The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is a car unlike any that has come before. Sure there have always been fast, luxurious cars. But the Veyron takes it to another level not just in terms of speed but in terms of, well, just about everything.
It was named after a relatively unknown Bugatti test driver named Pierre Veyron who teamed with Jean-Pierre Wimille to win the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Bugatti Type 57C. While the Veyron bears the name of the company founded by Ettore Bugatti and is produced at the site of the company’s original works in Molsheim, France, the driving force behind its creation was Volkswagen Group and its chairman, the indomitable Dr. Ferdinand Piëch.
Dr. Piëch, grandson of Porsche founder Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, played a key role in a number of automotive developments including the Porsche 917 race car and the Audi Quattro all-wheel drive groundbreaking drivetrain. He was also voted “Car Executive of the Century” in 1999.
His goal with the acquisition of Bugatti was nothing short of the creation of the ultimate car. Following a series of concepts sporting a whole lot of cylinders and four digit power figures, the Veyron concept was initially shown at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The production Veyron arrived in 2006 with a price tag of about $1.2m, depending on exchange rates. Since then prices have edged as far as the $2m-$3m range. Yes, in the world of super cars inflation is real, and the sales tax alone can amount to the price of a very nice car.
At the heart of the Veyron is, of course, its engine. This engine is very different from any other. For one its displacement is 8.0 liters. Okay, so an SRT Viper has a larger engine. But the Veyron has four turbochargers. Okay, so the Bugatti EB110 had four turbos. But the Veyron has sixteen (!) cylinders. Okay, so the 1932 Cadillac Phaeton had sixteen cylinders.
But no other car has combined all of those attributes into one engine: Giant displacement, lots of turbos and lots of cylinders. Oh, and the cylinders are arranged in a W-pattern rather than a typical V-pattern. It’s a quad-turbocharged 8.0 liter W-16 engine that just happens to produce over 1,000 metric horsepower (987 SAE hp) and 950 lb-ft of torque. Those are the official ratings, which are rumored to be quite conservative.
Perhaps that’s why the engine itself is a styling element of the car, its topside fully on display for all to see. Granted, in normal driving only 500 hp is available, though tapping into the reserves only requires the twist of a second key.
With all of this power also comes a tremendous cooling load. Like most engines it actually has to produce about three times the rated power to deliver its net ratings. That means about 2,000 hp is lost to heat and friction. Part of that loss is consumed by the 10 heat exchangers. The rest gets routed to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual wet clutch Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission that can change gears in 150 ms.
Chassis and Suspension
The passenger compartment is wrapped in a cocoon of carbon fiber with front and rear aluminum subframes, and a host of exotic metals rounding out the underlying structure. The doors are aluminum in the interest of saving weight while maintaining impact absorption since carbon fiber is brittle.
Somewhat surprisingly the shock settings are fixed, though as you’ll see below, there are three speed modes which do alter chassis performance. This may have to do with restricting the number of configurations that have to be accommodated when potentially operating at speeds close to 260 mph.
The rubber meets the road in the form of Michelin PAX run-flat tires mounted on 20 x 10 inch wheels at the front, and 21 x 14 inch wheels at the rear. Weight distribution is 45/55 front/rear.
Carbon ceramic brakes halt everything in a hurry. At the front eight piston calipers clamp down on 15.7 inch discs, while six piston calipers do so on 15 inch discs at the back. Discs are vented and drilled all around.
A car with such high speed capability demands very exacting aerodynamic stability. As such the hydraulically controlled suspension has three distinct speed modes. The standard mode keeps the rear spoiler retracted and maintains a ride height of 4.9 inches all around, and is intended for up to 137 mph.
Handling mode is for speeds between 137 mph and 233 mph. Here the rear spoiler is extended while front and rear ride heights are lowered to 3.1 inches and 3.9 inches, respectively. Bugatti claims the Veyron produces close to 800 lbs. of downforce at 230 mph.
Switching to Top Speed mode requires bringing the car to a stop first and the use of the additional key. This probably adds to the sense of occasion in a fashion similar to that of the two-man rule for prevention of accidental missile launches. Or Microsoft Windows’ annoying “Are you sure?” pop up when you want to close a program.
Either way this mode lowers the car further to front and rear ride heights of 2.6 and 2.8 inches, respectively. It also closes off the front diffuser and reduces the angle of attack of the extended rear spoiler to lessen drag.
The Veyron is not an efficient car. It relies more on the smooth but brutal power of its engine to overcome a relatively high drag coefficient of 0.36, not to mention its frontal area doesn’t exactly punch a small hole through the air.
Gordon Murray, famed designer of the McLaren F1, wrote a wonderful technical analysis of the Veyron for the January 2006 issue of Road & Track magazine. He claimed the more aerodynamic F1 would have needed 740 hp – 260 less than the Veyron – to reach the same top speed as the Veyron.
What kind of a gasoline-powered car will run out of fuel in 12 minutes? You guessed it. At its top speed of 253 mph a Bugatti Veyron will burn through its 26 gallon tank in 12 minutes, exploding EPA regulators’ heads and causing conniptions among environmentalists when they find out that’s less than two miles per gallon. But realistically, few Veyrons will ever be driven at such speeds.
Most of the time they’ll be a little closer to their actual EPA rating of 8/15 city/highway mpg rating, which isn’t any worse than that of a big pickup truck. And how many can haul like the Veyron?
As in over 1g of forward acceleration, catapulting from a standstill to 60 mph in a staggering time whose first digit is 2, about two and a half seconds! Stopping all that heft from that same speed takes all of 103 feet, thanks to the aforementioned carbon ceramic brakes.
However, it does take a very long straight and a pro driver to take it up to top speed. Not many buyers have those kinds of chops…
A luxurious oasis awaits occupants on the inside. Plenty of leather and suede can be found throughout. Machined aluminum adorns the instrument panels and dials, and wheel mounted shift paddles round out the driver’s controls.
The Veyron is really two cars in one. On one hand it’s a luxurious grand tourer designed to move two people in style and comfort at high speed, rather than a purist sports car. Yet its performance outshines just about anything in the known car universe.
In many ways it’s also twice the car, tipping the scales at a rhino-like 4,160 pounds and possessing the power, capacity and even the number of keys equivalent to two high performance V8 engines, not to mention the price which is far more than twice most sports cars.
A total of 450 Veyrons will be produced before its run concludes. Surely this will be one of the all time greats not only for its outrageous performance, but also for the luxurious yet sporty style in which that performance is reached.
Numerous special edition models were created over the years. Most of the differences were cosmetic in nature, though the Super Sport model had 1,200 hp and could reach 268 mph on track with restrictors removed. However, Bugatti limited it to 258 mph citing tire safety.
Another variant, the Grand Sport, had a removable tinted-glass roof. It also had a swimming pool and diving board. Okay, I made that last bit up. But there were a lot of really, really limited run variants (more like one-offs) with names like Vitesse Grand Sport and the Legend Editions (Ettore Bugatti, Rembrandt Bugatti, Black Bess and so forth), the details of which even bore and bewilder this enthusiast.
In short there are a lot of variants and they all cost a lot, like $2m to $3m. Bugatti hasn’t revealed definitive plans for a successor. It will probably be a while before we see another car that approaches the heights of the Veyron’s performance in a similarly plush manner. But such is the marvel of these machines that we will all be richer for it.
Media photos courtesy of Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S.