The name, Bugatti, conjures up some mental images that surpass mere mechanical and engineering accomplishments. The name carries with it something almost magical. Today’s Bugattis are famous for speed and power, just as were the earlier models in the 1920s and 30s.
The most iconic Bugatti of all, the type 41 or Royale, was intended to be the most luxurious and biggest car in the world, created specifically for royalty. It was the no-compromise creation of Ettore Bugatti, who cut no corners and made no sacrifices in its design and construction. For example, the engine block and head were not separate as is typical in engine construction, but were machined out of a single block of cast iron. The brake drums were machined as part of the wheels. This was a 7,000-pound beast that was 20 percent longer and heavier than the biggest Rolls-Royces ever built.
The automaker was already world famous as a proven winner in the racing world, having dominated Grand Prix racing for the entire decade of the 1920s. One of the more notable racing victories came with the brand’s second and last win in the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1939. That car was co-driven by Pierre Veyron, the namesake of the later model that today we call the fastest production car in the word.
Meanwhile, in the early 1930s, Bugatti tried its hand at creating the most extravagant road car ever made, and the Royale was the exquisite result. The Royale, in each of its various custom body types, was noted for its aesthetic beauty as well as its performance. They were so unique and so expensive that only six were ever constructed. Because of the Great Depression, they managed to sell only three of the six before abandoning the project altogether.
Long after the Bugatti family relinquished the rights to the name, Bugatti cars are today being produced by the parent company, Volkswagen AG, with the expressed objective of making the Veyron the fastest production automobile in the world.
Volkswagen AG also borrowed heavily from the reputation of the early Royale, and manufactures a model of its own today under that name. Some describe that car as downright ugly, and at the very least it pales in aesthetic comparison to the elegance of the original. But there is no disputing that the model introduced in 2005 as the EB 16.4, or Veyron, was driven to a higher top speed than any other production car in the world, at 252.95 mph in August, 2005.
The car’s designation pays homage to Ettore Bugatti (EB), as well as noting the number of engine cylinders (16) and the number of turbochargers employed (4). That’s right, four turbochargers. And 16 cylinders in a W-configuration displacing eight liters (7993 cc or 488ci) and producing 922 lb ft of torque and 1,001 hp. The power output was another record for production cars. The direct fuel injection, seven-speed gearbox, and four-wheel drive cap the picture creating a car with immensely rewarding power as well as an unsurpassed feeling of quality from its luxurious leather-appointed cabin. But aside from factory employees, almost everyone knows the EB 16.4 as the Veyron.
The carbon-fiber monocoque construction chassis is secured to the road with an interesting ride-height hydraulic system that adjusts to the car’s speed, with three distinct stages. The first is the height while cruising at anything below 137 mph. That height is about five inches (4.92). When the next stage kicks in a rear spoiler raises up as the car drops to 3.15 inches at the front and 3.74 inches at the rear. This “downforce mode” is engaged up to 233 mph. Then at still higher speeds than that, the ride height adjusts to 2.56 inches front and 2.76 inches rear as the spoiler also adjusts to a minimum drag coefficient.
Hit with some unanticipated spending cuts due to a recent emissions scandal, Volkswagen AG is apparently going to be forced to reconsider the 2016 launch of the planned replacement for the vaunted Veyron. So there remains the possibility that Bugatti may relinquish the title of fasted production car on Earth. But the title was questioned by many already, as “fastest” can be defined in many ways beyond simply attainable top speed.
The Veyron is a rocket, there is no question about that. But it is fast despite a serious weight problem. The car is incredibly heavy for a supercar in today’s world, weighing in at nearly 2,000 pounds. While it is faster in a straight line than anything else, it was never intended as a racecar, and would not compete favorably on most road courses against a McLaren f1, or a Ferrari Enzo or LaFerrari, for example. But in large part due to its weight, the strengths of the Veyron include an exceptional feeling of solidity and control. That is largely lacking in all of the other supercars that are more nimble and thus a bit more twitchy. The Veyron handles in traffic like the refined and well-behaved luxury car that it is.
When you do choose to explore that rocket-like acceleration, turbo lag is non-existent due to the massive power output. Wheel spin is also controlled through the four-wheel drive that keeps the wheels firmly planted on terra firma, no matter how fast terra firma is disappearing in the rear view mirror. Some might criticize the car as too heavy to be practical, but since when is practicality a consideration for cars like this? Is a McLaren f1 practical?
Perhaps an interesting side note here, is this. The Veyron sold for in excess of $1.4 million USD. Of course, there were only six of them made, but the last three times one of the original Bugatti Royales sold, the Coupe de Ville Binder reportedly sold for $20 million USD in 1999, the Berline de Voyage sold in 1991 for $8 million, and the Kellner Coupe brought a reported $15.7 million in 1990. Despite Bugatti’s having re-introduced the name, the world will never again see cars like the original Bugatti Royale. But the world will no doubt see a few newcomers looking for the title of fastest production car on Earth.