The history of the car's development is almost as fascinating as the end product itself. The brainchild of ex-Volkswagen Group boss Dr Ferdinand Piech, the Veyron was conceived at a time when Volkswagen were in a ravenously acquisitive mode, stretching their financial tentacles across the European car market. Many of the decisions made during this period were questionable at best and few took Piech's vow to build a £1 million, 400km/h, 1000PS leviathan particularly seriously. The Bugatti brand had suffered a chequered recent history and many doubted that the engineering resources would be put in place to bring a project like this to life.
For a while they seemed correct. Various show cars saw the light of day, a 1999 proposal being powered by an 18-cylinder engine, but by the following year plans seemed to be coalescing around a 16-cylinder powerplant with better resolved exterior styling. The problems came when making good Piech's promises. Troubles with electronic control systems, gearboxes and tyres amongst other issues all led to delays and industry analysts smirking that the Veyron project was proving an embarrassing white elephant. The scapegoat was Bugatti's boss, Dr Karl-Heinz Neuman, who was replaced by a new team, including the man responsible for developing Audi's groundbreaking DSG gearbox, Dr Wolfgang Schreiber as Chief Engineer. Volkswagen's boss, Bernd Pischetsrieder, also headhunted a new president, sometime Le Mans driver and renowned financial wizard Thomas Bscher.
Less than five per cent of the 2003 prototype Veyron's parts have made production. The finished article hits all the targets originally set by Piech. Exceeds them in fact. The Veyron has been designed to develop 1001PS (987bhp) in hot, high altitude conditions. In more favourable climes, Bugatti engineers whisper that the car will nudge 1100PS (1085bhp). The 'gold standard' of supercar performance is still the McLaren F1 and when put back to back, it's obvious that automotive engineering has come some way in the intervening 11 years.
The McLaren's good for 627bhp and will get to 200mph in 28 seconds. The Bugatti's output we know about, but will demolish the sprint to the double-ton in less than 20 seconds. Interestingly, it has an inferior power to weight ratio than Woking's finest at 530bhp per tonne versus 550bhp per tone, but the comparative torque figures reverse that status. Whereas the F1 generates 479lb/ft of torque at between 4,000 and 7,000rpm, the Veyron's telling statistic is a jaw-dropping 922lb/ft on offer anywhere between 2,200 and 5,500rpm. If you prefer your torque figures in new money, that's a head-swimming 1,249Nm.
"If you need the last word when it comes to cars, the Veyron is undoubtedly it"
It's the Veyron's 1888kg weight that causes some to doubt whether this is a proper supercar or merely an obscenely over-engineered two seat GT car. Drop into the Veyron's cabin and you're not going to be assaulted by swathes of carbon fibre or four point belts. Instead there's rich two-tone leather and one of the most beautiful fascias ever seen on a production car. The centre console and the indicator stalks are fabricated from an aluminium/magnesium mix and beneath the butter-smooth leather of the deeply scooped seats there are frames made of lightweight carbon fibre. It's just that Bugatti - unlike every other manufacturer you could name - prefers to keep it hidden away. The indicator stalks alone are said to cost Bugatti £4,500 to have made.
Carbon brake discs up front and ceramic rotors at the back, 365mm wide rear tyres (runflats all round) and a seven-speed DSG gearbox all give some clue as to the sheer depth of engineering effort required to bring this car to market. Even at £839,285 a pop, it's debatable whether Bugatti will make any money on the Veyron. You can't fault them for trying, however. 300 cars are set to be built and although each car is currently taking six weeks to build, Bscher confidently predicts that this time will tumble to one week per car.
The wealthy owners of this car probably won't give a hoot about its 11.7mpg combined economy figure. Of rather more importance will be the fact that in most real-world scenarios, this will mean a tank refill every 250 miles or so, perhaps the greatest impediment to the Veyron's touring pretensions. So what is the Bugatti? Too focused to mix it with the premier league GT cars and not sharp enough to rub door handles with a Ferrari Enzo or a Porsche Carrera GT at the Nurburgring, is it anything other than a premier league posing machine? One prod of that accelerator will tell you differently.
You may view the Veyron as obscene, irrelevant or just plain unappealing. None of that detracts from what Bugatti have created - the most powerful, technologically advanced and concussively accelerative supercar ever built. As a technical achievement it's unparalleled. As a supercar I'm not so certain.
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