It's been 15 years since the sports car first stunned the world.
Few cars represent as iconic a portrayal of power and performance as the first Bugatti Veyron 16.4, a sports car that simply had no equal when it arrived on the market in 2005. Even today, 15 years later, the original's on-paper numbers sound unreal: 987 horsepower from an 8.0-liter quad-turbocharged W16 engine, 0-62 mph in 2.5 seconds, and a top speed of over 250 mph. It was monumental, all-conquering stuff. But few know about the events that eventually resulted in this supercar which was essentially designed around its engine.
To celebrate 15 years of the Veyron, Bugatti shared the car's intriguing origins, beginning with a sketch that was completed on an express train traveling between Tokyo and Nagoya back in 1997. Described as a gifted engineer, the late Ferdinand Karl Piech - former CEO of the Volkswagen Group - sketched his concept for an 18-cylinder engine on an envelope, a motor that should be more powerful than anything else.
Piech's 6.25-liter engine made use of three VR6 cylinder banks, set at 60 degrees to one another and delivering 547 hp. "The ideas of the outstanding engineer Ferdinand Piech in 1997 were a testament to his brilliant mind," said Stephan Winkelmann, the President of Bugatti. "As well as his incredible concept of a powerful engine, he was also the driving force behind the resurrection of the Bugatti brand at its original site, the French city of Molsheim."
With the idea for the mega engine established, Piech's next goal was to find the right brand for such a powerplant. Bentley and Rolls-Royce were considered, a clear demonstration of his lofty ambitions. But it wasn't until Piech's son asked his father to purchase a model of the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic that Ferdinand settled on the French marque, an event that the engineer described as "an amusing stroke of fate."
Piech wanted not only to showcase the magnificent engine but also to revive the Bugatti name back to its former glory of the 1920s and 1930s. He asked his friend and automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro to create a concept, and so the first design prototype, the Bugatti EB 118, was born in 1998. Over the next two years, more concepts were unveiled - morphing from a four-door sedan to a two-door sports coupe - but it wasn't until September 2000 that the Bugatti EB 16.4 Veyron was shown in Paris. Ultimately, the engineers decided on a W16-cylinder engine instead of the 18-cylinder to save space.
The W16 engine was derived from Piech's 18-cylinder and used two VR8 engines, while no less than four turbochargers were added to realize the immense outputs of 1,001 PS and 922 lb-ft of torque. The top speed of 407 km/h (253 mph) wasn't just a coincidence, as Piech had developed the Porsche 917 in the '60s which, with a V12 engine, managed a maximum speed of 406 km/h. As the Bugatti was to be the ultimate, it had to improve on this, even if marginally.
The original Veyron changed Bugatti forever, setting a stratospheric benchmark for today's Chiron. Winkelmann agrees: "The Veyron catapulted Bugatti into an unprecedented new dimension," he said. "The hyper sports car enabled the resurrection of the brand in the spirit of Ettore Bugatti."
But Ferdinand Karl Piech's contribution remains crucial, as here was an engineer with the vision and audacity not only to create an immense engine but to align it with the right brand. The Veyron remains one of the greatest automotive engineering feats of our time.