Instant Classics

The long road to the Bugatti Veyron

Photo credit: Bugatti

Ferdinand Piech is certainly to be regarded motoring history’s last visionary dreamer. There is no doubt he was a born leader — one with the blood of the Porsche dynasty in his veins, and the sheer determination of those who constantly have their sights set on amazing things. And beyond! To see what we mean, just consider — and this is only one example — the Porsche 917 that was prepared to race at Le Mans: an amazingly advanced and awe-inspiring car, hugely powerful and perilously unstable at high speeds (as it showed at great cost!). Like many of Piech’s creations, this was an unnerving car; indeed, English driver John Woolfe lost his life during the first lap of its debut at the 24 Hours in 1969. But it was a car that went on to take every prize going.

Four prototypes, one engine: the 18-cylinder W. Back right, the EB118 coupé with front-mounted engine (1998), back left, the EB218, a four-door luxury sedan (1999); front left, the Chiron 18/3, the first mid-engine sports car (1999), and front right the 18.4 Veyron that, stylistically, prefigures the model that finally went into production

The truth is, Piech had a deep passion for cars and the car world. So much so that, when the opportunity presented itself, he inevitably found himself drawn to the Bugatti brand. In 1995, Romano Artioli’s attempt to revive the famous firm founded by Ettore Bugatti in the early 1900s had failed. The brand was up for sale, and it boasted a valuable technological and design heritage, developed over the years, with great courage, at the magnificent Campogalliano plant near Modena.

But if Piech’s task was to revive the fortunes of Bugatti, he was always clear in his mind that this meant doing something extraordinary and certainly unconventional with it. There were two concepts to explore: the sporty two-seater coupé and the luxury sedan. He was no doubt thinking of the splendid pre-war Bugatti models like the Royal and the Atlantic, but also the beautiful Bugatti EB 112 concept, the luxury sedan conceived by Artioli and designed by Giugiaro. A car that interpreted, with great refinement, the Bugatti style of old.

To achieve something truly unconventional, he demanded an engine totally out of the ordinary. Starting from a 6-cylinder block, Volkswagen technicians built a 6.25-liter two-V W18 engine. A wonderfully compact unit despite its three banks and all the other features necessary in such a fractionated engine.

Two Vs with an angle of 60 degrees and three banks of 6 cylinders are the features of the powerful 6.3-liter engine used to develop the first Bugatti of the Volkswagen era

At the Paris Motor Show in the Autumn of 1998, Bugatti unveiled a luxurious and elegant two-door coupé with a powerful front-mounted 18-cylinder engine.

A few months later, in Spring 1999, a second concept car was unveiled, this time a four-door luxury sedan named the EB 218. This car represented a meeting point between the original EB 112 and the 118. Naturally, it had the same 18-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive.

Although it met with instant media and public acclaim, the idea of a front-engine Bugatti was abandoned, making way for the arrival, at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1999, of the EB 18/3 Chiron (named as a tribute to driver Louis Chiron). In this case, the engine (still with the 18 cylinders) was mounted in a central, rear position. The body recalls that of a compact and elegant supersport car. The design carried the prestigious Giugiaro name, having been produced by Fabrizio, son of Giorgetto, who had worked in person on the project, with the support of the then head of the Volkswagen Hartmut Warkuß Style Center.

A longed-for car: the large Bugatti EB218 concept sedan is reminiscent of the most majestic models from the brand’s golden age

Just as it seemed that the Chiron, presented again in Tokyo under the name of Pierre Veyron (winner of the 1939 24 hours of Le Mans, with co-driver Jean-Pierre Wimille in a Bugatti Type 57S Tank) was ready, everything was changed: the 18-cylinder naturally aspirated engine that Piech had wanted was replaced with a W16 quad-turbo engine which had the advantage of combining incredible power with lower emission levels. However, given the need to solve problems of overheating and stability — after all, this was a 1001 HP car capable of doing more than 400 km per hour —, it was 2005 before the Veyron was finally ready to go into production.

A car worthy of Ettore Bugatti…and Ferdinand Piech!

The first Bugatti of the Volkswagen era did not make its appearance until 2005. The Veyron, with a top speed of over 400 km/h, was produced in 450 units. However, the engine was no longer the 18-cylinder one, but a W16 quad-turbo capable of delivering over 1000 HP