2006 Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4

Charlie Magee

On the far left of the instrument binnacle, the Veyron has a round dial with some unusual calibration. The needle begins at zero and swings around to 1001. That's 1001 as in PS, German for horsepower. (Converted to American units applicable here, the Veyron produces a mere 987 hp.) Like the power reserve display in the Rolls-Royce Phantom, this gauge shows the immense energy produced by the awesome 8.0-liter, sixteen-cylinder, quad-turbo engine. To reach 155 mph, where lesser sports cars throw in the towel, only 266 hp is required. When you summon the remaining 721 hp, all hell breaks loose. The only other street car that can compare is the McLaren F1, and the Bugatti is even more impressive when you start approaching the scary but scintillating 200-mph-plus speed range.

"The Veyron is a truly groundbreaking vehicle," says Wolfgang Schreiber, technical director of Bugatti Engineering, one of only three people who regularly push the EB 16.4 to the limit. Before the Veyron, he specialized in lightweight materials and recently guided development of Volkswagen's twin-clutch DSG transmission. "The maximum combustion energy adds up to 3000 PS: 1000 is swallowed by the cooling system, 1000 goes through the exhaust, and 1000 is relayed to the four driven wheels;?1000 PS is a whole new dimension.

"The same applies to the maximum torque of 922 lb-ft at 2000 rpm. However, while other transmissions would go bust facing a four-figure challenge, ours can take up to 1107 lb-ft. With the ESP stability system switched off, you can even provoke third-gear wheel spin on slippery surfaces. That's why it takes time to familiarize yourself with this machine. The Veyron is benign and relatively easy to drive by supercar standards, but it requires respect." The writer nods in agreement. I have just whistled down a local autobahn at speeds of up to 212 mph, hardly breaking a sweat, but the 100-mph-plus speed differential completely freaked out other drivers. Not many people check their mirrors often enough to spot the Bugatti zooming up at warp speed, despite its four glaring xenon headlights and its menacing silhouette.

Pich's dream

Like Oscar Wilde, Ferdinand Pich always craved the best. At Porsche, he demolished his rivals with the legendary 917. At Audi, he came up with the Quattro. At VW, he paid peanuts for the Bugatti name before spending big money on the development of the Veyron. Its mission was to end the eternal citius, altius, fortius debate forever by establishing a performance standard that no other marque could match.

Although Pich initially had proposed an even more extreme eighteen-cylinder engine, he eventually settled for the W-16, which is composed of two 4.0-liter W-8 units. But the monosyllabic Austrian would not compromise on the performance targets. Maximum power had to nudge the 1000-hp threshold, and maximum speed had to be in excess of 400 kph (249 mph). The asking price was set at 1 million euros--approximately $1.23 million--plus taxes. While Pich loved the car, the engineers hated it, citing insurmountable cooling and aerodynamic problems. But the chairman did not budge: no styling changes, no performance compromises, no excuses.

The Anglo-Franco-German connection

The new home of Bugatti is in Molsheim, France, only a stone's throw away from the original premises. A neatly renovated castle serves as luxurious residence for managing director Thomas Bscher. The professional banker and extremely competent racing driver is the senior ambassador for the horseshoe brand. Final assembly of the Veyron also takes place in Molsheim. Clinically clean, the minimalist marble monument eclipses even the Volkswagen Group's showcase facility in Dresden. "Capacity is not an issue," says Bscher. "There is enough readily available land to assemble 1000 or even 2000 vehicles a year. In ten years' time, when legislation should be less stringent for small-volume makers, Molsheim may concentrate on bespoke coachbuilt automobiles for affluent customers."

For the time being, however, the new Bugatti car company is still in its infancy. So far, no more than twenty-three Veyrons have been completed. Of that batch, only the last two vehicles are final-spec, preproduction examples. The first car will be shipped to an American customer. Chassis number seven will be delivered to a certain Ursula Pich.

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