November 9, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2007 Bugatti Veyron

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Bonaventura, Sicily – There are only two things you need to know about the Veyron; it’s better than you can imagine and, yes, you want one.

The latter bit presents a bit of a conundrum for everyone who has driven the car. I’ve spoken with colleagues and we are all in agreement – to drive the Veyron is at once an unimaginable high and a crushing low. Unlike every other car an automotive journalist is ever likely to drive, the Veyron is simply made of un-obtaineum. They might has well have named it the “Bugatti sorry mate, you can’t have one”. Not because Bugatti won’t sell you one (only about 50 of the 300 are sold) but because it’s unlikely that if your career path led you to be a journalist at some point that it would take a 180-degree turn and make you a successful investment banker sometime down the road.

No, the Veyron is a car that is beyond aspiration. You can drive a 911, even a Continental GT, and think to yourself “one day, one day I might be able to afford this.” Depreciation, remember, is your friend. Somehow I doubt that the Veyron, however, is going to depreciate enough from its 1,200,000 Euro price (1,709,100.43 CDN as I write this) to fit with my budget.

I don’t just mean because it was fast either. Everybody knew it was going to be fast. How couldn’t it be? Sixteen cylinders, four turbo-chargers, 1001-hp, seven forward gears and lighting shifts from the steering wheel paddles not to mention AWD to hook it to the ground. There was no question this beast would be fast. The hard numbers are 0-100 km/h in 2.5 seconds and top speed of 407 km/h. Incidentally, you achieve that 0-100 time by using the Launch-Control feature that, once you’ve pressed the button and put one foot firmly on the brake and the other on the gas, lets you release the brakes, spikes the engine RPM and spins all four wheels for a hundred metres or so.

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More amusing is that the 15.7-inch carbon-ceramic brakes (15-inches at the rear) in conjunction with the rear spoiler tipping forward to act as an air brake, can haul the 4150-lb car down from 407 km/h in just under 10 seconds. Ten seconds! Of course you will have covered almost half a kilometre after those 10 seconds but you won’t really need them on a long stretch, as the 8-litre lump will suck the 100-litre tank dry in 12 minutes. That’s 125 L/100 km! I could go on but the real magic of the Veyron was in fact in driving it.

There is ample space in the low cabin. You sit ahead of the car’s centerline – its pretty much you strapped to the front of a 1001-hp French ICBM. There really isn’t much of a view out back except of the massive polished air intakes. Over your shoulder doesn’t help much either and though the front A-pillars are as thick as the Austrian Oak’s thighs, the windshield is panoramic.

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The car starts up with a loud whirr from the starter and then settles into a rumble akin to an earthmover grading a highway shoulder. Once underway the most prominent noise is gear whine from the seven-speed Ricardo DSG gearbox.

The French journalists had already crippled a car, and being the only Canadian invited to attend, I wasn’t going to shunt one. I eased down the road from our mountain hotel in Bonaventura, Sicily. I cautiously turned left onto the main road and was soon on the highway. In the passenger seat was Wolfgang Baker, head of electrical engineering on the Veyron, a father and mild mannered guy. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He’d been the helpless hostage of four waves of journalists all frothing at the mouth to unleash the world’s fastest car. I planned on taking it easy on him.

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I accelerated onto the expressway and glanced down to see the speedo at 170 just as I entered a tunnel. One-seventy is really no big deal, in fact I thought the car was a bit noisy considering the speed. Then I realized that my car was a US spec car (in glorious pearl white and silver I might add) and we were traveling at 170 mph (276 kph)! And that was nothing.

The highway opened up as we left the tunnel and I let the speed climb to nearly 300 km/h, eased it back down and cruised at 250-280 for about 20 minutes. At these speeds the Veyron is planted and its rear wing is generating actual down force on the rear axle. Expansion joints simply nudge the steering and thumped the tires. We were in the groove and when a straight opened up I took my chance to wind the car up to 320 km/h or to what I thought was 320 km/h.

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I have to confess to paying particular attention to the road ahead, braving only stolen glances at the speedometer. Later, after our drive, Wolfgang checked the car’s computer with the provided HP PDA and it revealed that we only hit 307.8 km/h. Bummer.

I won’t lie to you: at no point did anything I did even begin to approach the car’s limits. How could I? With only a three hour drive there really wasn’t the time to get to know a car of this capability. We rocketed along the highway a while longer and I found that the Veyron truly is as secure and as comfortable near 300 as a fine German sedan is at 200.

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The Veyron won’t actually hit 370 km/h until you pull over and lock the car into its high-speed mode. Thus set, the car hunkers down like an L.A. lowrider, closes its cooling flaps and retracts its rear spoiler to a lower-profile setting. Now it’s ready to do the full 407 km/h but should you steer abruptly, brake or freak out it will automatically revert back to the second tier aerodynamic setting. Just the deceleration from raising the ride height and wind slows the car at 0.6gs.

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Once off the highway, the real joy of driving the Veyron became instantly evident. Unlike the secure, planted, indominatable stance on the highway, the Veyron becomes supple, nimble and frisky on a winding road. The steering is light and lively – much like a Porsche 911’s. The body moves about a bit, again, similar to a 911, but the wheels never lose contact with the tarmac. The badly rutted roads of the Sicilian countryside, some part of the famous Targa Florio road race, kept the stability and traction control light flashing and weight transfers let the 987 lb.ft. of torque get the better of the massive 365 rear and 256 front tires. The strange sizes can be attributed to the fact that the tires are Michelin PAX runflats and a rear one, left or right, will set you back about eight grand.

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You wouldn’t be happy unless there were some criticisms, and there is one rather significant one: the Veyron is the perfect inter-continental tourer except that there isn’t enough trunk capacity for a bikini and a toothbrush. Probably not a huge issue for prospective buyers as they can have their ‘man’ follow in the Rolls – but still!

The kicker is that despite the Veyron’s astronomical price it is actually quite a good deal. Smart money pegs the total development cost of the car at 400-million Euro or so. Take into account that they can only build 50 a year for the next six years – new safety rules will make the car uncertifiable – and there is a maximum run of about 300 cars. I don’t think that they will sell all 300. Not because it isn’t the most incredible automotive accomplishment in history: it is; not because it isn’t beautiful: it’s stunning and smaller than you would expect; and not because the Bugatti team isn’t a swell bunch of guys: they are; but because the car doesn’t have the owner loyalty base that Ferrari does. The day the Enzo went on sale it had been sold out for three years.

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Say they only sell 120 cars or so and divide them into 400-million euro and you have a cost of 3.3-million Euro ($5M CDN) a pop – you’re making money on this deal. Even at MSRP the cars cost more than they charge for them.

I don’t have an insightful closing paragraph other than to say the Veyron was a surprise and a delight. It is fast, beautiful, unerringly well crafted and truly impressive in every way. You can have a ball picking paint colours at and watch it do a four-wheel tire shredding Launch-Control start at .

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