My tryst with the Veyron started at the Autocar India Track Day earlier this year. Arriving a day late, I was informed that I had missed a chance of a lifetime. A Bugatti Veyron had been sneaked in at the Sriperumbudur track for Narain Karthikeyan to do a few storm-raising laps. A photograph of the Veyron on the track left no room for hiding from the truth. It was plain that I was never going to get a chance to see a Veyron again.
Little did I know then that it was all a prank set up by Renuka Kirpalani and Hormazd. They had a good laugh at the smooth little number they had pulled onme. So a few weeks later when an inviteto head down to Molsheim, the home of Bugatti, popped into my inbox, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was too good to be true.
Greater than the sum of all things
The Veyron is a legend. At the time of its launch in 2005, it was in a league of its own, thanks to its mind-numbing top whack of 408.47kph. The Veyron made history, but despite being backed by the might of the Volkswagen Group and Ferdinand Piech’s iron will, the journey wasn’t a very smooth one. Very nearly, it didn’t make it. Issues with aerodynamics, heat management, lack of power and excessive weight nearly brought an end to the Veyron story, early in the 21st century. Much too close to the launch, the Veyron project faced a watershed moment – make or break? Bugatti certainly broke the mould with the W16 engine. The motor boasted of an incredible 7993cc of displacement yet was very compact. Four turbos were added to churn out the necessary horsepower. A four-wheel-drive system was also a must to channelise all the 1001bhp. And 10 radiators are needed to keep all the mechanicals cool.
To make the Veyron as light as possible, it has been made up of lightweight alloys and carbonfibre. The chassis is carbonfibre as are most of the body panels (you could get a full carbonfibre body for some extra dough too), the panels that aren’t carbon fibre are aluminium, just like the engine and transmission, the bolts are titanium as are the front grilles over the air vents and the exhaust is magnesium like the wheels. The result is a supercar that weighs 1,888kg. The convertible Grand Sport version I was driving is heavier still at 1990kg. That is significantly heavier than the Enzo, the Zonda and even the Koenigsegg. Yet, the Veyron is faster than all of them. Then again, the Veyron is like no other car.
I nearly stopped dead in my tracks when I first saw the Veyron standing in front of me. In pictures it looks huge and gory but in the flesh it is another story. The Veyron, nose to tail, at 4.46 metres, is just a shade longer than the Honda City. The signature horseshoe grille seems like a puckered mouth, ready to swallow air hungrily. The wheel arches tower protectively over the hood. The headlamps look like lazy eyes, with a veiled alertness in the depths. The Veyron is one fluid form all the way to its chunky rear. The contrasting air intakes sticking out over the roof, the scooped-out section behind the doors, the massive rear wing and the sticky tyres give the Veyron a pantomine feel.
The feel carries over to the inside. The quilted, red leather interiors are fittingly dramatic. After dropping myself onto the slim seat hovering centimetres above the floor, my attention was taken up by the Veyron’s power meter. It is an rpm-like counter which shows how much horsepower you are using at a given point. Seeing the big 1001 at one end drove home the point, hard. I turn the key, press the start button and the engine crackles to life; time for some action.
I expected that my past experience with superbikes would keep me from getting blown away by the Veyron experience. A Hayabusa accelerates almost as fast as the Veyron till 100kph. The Veyron takes 2.5 seconds, the same as an F1 car but the Bugatti is the only one to have air-conditioning. At 100kph, the Veyron will only be getting warmed up. With the throttle pinned, it will continue to accelerate to 300kph from standstill in 16.7sec! Leave it be for another 40 seconds and it’ll be doing 400kph!
To some degree all those numbers helped acclimatise me to the absolute lunacy that was coming my way. Despite it all, the gap between my expectation and the reality was sufficient to leave me speechless. It seemed that my thoughts had fallen behind as we accelerated from standstill to 250kph. Even as we braked from 250 back to zero, they were still scampering to catch up and let me express myself. When they did, all I managed was, “Wooooow, insane!”
From the driver’s seat, an accelerating Veyron gives the impression of being the progeny of an airplane and a locomotive. Nothing can prepare you for the surprise that is the Veyron. Even the way it sounds is a surprise. It doesn’t have a supercar-like audio track. Charging down, it won’t shriek like a Ferrari, roar like a Lambo or emit beastly gurgles like an SLS. Prod the throttle and there’s just a massive sucking sound from the intakes. Once the turbos spool up, you get the feeling you are standing ahead of a jet engine going full blast.
Apart from the lack of a mandatory audio track, the Veyron doesn’t act like a supercar even in the way it gets the job done. The engine doesn’t need to be revved to get the best out of it. Sure it loves high rpms, but most of its massive 127.4kgm of shove is from a lowly 2200rpm. Mash the throttle in and you can feel the surge in power push the nose up ever so slightly as it pushes you back into your seat.
The Veyron gobbles up the tarmac busily. From the corner of my eyes, I watch the trees whizz by. It’s amazing how quickly the Veyron has inspired confidence. It doesn’t feel nervous, twitchy or ponderous. It isn’t pinsharp either. Yet, it is lithe and steady. The bumps that I feel through the steering wheel do nothing to throw us off course or make me lift off. The double wishbones with active hydraulic adjustment hunker down in handling mode. But, as we clunk over a rut, I can’t help but think that the Veyron owners in India will need to be ready to gnash their teeth as they drive over our desi crateresque roads.
No such worries for me as a longish corner appears, I tap the brakes lightly. Pull the paddle to shift down a cog on the seamless seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The jump in the rev counter needle and the roar of the intake noise is all that lets me know that the cogs have been swapped. The light, precise steering feels like a hi-tech laser instrument guiding the Veyron around the corner. Then I gun it again.
I mash the throttle more resolutely. This time it feels as though my stomach is planning to make a bid for freedom via the seat’s backrest. My heartbeat threatens to drown out the intake noise. The Veyron is still accelerating relentlessly, daring me to keep my foot down. I dart a glance at the power meter which reads 600-something. There are 300 more horses to go and I want to push a bit more. The next corner appears, sharpish and tree-lined. A vision of me signing a cheque for £ 1.2 million flutters briefly before my eyes, I dive on the brakes. A small panic attack surfaces as I realise just how much speed had built up in the few moments. The 400mm carbon brakes at the front bite down savagely, and surely. The trees around the corner suddenly don’t seem menacing anymore. I smile, amazed and thrilled at the Veyron’s incredible abilities. A new sense of respect grows with every blurred, twisted moment of this reality. The goose bumps never faded until the drive was well over.
The Veyron among many things is good, bad, ferocious and obedient. It could be called needless as well; an extravagance that can be indulged in by only a handful of people. It can be called a waste too. But the extravagance and the waste are nothing compared to what the Veyron truly is – a lofty, unattainable dream that was carefully, painstakingly created into an explosive reality. The Veyron is an invaluable lesson that teaches us all that nothing is impossible.