This is a story of four charismatic engineers and one near-mythic number. First, the number: 1,000 horsepower. That is the power of the Bugatti EB 16.4 Veyron, an output that surpasses all road cars by such a margin that it looks like a misprint. But no, with the aid of four turbochargers, the Veyron's 16-cylinder, eight-liter engine manages the power of, say, two Dodge Vipers. Or nine base-model Honda Civics. The car seats two.
The obvious question: Why would anyone build such a car? Surely no one sees doing 250 mph on the highway. There can be no commercial logic behind such a crazy machine, even with the Veyron's price tag ofone million euros (at the current exchange rate, that's $1.2 million). Not even as a "halo model" -- a reputation booster -- for the VW group that builds it does the Veyron make sense. No Bugatti owner wants it known he's driving a Volkswagen.
Is this a vanity project, then? An unkind description, but not an inaccurate one. The project's chief authors are two of the four engineers in the Veyron story: Ferdinand Pich, instigator and driving force behind the car, and Karl-Heinz Neumann, the man charged with creating a deliverable model. The Veyron is, in fact, something of a legacy: When the first customer drives the car, which is supposed to happen in April, both men will be gone from the company that built it.
The car was announced as a concept in 1999, the fourth in a series of one-off Bugattis that had been shown by VW since 1998, when the company acquired the rights to the marque. Bugatti is one of the great names in car-making history, but one whose glory days were in the 1930s. Ettore Bugatti, the third engineer in the Veyron story -- though only a ghost in the wings -- was an Italian who set up a factory in France in 1909 to build sports cars. An intuitive, stubborn visionary, he was soon creating some of the greatest machines of his era. To equal their record in top-level European motorsports today, you'd have to combine the output of Ferrari and Porsche. "Nothing is too beautiful, nothing is too expensive," Bugatti said, and that notion drove his designs of luxury high-performance touring cars, such as the Type 57S Atlantic (see photo at bottom). These, not his racecars, are the machines to which VW claims it is now building a successor. Ettore Bugatti died in 1947. Postwar France was no place to be building expensive sports cars, and the company died soon after its founder.
In 1998 it was clear that VW didn't quite know what it wanted a modern Bugatti to be. Two of the concept cars were front-engined, one a two-door coupe and the other a sedan. Then came a mid-engined sports car. All three had a radical 18-cylinder engine. Why 18? Pich told me at the time, betraying his competitive spirit: "Anyone who makes a V12 can easily turn it into a V16. An 18-cylinder is unique. We have put down a mark. The Bugatti was first. BMW and Mercedes can only follow." And indeed, the first Veyron in the VW Bugatti concepts, in 1999, had the 18-cylinder engine. By 2000, however, it had the prosaic 16- cylinder, for reasons rooted in the astronomical horsepower number.
When the 1,000-hp figure was announced, bewilderment -- why was VW, which already owned Lamborghini and Bentley, producing a supercar from a long-dead marque? -- turned to skepticism. Many believed that 1,000 hp (the actual number was said to be 1,001) was simply too much. The car would be undrivable: wheelspin, sliding, instability at the extraordinary top speed. To be manageable by an ordinary driver, it would need so many electronic anti-skid systems that the driver wouldn't really be in command at all, computers would. And there were other engineering challenges: making a gearbox to handle all that torque, keeping the engine cool, and so on.
And the VW connection is just too much for some critics. Tim Dutton, whose family has been at the forefront of restoring, racing, and dealing in vintage Bugattis in England for more than two decades, spits: "It's a faceless corporation that bought the name of a defunct company. They don't understand the old cars at all. No one can see the point. That's the politest way I can put it." He's incredulous about the name of the new car, after Pierre Veyron, the last man to win the Le Mans 24-Hour race in a Bugatti: "Veyron and Ettore Bugatti hated each other. The old man would turn in his grave."
So it came to pass that VW had a PR problem on its hands: The car, not the engineers, had to do the real talking, but the car was unavailable. In 2001 the company predicted mid-2003 for its launch. Tongues began to wag. Customer launch was put back to April 2004. A group of journalists (including this one) was finally invited to drive the car in late July 2003. Then, disaster: Days before the appointed press drive, the invitation was withdrawn. Into the picture had walked the fourth engineer in our Bugatti quartet -- Bernd Pischetsrieder. Pischetsrieder, former chief of BMW, is Pich's successor as chairman of the VW group. He had driven the Veyron -- and rejected it.
Now the rumor mill went into overdrive. In mid-August a Veyron ran demo laps before the crowds at the Monterey festival at Laguna Seca, California. It spun out. On September 1, Pischetsrieder, rebutting a German newspaper report, declared the engine, transmission and cooling systems to be just fine. The driving premiere had been postponed merely "because the steering does not function as well as it should." Well, hey, steering's not that important in a 250-mph car. Things got worse the following week at the Frankfurt International Auto Show. At Bugatti's press conference, Pischetsrieder gave a terse introduction, then pushed the car's chief engineer, Neumann, before the press like a lamb to the slaughter. Neumann committed PR suicide by attacking journalists and their "miserably researched reports." He fumed: "According to everything I've read (in the media) about the vehicle up to now, what we should be presenting here today is nothing more than a pile of junk." He brandished a graph to show the cooling was OK, and said the tires had been tested at 275 mph. Maybe so, but it must have been on a test rig: In mid-October Neumann admitted to me the car still had not been tested at top speed because it had been damaged when it grazed a barrier at the Nardo test track in Italy.
Here was VW with a million-dollar supercar that had spun out at a track and been withheld from the journalists who had been invited to drive it, journalists who were then raked over the coals for wondering whether the company had created a superlemon.
Not long after Frankfurt, Neumann told Popular Science: "Pischetsrieder said he wasn't happy with the steering behavior. For him it was not direct enough, so we changed the ratio from 20:1 to 18:1." That required a new steering rack, a major component change, and that's why the press launch was delayed.
A last-minute substantial engineering change betrays major disagreements about the character of what is, as noted, a vanity project for the manufacturer (and, crucially, for any buyer, who may see himself as a luxury-car driver or a performance-machine master, but probably not both). Neumann had set the Veyron up to be stable and easy to drive. Pischetsrieder, a Ferrari fan, wanted something edgier. What does Neumann think of the final change? He responds gruffly: "It's really sporty now, and I'm sure different people like it the old way. But he's the boss."
One of the development drivers I spoke to, on condition of anonymity, said he prefers the new setup. He has worked on several supercars over the past decade and says the tires are excellent, generating the colossal grip and traction that the edgier steering demands, an astonishing 1.3 G on the skidpad.
Wow! Over 1000+ horsepower! That's absolutely insane. I wonder what the quarter mile times are. It must be unreal.
- Stefani, http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=1526691
What do you need this horsepower for? I'd rather drive an economic environmentally friendly car.
Isn't that something! Aren't you guys thinking of the environment?
Mira - http://www.cosmeticdentistryfaq.net/
Wow that is amazing power!
Today's economy needs this kind of disciplined creativity. Yes, the car mentioned in the article is beneath impractical, but the determination to bring it from dream to reality is the blueprint to follow in the conception of the future economy.
I do not mean to ascribe tomorrow's economy as being "space-
age", but it demands ideas that are on the scale of being visionary if not revolutionary. W-16, an 18 cylinder engine...to say incredible does not convey the thought completely. We've gone from horse-back riding to this...