One of the most storied names in automotive history, the Bugatti emblem was affixed to some of the world’s greatest and grandest sports cars during motoring’s Golden Age. The original French company was never able to rise from the ashes of World War II, however, though the name has been resurrected twice in recent decades, most recently by Volkswagen, who purchased the rights to build vehicles under the Bugatti name in 1998.
VW founded Bugatti Automobiles SAS in 2000, and debuted a concept vehicle on the international auto show circuit that year, the EB 16/4 Veyron. Nearly five years in development, the production version, renamed the Veyron 16.4, was unveiled at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. About the size of a Chevrolet Corvette, its difficult-to-describe styling is sleek and chunky at the same time, with a prominent odalisque grille, massive side scoops and bodybuilder-broad muscular wheel arches.
The Veyron 16.4 is named for famed Bugatti racing driver, Pierre Veyron who won the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1939. The numeric part of the moniker refers to the car’s power plant, an 8.0-liter W16 engine in which 16 cylinders are configured in four banks of four cylinders each. Think of it as two V8 engines that have been joined together at the crankshaft and you have the general idea. It uses no less than four turbochargers to generate an unholy 1001 horsepower, which is claimed to be able to propel the car to 100 km (62 mph) in an estimated 2.5 seconds and attain a felonious top speed as high as 253 mph.
As if that’s not enough, a new-for-2011 Super Sport variation boasts 1,200 horsepower, with 1,106 pound-feet of neck-snapping torque and can reach 260 mph for those ultra-rich individuals with a long stretch of road to traverse, a desire to live at – and over – the edge and a paternal pass with law enforcement officials.
A computer-controlled seven-speed automated manual transmission developed by Audi channels power to all four wheels; all-wheel-drive is a necessity to help keep the Veyron 16.4’s four wheels affixed to the pavement, given all that muscle. This gearbox can be shifted manually via steering wheel-mounted shifter paddles, or it can be left in fully automatic mode. While there is no clutch pedal, two internal clutches work in tandem to maintain a continuous flow of thrust throughout the engine’s power range.
At speeds over 137 mph, hydraulics lower the car to a ground clearance of about 3-1/2 inches, while a rear wing deploys to help provide the aerodynamic down force necessary to hold the car onto the road at extreme speeds.
Ostensibly to prevent valet parkers and rich teenaged sons/daughters from fully wringing out this seven-figure ride, a second key must be engaged while the car is stopped in order for a driver to be able to reach its upper limits of performance. A diagnostic checklist determines whether the car and its driver are ready before enabling “top speed” mode. Once this locks in, the rear spoiler retracts, the front air diffusers close and the vehicle’s ground clearance drops to 2.6 inches for added road-holding aerodynamics.
Fortunately, the car’s suspension and run-flat tires are specifically designed to help maintain stability and control at speeds beyond most motorists’ comprehension. Likewise, the Veyron 16.4’s brakes are constructed for maximum grip; at speeds over 124 mph the rear wing acts as an air brake, jumping to a 70-degree angle in less than half a second once the brakes are applied. Bugatti says the car can come to a controlled stop from 252 mph in a mere 10 seconds.
The Veyron 16.4’s interior is trimmed in leather and polished aluminum, with styling cues that are intended to herald back to classic Bugattis. Opulently equipped, the car even comes with its own personal digital assistant (PDA) that works with the navigation system and can download information on the vehicle’s internal diagnostics via wireless Bluetooth technology. A Grand Sport version features a removable transparent polycarbonate roof panel for open-air enjoyment and even greater exclusivity. Unfortunately, since the targa top won’t fit inside the vehicle it has to be left at home when it’s removed; a temporary umbrella-like cloth cover lets the car limp home (only at speeds under 85 mph, mind you) if the weather suddenly becomes inclement. As the saying goes, “the rich are different.” In the case of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, the very rich can drive something that’s very different, indeed. And for those who can stand the wait, an all-new successor to the current Veyron is expected to be unveiled in 2013 model year that promises even greater levels of performance.
Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Quick Facts
Engine: 8.0 Liter W16
Horsepower: 1001 @ 6,000 rpm, 1,200 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 922 @ 2,200 rpm, 1,106 @ 3,000 rpm
City/Highway: MPG NA
Transmission: 7-Spd Auto Manual
Wheelbase: 106.7 in
Overall Length: 175.7 in
Width: 78.7 in
Height: 47.4 in
Curb Weight: 4,162 lbs
MSRP: $1,700,000 – $2,700,000
Did You Know?
The legendary Ettore Bugatti founded the original Bugatti auto company in Molsheim, France in 1909, producing some of the quickest and most elegant cars in the world during its heyday. The brand was equally successful in racing, winning the first-ever Monaco Grand Prix in 1929 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice during the late 1930’s. By then, however, the company’s fortunes were already in decline, and Bugatti would essentially become a casualty of World War II. Several attempts at reviving the brand would fail until the company was resurrected in its current form as a division of the Volkswagen Group at the turn of the 21st. Century.