoir once before, for example, when the firm founded in 1909 by Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti died together with the man revered as le Patron in 1947. Alongside his son Jean, who joined the firm in 1929 at the age of 20, Bugatti pre et fils were to oversee the building of fewer than 8,000 vehicles in the company's nearly 40-year history.
By the original average of some 20 Bugattis produced every year, the prospect of 50 Veyrons annually is positively profligate. And yet automotive enthusiasts have elevated the by-products of the Bugattis' meticulous craftsmanship to iconic status. Many devots think that the Bugatti Type-35 represents the epitome of early grand prix and European road-racing in the 1920s. Whereas the spectacular Bugatti 57 Atlantic from 1938, highly influenced by the ideas of son Jean, is nothing short of a fine arts masterpiece that so transforms static sculpture into dynamic elegance that Brancusi himself might have wept over it.
And then nothing. Ettore is said never to have overcome the loss of his son in a testing accident in 1939. Having survived-barely-the ravages of war from 1939 until 1945, Bugatti the Elder could not survive the twin postwar afflictions of financial hardship and a lung infection. After 1947, the Bugatti name lay dormant but certainly not dead for half a century until Volkswagen licensed use of the fabled marque in 1998. Veyron's gestation commenced almost immediately thereafter.
The Bugatti Veyron manages to exist as several cars at once. It is a virtual working laboratory of the applied automotive sciences. It is a pointed fashion statement. It is even something of a marketing stunt, considering Bugatti's princeling reputation in the pocket of "the people's car." A lover of autos, however, can be amused, even impressed by all three Veyrons.
For instance, the car is mind-boggling in blueprint terms alone. If you can imagine two V8 engines siamesed together in VW's proprietary way, what you end up with is Veyron's exotic W16 powerplant. Or almost, because completing the scheme requires quad-turbochargers. With 64 valves, variably timed and actuated by overhead cams, the 8.0-liter engine (that's 488 cubic inches for Cro Magnon hot-rodders) is capable on a test-bench of some 3,000 horsepower. Alas, the realities of mechanical friction and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (aka heat) consume two-thirds of the W16's potential. All that's left, in other words, is 1,001 net horsepower at the wheels. Aw-w-w.
It does indeed require all four wheels to harness this sort of power, and so a sophisticated rendering of a Haldex all-wheel-drive system is employed, featuring front and center limited-slip differentials and a mechanical center diff. A seven-speed direct-shift gearbox (DSG) is, in essence, a manual transmission without a clutch pedal. Whether in manual or auto-shift modes, Veyron's DSG matches shifts precisely to power curve and even double-clutches masterfully on downshifts.
The results are remarkable-as they had better be. With 922 foot-pounds of torque peaking at a mere 2,200 rpm, Veyron is a cleverly disguised quad-tip magic marker for blackstriping asphalt. Top speed requires all 1,001 hp at its maximum of 6,000 rpm-plus a second, special key that is required just to tap into all this potential.
On the run-up to a computer-limited top speed of 406 kilometers-per-hour (i.e., 252 mph), the Veyron is capable of zero-to-60 mph in about 2.5 seconds. At about 135 mph, the car automatically morphs into "handling" mode by lowering from 4.9 inches of "normal" ground clearance to 3.1 inches up front, 3.7 at rear; moreover, a rear wing kicks up to deliver aerodynamic downforce over the rear wheels. In key-activated "top speed" mode, the Veyron squats just 2.6 inches off the deck up front, 2.8 at rear, while front diffuser flaps close and the rear wing flattens. Anyone crazy enough to try can then mash the brakes at 250 mph. In a trice (or 0.4 seconds, to be exact) the rear wing stands almost upright as an air brake while the carbon-ceramic disc brakes heave anchor. Ten seconds later, you're standing still again-if you can stand at all that is.
Where a Veyron owner can indulge in such shenanigans is not addressed at the manufacturer's elegant and informative website: bugatti-auto.de. Would-be buyers can, however, while away the hours until the 2007 models become available using the site's "car configurator" to customize Veyrons-to-be. And it is informative to note where Veyrons are sold. There are so-called "Bugatti Partners" in 14 countries, including Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Singapore and China. Europe, the United Kingdom and Japan account for eight more "Bugatti-sold-here" nations. And then there's the U.S., with 10 "partners" all to itself from Silicon Valley to Miami Beach.
Is Veyron the car Ettore and Jean could have foreseen 75 years ago? Certainly not. There is no question, however, that this is the car that puts the Bugatti marque markedly back in the middle of the automotive scene. It is the car, in its stunning scarcity, that is trophy enough merely to see in person, let alone to own outright.