Virée Caradisiac – At the wheel of a Bugatti: when a car reaches its limits

Did Ferdinand Piech dream of a supercar that would surpass the competition when he unveiled the Audi Avus concept car? Presented at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show, this rare sports car with aluminum bodywork had headlights similar to those of the future production Bugatti Veyron and, like the latter, a W-shaped mechanical architecture.

The 1991 Audi Avus was the first to feature W-shaped mechanics.

Since the end of the 90s, then, the strong man of the Volkswagen group has multiplied concept cars that all share a specific mechanical architecture and a similar approach: only after the surprising Volkswagen W12 Syncro of 1997 Tokyo Motor Show and in the process from the almost simultaneous acquisition of Bugatti, Bentley and Lamborghini in 1998, each new concept car presented by one of the new high-prestige brands of Volkswagen is like a statement of intent from Piech.

Introduced in 1997, the Volkswagen W12 marked the beginning of a new salvo of ultra-sporty concept cars.
Introduced in 1997, the Volkswagen W12 marked the beginning of a new salvo of ultra-sporty concept cars.

He started by installing a monstrous 18-cylinder W engine under the bonnet of the Bugatti EB 118 concept from the 1998 Paris Motor Show, designed by Giugiaro. The following year, he hid it in the EB 218, an evolution of the EB 118 unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1999. A few meters from the stand, there was a new W16 behind the cockpit of the magnificent Bentley Hunaudières, both Swiss. out, in an atmospheric version with 8 liters and 630 horsepower instead of 6.25 liters and 555 horsepower for the W18 of the big Bugattis. A few months later, the Bugatti Chiron concept presented at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show abandoned the sedan genre to return to supercars, with the same W18 as the EB 118 and EB 218.

1999 Bentley Hunaudières inaugurated (almost) the W16 of the future Chiron.
1999 Bentley Hunaudières inaugurated (almost) the W16 of the future Chiron.
In the same year 1999, the Bugatti Chiron was just a concept and still had the W18!
In the same year 1999, the Bugatti Chiron was just a concept and still had the W18!
The 2000 Audi Rosemeyer also had the W16 that would equip the future Veyron as standard.
The 2000 Audi Rosemeyer also had the W16 that would equip the future Veyron as standard.

From the Tokyo Motor Show in the same year 1999, the Volkswagen group conceptualized the Bugatti Veyron for the first time. Then it took the unique W18 of the Chiron concept but in a different body. Finally, on June 1, 2000, Audi unveiled the Rosemeyer concept, this time equipped with a W16 from Bentley Hunaudière, connected for the first time to all-wheel drive (in a 710 horsepower version).

Bugatti Veyron, the choice of Ferdinand Piech

The reflections must have merged in the mind of Ferdinand Piech to arrive at such a number of concept cars and technical variants, the great decision maker of Volkswagen who finally stopped his strategy of conquest only at the end of the year 2000, after the Paris Motor Show where a concept EB16/4 Veyron with mechanics close to Audi Rosemeyer was presented: in addition to the launch series of a new family of W engines for top models from Volkswagen , Audi and Bentley, the giants now. The German group will design the most powerful and fastest car in the world. This task finally fell to Bugatti and no longer to Audi or Bentley, with an improved version of the Veyron concept car. Piech ordered his teams at the last minute to produce more than a thousand horsepower and a top speed in excess of 400 km/h. At a time when the most powerful engines on the market don’t even reach 600 horsepower, the bar seems very high.

This is the very first concept car of the Bugatti Veyron, from 1999. Initially, it had an atmospheric W18 with 555 horsepower and two-wheel drive.
This is the very first concept car of the Bugatti Veyron, from 1999. Initially, it had an atmospheric W18 with 555 horsepower and two-wheel drive.
And here it is, the Bugatti Veyron in its final production version.  The design is very close but under the body, everything has changed.
And here it is, the Bugatti Veyron in its final production version. The design is very close but under the body, everything has changed.

Especially Ferdinand Piech also likes this supercar, literally fantasized by the Austrian engineer who once designed the Porsche 917 engine, to be comfortable and take its two occupants to the opera in uniform. night! Five years later, billions of sleepless nights by sweaty engineers, multiple management team changes and a bad budget extension later, Bugatti officially presented the first production Veyron to the international press. 0 to 100 km/h in 2.6 seconds, 0 to 200 in 7.3 seconds, 0 to 300 km/h in 16.7 seconds (against 3.65 and 9.6 seconds respectively for 0 to 100 and 200 km/h in the 2003 Ferrari Enzo ) 407 km/h at top speed.

Turbulent start

Test journalists spoke of many accelerations of historical violence and the first testers praised the surprising comfort of the engine, worthy of a real GT. But the enthusiasm didn’t match the feedback from the grips of the Porsche Carrera GT or the Ferrari Enzo a few months ago. Steve Sutcliffe, of the English magazine Autocar, writes for example: “As an engineering feat, the Bugatti Veyron will remain unrivaled for years to come and possibly forever. But that’s not enough to automatically make it the best supercar in the world. The most impressive, yes, without a doubt. But the most memorable? Not for me”, he insisted. Described as a cold engineering machine and plagued by several pre-series reliability problems reported at first hand, Ferdinand Piech’s technological dream did not benefit from a good commercial start: invoiced 1.64 million euros. Euros including VAT, it was difficult to convince customers experienced in the most exciting Ferrari and Porsche to drive. Why pay so much for a car that is unabashedly described as less exciting to drive than an Enzo V12 or a Porsche V10? Is Ferdinand Piech’s dream just an expensive chimera of a megalomaniac engineer doomed to failure?

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