Ridiculously fast and a car to admire, but is there charisma to match supercars from Ferrari or McLaren? In a new column, former Motor Sport editor Andrew Frankel assesses the Bugatti Veyron
Before anyone drove it, the collective response from the motoring press when the words `Bugatti Veyron’ floated into the conversation veered from the disdainful to the downright dismissive. I know: I was one of them. ‘A two-tonne car with 1000bhp costing a million Euros?’ we snorted. ‘What nonsense.’
How much more we’d have admired it if it had had little more than half the weight and power, as did Gordon Murray’s McLaren F1. Now that was a clever car: took three adults and their luggage, weighed the same as a Golf, did 240mph. Had real pedigree too.
By contrast, the Veyron was blank-cheque engineering at its worst: profligate, porky and pointless. It sat two, with no luggage space, occupied most of the county and had four-wheel drive and more security systems than the Pentagon to dull the drive. And though built in Molsheim, the Veyron is a Volkswagen and is powered by an engine evolved from a Passat motor to prove it.
And then, just a handful of us were taken to Sicily to drive it. On the Targa Florio course. If words were calories we’d have been in the fat farm by sundown, so many were we forced to eat that day. I noticed first how exquisitely it was built, and in that regard it does honour its heritage, however acquired. And while I can do a better impression of tearing calico than its 8-litre, 16-cylinder engine, the thunder of its exhausts is as distinctive a sound as any made by the old straight-eights.
‘Quick’ describes its speed no better than ‘slow’ describes continental drift. It accelerates so hard that on a dry road its traction control triggered over an imperceptible ridge at 140mph. Because it is heavy, its 0-62mph time of 2.7sec is the least flattering performance measure; I amused myself holding it at 150mph, dropping two gears in its seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox and nailing it up to 190mph. Because it has little downforce, at those speeds it’s quicker than a modern F1 car.
When it was over, and being a curious cove, I shambled up to a chap with a Type 35T that Bugatti had brought along in a vain attempt to connect its present to someone else’s past, and asked if I could have a go. Five minutes later I was back on the Targa roads driving a Bugatti of a type that won this race in 1926.
The two experiences were not comparable, and to have gone burrowing in one for the DNA of the other is absurd. All you can say is that Bugatti made its name making extraordinarily fast, well-engineered cars and applaud the fact that a company bearing the same name is doing so once more.
Which was the more memorable? The Veyron was astonishing and I remain lost in admiration for those who pulled off the technical feat required to create it. But I didn’t love it, not like I loved the McLaren or the Ferrari F40. By contrast, I’ve been in love with the Type 35 since I first saw one race 30 years ago. It didn’t surprise me at all, for it was always as I had imagined it would be: simply perfect.
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