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Best of 2023

What’s the most Bugatti car in the back catalogue?

Think Bugatti, and you can think of only one car: this Noughties speed freak

Published: 22 Dec 2023

People must’ve been confused in 1998 when Volkswagen snapped up the high-performance European trio of Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti like it was playing a round of Monopoly, but there wasn’t too long to wait. The Veyron was previewed by the third of three concepts trailed by VW during 1999, the 18/3 Chiron appearing at that year’s Frankfurt motor show. A sports car, rather than a saloon like the others, it was immediately the more enticing option.

The 18/3 (18 litres, three turbos) Chiron would become the 16/4 Veyron by the Tokyo show, a format that would stick. VW supremo Ferdinand Piëch wanted the first car with over 1,000 metric horsepower (the production car in 2005 managing 1,001PS [986bhp]), and his engineers in essence fused two V8s to create the W16 format engine with its 8.0-litre capacity.

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The seven-speed twin-clutch auto sounds quaint by today’s standards, but Piëch ensured the prototypes were punishingly tested to ensure the car was tough enough to meet its full potential. Like the brakes – the Veyron didn’t just rely on discs. Slam on the anchors at high speed and the air brake would deploy, contributing a third of the stopping power by rotating the rear wing to create massive drag. The car needed the extra help – official top speed was 213mph, but a special ‘speed key’ would unlock a further 40mph if you were good.

The Veyron kicked off a speed race that’s only got more intense with the advent of overblown electric hypercars that seemingly anyone can knock together, but the Veyron showed finesse in its crass display of excess, a commitment to the fine art of engineering. Almost everything about it is pub quiz material – for instance, it was named after a real racing driver, Pierre Veyron, who raced for Bugatti in the Thirties and won Le Mans in 1939 then joined the French resistance. Or the fact Bugatti reportedly lost just over £3m on every Veyron sold, having spent over £1bn on developing the car and selling 450 of them. Or maybe that the Veyron needed 10 radiators to keep the 8.0-litre W16 quad-turbo engine from blowing up.

Our favourite bit of Veyron trivia is the fact that a top speed run at the car’s absolute 253mph limit couldn’t last more than 15mins, because that’s as long as the bespoke Michelins last before you have to spend £32k on a fresh set. Although strictly speaking you’d run out of petrol in your 100-litre tank after 12mins (as if to prove Bugattis get faster with each generation, the Chiron can gulp its tank dry in nine). In more sensible driving you would get 11mpg out of the car – certainly enough to induce range anxiety but great for your petrol station loyalty points.

There’s barely been a car since that has captured the imagination like the Veyron did back in 2005 – and no one will ever invest so much money and effort into making a petrol powered hypercar go quite so fast again.

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