Cars that Defied the Norm: Bugatti Veyron

A car built to be the absolute best in the world and wearing the badge of one of the most revered marques in history.

Saying that the Bugatti Veyron defied the norm is somewhat akin to saying that the Concord is a faster way to travel than a Cessna. But that kind of understatement is almost unavoidable when talking about such a huge technological leap forward. Words can hardly do it justice, try though we do. The Veyron seriously raised the bar on performance, thanks to an engine type the world had never seen before. It was an awesome feat of engineering, and even eight years later has little real competition.

The Bugatti marque is more than 100 years old now, but it wasn't active during this entire time, and in fact wasn't building cars for most of it. The company was founded by Ettore Bugatti, who had been born in Italy, in Mulsheim, Alsace. At the time, this was part of Germany, but would become French as part of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI. Under Ettore, the company made some of the most beautiful cars in the world, with some of the credit in this area also going to his son Jean. But they weren't just beautiful and luxurious, Bugatti also had a strong motorsports program, and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1937 and 1939.

The Depression and then the Second World War effectively killed off the brand when it came to cars. They continued building airplane parts, and a couple of attempts were also made to revive the brand during the Fifties and Sixties using old prewar parts and new bodies. But this never went anywhere, and the next attempt at revival didn't get underway until 1987. The EB110, a Bugatti produced from 1991 to 1995, was really quite an impressive machine. The styling has been compared to that of an industrial air conditioner, but the 3.5-liter 60-valve quad-turbo V12 was just the sort of thing for a Bugatti to have.

And it produced 553 horsepower, also appropriate for a Bugatti in 1991. But Bugatti's new owners grew overly ambitious, and stretched company finances too thin, causing a collapse in 1995. So Volkswagen acquired the name in 1998, and thus began what is by far the most successful revival of the company. Its first concept was the EB118, which was powered by an 18-cylinder engine with the cylinders arranged into three banks of six. For the actual production car, which would debut in 2005, Bugatti went a slightly different route. The engine ended up being a W16, essentially to narrow-angle V8s sharing a common crankshaft.

Like the EB110, this used four turbochargers, and the result was the famous 1,001 horsepower rating. This rating is metric, and would be 987bhp, but it turns out to have been conservative anyway, and dyno tests have shown the car to actually produce 1,020/1,006 horsepower. Just so we're all clear. When the car debuted in 2005, it was the fastest, most powerful and most expensive production car the world had ever seen. It could hit 60mph in 3 seconds and 180mph in 14 seconds. The officially recorded top speed is 253mph, making it the car to dethrone the McLaren F1 as the world's fastest production car.

Special tires had to be made by Michelin just for the Veyron and its insane top speed. These tires cost $25,000 a set and can only be mounted on the rim at the Bugatti factory in France, a service which costs an additional $70,000. The car is named for Pierre Veyron, a Bugatti engineer, test driver and racing driver who was one of the two drivers to pilot a Bugatti Type 57S to a win at the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans. And that right there tells you why the name Bugatti has had such an enduring legacy. When a car is designed, tested and raced all by the same person, it's easy to see why it turned out so brilliantly.

The Veyron was designed primarily with aerodynamics in mind, as such terrific top speeds couldn't be achieved without a maniacal attention paid to every little curve. Some people find this design rather beautiful, others not so much, and even those who like it by this point have seen enough pictures of it over the last eight years that they could draw it blindfolded. This familiarity might have even bred a certain amount of the proverbial contempt, and it is certainly easy to forget what an awesome technological achievement the Veyron still is. The real accomplishment isn't the horsepower figure itself either, it's that they have made this kind of power usable and reliable.

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