Chris Harris on… Bugatti and special edition cars
Special editions are released thick and fast these days, but what message does that send, ponders Chris
How many standard Bugatti Chirons were built? Not a question I ask myself beyond extended soaks in the bath when my mobile phone battery has died and my brain is close to shutdown, but one I find interesting nonetheless. The process of ‘uniquifying’ massively expensive production cars offers a fascinating window into a world where the words ‘bespoke’ and ‘narcissistic’ seem to be indistinguishable from each other.
It was the same with the Veyron. There was the Grand Sport and the Vitesse (wasn’t that a Rover?) and the orange and black one. And the one with porcelain bits. But how many were just bog standard Veyrons? Not many judging by the ones that come up for sale. I’m fairly sure the rarest Veyron is the base model because the company pandered to the billionaires and gave them special models to make them feel even more special.
If, like me, you’re a child of the Seventies and Eighties, you’ll find this special model business completely confusing because a special model of a car – and by that I mean a mostly cosmetic exercise and lick of paint – was a sure sign of one thing. That the car was soon to end production and the manufacturer desperately needed to flog a few more before it was euthanised to make way for the snazzy new one.
Ford was the master at this – base level Escorts would be burnished with some fancy wheel trims and an electric aerial for the cassette player, then a snazzy advertising campaign would lure in the punters. They were all at it – even BMW shunted 6 Series loaded with extra goodies and called them Highlines.
There was an honesty about this. To all involved, manufacturer and consumer, the process made sense. When something was new, it sold on merit, but as it became older and less competitive against its peers, it needed an extra streak of lip gloss and a shorter skirt. The way this process works now makes absolutely no sense to me.
Take Mercedes. In the Eighties, it never would have reduced itself to the special edition game, but now it actually launches AMGs with a special edition model. I find it baffling. Viewed through my Eighties goggles all this says is: “We’re struggling to sell this brand new car and we have so little confidence that people will buy it, we’re going to jazz it up and add some silly paint.” There couldn’t be a more negative marketing message.
Ask yourself this – of the great cars, how many have special editions? There were 36 Ferrari 250 GTOs made, and that’s that. There aren’t 14 painted some silly colour and called ‘Ravioli’ – there are just GTOs. I suppose this simply shows that the ultra rich were less insecure back then – they didn’t need to prove their GTO was a bit more special than the next man’s. Because that’s what this all comes down to: being able to tell people yours is better than theirs. Imagine being so lost in yourself that you’d need to have one over on someone else who could afford a £2m car?
Hopefully the last Chiron build will be a vanilla, boggo one. And if not, Bugatti could at least paint it flat blue and slap a ‘Bonus’ sticker on its backside.
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