A Bugatti Journey

Surely you've seen the little blue race cars with the tall, narrow tires and freakish positive camber, but have you ever really seen these Bugattis? Have you ever stopped to examine how they work? How they were put together? How they were designed? What they accomplished? What they meant?

I confess, I hadn't. Sure, Bugattis are exceedingly rare (total production is somewhere fewer than 8000 cars over 100 years) and expensive (many are valued in the seven-figure range, a few even higher), but it's universally agreed that Bugatti is one of the most significant marques of all time. And given the unlikelihood that I would ever drive one, I had dismissed them as ancient, uninteresting history.

However, over the course of several months last autumn, a bizarre set of circumstances combined to let me drive -- and study up close -- five different Bugattis. The adventure began in California in a 2008 Veyron and a 2009 Grand Sport, surrounded by a sea of classic Bugattis in a rally for the fiftieth anniversary of the American Bugatti Club. One of the owners generously allowed me a day behind the wheel of his 1930s grand prix car. And when another magnanimous owner found out I would soon be driving the Veyron Super Sport, he offered me a drive in his 1990s Bugatti EB110SS.

Driving the 1200-hp Bugatti Veyron Super Sport is a pretty rare opportunity. Not as rare, however, as going from zero to five Bugattis and hopscotching across the entire history of the marque in only a matter of weeks. Most important, though, without my exposure to the earlier Bugattis, I would have never noticed, or even understood, the things that make the new Veyron Super Sport so special.

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