The Bugatti Veyron is a lot of things. It’s a 250 mph top speed. It’s a thousand-horsepower engine. It’s a million-dollar pricetag. Lost in all of that is that…the thing is a car, and when you come face to face with one, you are reminded how amazing they look in person.
I’ve said this about the Veyron before but it’s something reinforced when you’re standing beside one. While today’s hypercars seem more than capable at going faster than the Veyron, making more power than the Veyron, costing more money than the Veyron, they do not communicate the same sense of difficulty that the Veyron did.
Do not forget that the Veyron blew up, caught fire, got delayed over and over as it tried to make it to production with what were unthinkable specs for the time. Contrast that to the Chiron — all it had to be was a Veyron but slightly more. An incremental climb. As I wrote in 2016:
The Chiron is eight miles an hour faster than the original Veyron. The Chiron makes nearly 500 more horsepower and it even has a higher price tag, too. Everything the Veyron does, the Chiron does better.
But the problem is that these are incremental advances. They are little steps in performance. Everyone understands now, over a decade since the modern incarnation of Bugatti first made deliveries to the public, that the company is capable of this kind of performance. The Chiron’s speed is evolutionary.
The original Veyron was a revolution. People simply could not believe the speed of the thing, or that the massive corporate structure of Volkswagen Group could pull it off. The car had a number of very public failures leading up to its launch, and the way the car monstered every performance metric of every other production car in history blew the automotive world’s mind.
The Veyron was a revolution in how much performance it delivered, with as much comfort and usability. It was a Porsche 917 that didn’t ask you to sit in a birdcage of thin metal tubes, your feet dangling ahead of the front wheels. And making it wasn’t easy! As I wrote later in 2016, the development of the Veyron was a total shitshow:
It was already seven years after the company first showed a concept version of the car and two years before the vehicle would make its first delayed delivery.
Things didn’t go great.
The car nearly crashed in its first outing. According to a Popular Science story at the time, pre-production vehicle spun out in front of journalists assembled at Laguna Seca in 2003. Things got worse from there, with the car getting delayed from an originally expected mid-2003 launch to 2004, then 2005. Management of the project changed when the man in charge retired. The front end got reworked to pass crash tests, and there were other alterations to the car’s suspension, brakes, and aerodynamics.
The thing about the Veyron was it was designed backwards. The bosses at VW demanded a higher top speed than any sports car before, and Bugatti engineers had to figure out how to make that happen. And make sure it was comfortable. And easy to drive. And not prone to crashing into things.
Looking at the Veyron now, you do get the impression that the car was pushing the envelope. It is a smooth egg of a car. It is visibly obvious how aerodynamically optimized it is.
It’s almost plain, or boring in how it’s styled. The headlights, in particular, look like they could belong on any early-2000s Volkswagen product. There’s an almost anti-design to the car.
The car is also spectacularly, wonderfully wide. I don’t think there’s a single car from the past, I don’t know, 80 years that has had such graceful curves to its fenders. Look at how light spills down, washes from the roof down to the rear wheels.
Those lines look painted on. They’re actually straight fluorescent lights on the ceiling, seen here at Miller Motorcars in Greenwich, CT. This Veyron is for sale, hanging out in the showroom. I guess they’re just waiting for someone to walk in and ask if they have anything that does 250 mph in stock.
I have finally spent a decent amount of time looking over the Chiron, taking in its creases and wings and splitters. It is an impressive car. But it’s the Veyron that still has my heart.