Jeremy Clarkson’s Concorde of the road? Can it get you from London to New York in 3 hours?
But here it is, the Bugatti Veyron, the second time the French subsidy of Volkswagen has garnered the title of World’s Fastest Production car.
To trace the Veyron, you need to go back to the early 1990’s, and in 1991, the company, then under the ownership of entrepreneur Romano Artioli, who also owned Lotus, launched the EB110 on the 110th anniversary of the company’s founder, Ettore Bugatti’s, birth. The EB110 was an immediate critical success, and snatched the title of world’s fastest production car from the motor that had started the supercar trend, the Ferrari F40, attaining a top speed of 209mph. The trend of claiming the world’s fastest Production car was no longer just a silly background game for eccentric plutocrats, it was a battle to the death between Europe’s supercar builders. In all, 139 EB110’s were produced, but their reign as world’s fastest was short lived, as Jaguar in 1992, after 8 years of development, stepped into the breach with the controversial XJ220, bigger, wider, and generally more powerful, with a top speed of 212mph, although the later production models would be shadow’s of the prototype. The XJ220 was beaten back by the McLaren F1 of 1993, with its 240mph top speed it seemed nothing would be able to ward off the big MC.
With the loss of their EB110 baby’s title, Bugatti fell into something of a decline, and by 1998, was suffering heavily financially. To stop the company going into bankruptcy, the chairman of Bugatti, Ferdinand Piëch, urged Volkswagen to take possession of the company and provide financial support, taking its place alongside Lamborghini and Bentley. In the first year under VW ownership, Bugatti came up with many endearing high-end luxury cars, including a curious 4-door luxury grand-tourer known as the EB218, built to combat the likes of Mercedes Maybach prototype and the new swarm of Rolls Royce Silver Seraphs.
However, behind the scenes Bugatti were continuing to toy with the idea of the world’s fastest production car, wanting to steal back what they’d lost, and thus in 1999 they released a concept car known as the Bugatti Veyron EB16.4, designed by Ital as a successor to the EB110. The EB16.4 was indeed endearing, being fitted with a 6.3L W18 engine, but had not the ability to consume enough air to keep it going. But the general foundations of what would become the Veyron were there, even down to the design which was smoothed to create the later product. Styling came from Volkswagen designer Jozef Kabaň, who has also designed the VW Lupo, the SEAT Arosa and the Skoda Octavia.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Volkswagen, going against everything that seemed like common sense, decided to put the Veyron into production. At the time the general consensus was to reduce the number of speedy, fuel devouring sports cars and turn to more environmentally considerate alternatives, and seeing as there hadn’t been a sports car to match the likes of the McLaren F1 since 1993, it was thought the day of the audacious supercar had been and gone.
The first prototype hit the roads in August 2003, with very little to distinguish it from the later production models. However, internally, nearly one thousand individual changes had to be made before the Veyron could be put on sale, and this delayed production until September 2005. Upon its launch the car took the entire world totally by surprise, and was quickly able to snaffle the title of world’s fastest production car from the McLaren F1, much to the chagrin of F1 designer Gordon Murray. The car, with 1,000hp coming from an 8.0L quad-turbocharged W16 engine, was able to reach an official top speed of 253mph, later complimented by the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport of 2010, which reached a top speed of 267mph using a heavily modified 1,184hp W16 engine.
The car was showered in critical acclaim from the moment it left the factory, and although sales were slow to start, with only 5 examples bought in the latter half of 2005, they quickly picked up, with 44 the next year, and 81 the year after. Production costs of the Veyron were £5 million, and the marked sales price of the Veyron was originally £1 million, but later raised to £2 million. VW may have been making a loss on every single one they sold, but they still had the prestige to make them the must-have road-going accessory for the super-rich.
This was added to by the late, great Top Gear in 2006, who took a Veyron out for a race, with presenter Jeremy Clarkson driving one of the cars from Alba, in Northern Italy, to Tower 42 in Central London, whilst James May and Richard Hammond would attempt to beat him in a Cessna 182 light aircraft, both contestants having a freshly picked Truffle in tow. The Veyron would later appear time and time again on Top Gear, once doing a speed test in the hands of James May on the VW Test Track, once against the previous record holder, the McLaren F1, on an empty highway in Abu Dhabi, and once racing an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon! It was later dubbed the Car of Year, and the Car of the Decade by the show, Clarkson famously commenting that the Veyron was the automotive ‘Concorde’, the very pinnacle of road-going technological innovation that could never-ever be beaten.
Production of the original Veyron ended in 2011, although Super Sport and Grand Sport Vitesse versions ended production in 2015, with its spiritual replacement, the 2016 Bugatti Chiron, being based somewhat off the 1999 concept car from which the Veyron was derived (so they’re going round in circles somewhat).
Officially, the Bugatti Veyron SS is still the world’s fastest production car at 267mph, but controversy arose in 2013 with the arrival of the Hennessey Venom GT, a re-engineered Lotus Exige. The car boasted a top speed of 265mph, slower than the Veyron SS, but faster because the Veyron was limited to 258mph. As such the car was given the record briefly, until the rules were reviewed and found that because the car was a modification rather than an official production model, it could not retain the title. Shelby then stepped into the fray, declaring their Ultimate Aero TT to be the fastest, but Guinness World Records denied this and placed the Veyron SS back as king of the hill.
Today, finding Veyron’s is mainly based on where you look. Knightsbridge is a good place to start, with the Oil tycoons of Arabia and the Russian oligarchs feeling naked on the streets without one!