Leno shifted only a few times; the torque is such that acceleration is available with just a touch of throttle. He says that the shift pattern and pedal layout varies from model to model in Bugattis, and he was adjusting to this particular car as we progressed. We were going a lot harder than I had remotely expected, for good reason: running too slowly on a hot day caused the coolant temperature to rise dangerously, so we would spurt ahead of the photographer's vehicle, then drop back to be shot, then rush ahead again.
There were a couple things that surprised me. First, despite the very hard springing and damping, the ride was a lot better than written reports gave reason to expect. True, we were on smooth roads, nothing like the unpaved circuits of the 1920s, but the car didn't jump around when one wheel hit a manhole cover. Second, I found it hard to imagine that slender racing driver René Dreyfus, whom I knew quite well, could drive almost 200 miles nonstop, as he did at Monaco in 1930 -- much less that Madame Elizabetta Junek could nearly win the Targa Florio on unpaved Sicilian tracks -- in a car like this, albeit far more powerful. But they did, and the fact that this car remains very much intact and capable shows that not only were the drivers extraordinary, so were their Bugattis. No wonder we revere them long after their heydays.
The mechanical splendor of the glorious Type 35/37/51 Bugattis is coupled with an iconic body shape that looks good in any color, not just the French racing blue most often seen. I failed to ask why Veyron's car is painted in traditional American racing colors-white body, blue chassis -- assigned long before Briggs Cunningham's team invented racing stripes sixty years ago, but I think most people will agree that it's wonderfully attractive. So, a great ride, fabulous memories, and a long-held fantasy fulfilled -- partially -- thanks to the generosity of Jay Leno.
But I still want to drive a Bugatti. Wouldn't you?