The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse is, to car enthusiasts worldwide, the equivalent of a unicorn. It’s whispered about in circles of gearheads, when talk turns to extreme horsepower, incredible torque, unbelievable speed… to many, it’s a mythical vehicle that they’ve heard about, perhaps seen pictures of, but haven’t seen in the flesh. Then again, maybe one of their friends actually did see one, that sighting turning him into the Chosen One who forever after carried with him that source of great pride and achievement. Perhaps someone they know—“My neighbor has a friend who met this guy…” —actually heard it bark to life or, even rarer still, saw it drive away. One could only dream of getting a ride in this übercar. And then there was my life-changing experience—driving a new Grand Sport Vitesse on the roads of Southern France, around Provence, and then on the fabled course, Circuit Paul Ricard.
I apologize for the delay in writing—I wasn’t able to control my hands to type out this article before now.
There really is nothing like this car, the “Fastest Roadster In The World.” I mean, look at the numbers!
• Torque—1,106 foot-pounds (FYI, the new Corvette Stingray Coupe has 465)
• Cylinders—16, arranged in W formation, as Siamese V-8s
• Radiators—10 (lots of heat coming from 8,000 CCs)
• Turbochargers – 4
• Acceleration—0-60 mph in under 2.5 seconds!
• Top speed—268 mph/431kph for the Super Sport, 255 mph/408 kph for the Grand Sport Vitesse with the top off (FYI, a 747 takeoff speed is about 180 mph
• Price—About $2.3 million base (typically optioned up to about $2.7 million)
• Availability—With a total limit of 450 cars, fewer than 25 are left to be sold and that will be the end of the Veyron production run (for all variants)
Clearly, this car is something special, which one can tell just reading the above stats. But what’s it like to drive?
It’s like no other car on earth. Wicked-fast, stable, well-balanced, terrific sounding… [pause here to conduct an online search for more superlatives]. A car with this type of performance defies logic, of course. Some might say, “Who needs that much power,” but that isn’t the point, right? I mean, buying this car isn’t the result of a needs-based decision—it comes from passion, the desire to have the absolute best on the planet, a hand-built super-high-tech carbon-fiber blaster with the resources that only a major manufacturer can bring to the table. (Bugatti is part of the Volkswagen Group so imagine who’s at their Thanksgiving dinner table—relatives include Lamborghini, Ducati, Bentley, Porsche, Audi—this is a family that knows how to make things happen, and quickly!)
So back to “What’s it like to drive?” A jet? Somewhat but it’s much faster off the line (check out that Top Gear episode where they raced the Veyron against a Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet). A rocket? The Veyron stops faster. This car is so quick that it can go from zero to 100 kph, then back to a full stop in about five seconds, and can go from 400 kph to zero in under ten seconds. Those are unheard-of statistics for a road-going car! Think of it—you can go from “Impounded My Supercar” to “Traffic School Weekend” in the blink of an eye.
Words are inadequate for sharing the experience but I shall try. Begin with the starter motor, a whirring high-pitched Formula 1-type whine that summons forth the gods of power. Roaring to life through a centralized exhaust, it sounds deep, throaty and slightly menacing, like no other car you’ve heard. Shift the car in to “D” (yes, it has an automatically-actuated dual-clutch transmission) and one can motor off with aplomb and civility. Alternatively (and much more entertaining), one can put the transmission in “1” and choose “Sport” mode and then use either the paddle shifters or the center lever to chose upshifts. With seven speeds and shifts in about 100 milliseconds, this car never dawdles. Quite the contrary—whether one selects manual shifting or invites the nanny to keep an eye on things, this is a car with a tremendous amount of pulling power in any gear and at any time (maximum torque is available very early, in the 3,000-5,000 rpm range).
Hurtling through the open roads around Provence, in the black and orange Vitesse (the actual car which holds the world record), the Veyron is the model of proper motoring, without much noise and very little drama. Even short bursts for passing lorries take no effort as the availability of copious amounts of torque doesn’t require any downshifting for the maneuver. On a clear, crisp, sunny spring day, it was the best Grand Tourer imaginable. With Pierre-Henri Raphanel riding shotgun (he’s a former French Grand Prix driver and current Pilote Officiel for Bugatti), I learned a lot about this most-excellent machine from what he said and from following his directions on what to do. Having left off the removable top, I was free to enjoy the changing temperatures and wafting fragrances that only the French countryside can provide, further amplified by the melodious calliope of sounds emanating from the engine just behind me, accentuated by heavy breathing sounds (no, not mine—the turbos’ waste-gates exhale when the throttle is released, providing a really interesting sound). And then came the afternoon session….
A brief but very tasty luncheon at the Paul Ricard track (who wants to spend time on food at a time like this?) was followed by an afternoon of track time. A race course may be the Veyron’s raison d’être. With Pierre-Henri joining me, in the black and red Vitesse, with tire pressure set for high-speed runs, we did some familiarization laps, then I got to put the pedal to the metal. The only thing that may be more surprising about the Veyron than the acceleration is the grip that this all-wheel-drive monster possesses (1.4Gs!). You turn, it goes. You ask, it delivers. You point, it shoots. And then it was time for the Mistral Straight, a backstretch of about 1.1 miles that ends with the right-hand Signes corner (that’s the corner where Arton Senna crashed in 1985—with little injury—when the engine of his Lotus failed and the resulting oil leak sent him backwards off of the course). Luckily, my experience was better—after hitting 326 kph (just over 200 mph), the carbon-ceramic disc brakes (and with the now-vertical rear spoiler acting as an air brake) brought us back to turning speed and we continued along with no drama. Successive laps that afternoon were equally thrilling and completely safe. No, my whole life didn’t flash before me but the scenery sure went by quickly!
My time with this amazing machine was drawing to a close. I would visit the Bugatti factory in Molsheim tomorrow and see the carbon-fiber wizardry at work but this day—May 5, 2014—will forever live on for me as the day that I joined the 200 mph club in the ultimate car. That is one fast unicorn.