Editor: Jaap Horst
It’s hard to tell which is racing faster, your heart or your head.|
The runway is straight and hypnotic, and you have the better part of 1500bhp to harness. The problem isn’t so much getting up to speed, more the slowing down because we cannot use the full length of our airfield playground.
Early pluck has given way to intestine-wrangling tension – not that there’s anyone close enough to hear you curse a blue streak. It’s just you, a Bugatti Chiron that is limited to 261mph, and an ugly scar of blacktop that doesn’t feel level, even on foot.
Take a breath. You know the drill. Word to the wise: if you absolutely have to talk to a car, for best results adopt a respectful tone. Launch… and we’re done with complete sentences.
Chiron seemingly defies the laws of physics.
Syllables bleed together in incomprehensible babble as self-doubt dissolves in rapids of adrenalin. Acceleration builds with brutal menace, each tug of the right paddle ushering in more commotion.
The stats insist it will reach 200kph (124mph) from standstill in 6.5 secs, but presumably that’s in the dry. It has been raining for much of the past week. If anything, it feels faster, to the point at which you realise that, yes, you just might be out of your depth, and by several fathoms.
Nevertheless, you keep your foot in, at least until it’s time to brake. Please, for the love of God, brake or we’ll be wearing a Nissen hut. So there you have it, the Chiron is fast. Who knew?
The thing is, this car operates at the outer limits of an envelope already pushed beyond endurance by the models that preceded it: the EB110 and Veyron. You see, these ‘modern’ Bugattis are outliers in the hypercar firmament; super-exclusive exotics that, in their own way, are masterpieces of engineering but also profoundly pointless.
The Sisyphean effort invested in making cars that defy the laws of physics is of little actual worth in the real world. It’s all about bragging rights, and has been for the past three decades.
EB110 set a production-car speed record of 212.5mph during the homologation stage
In a very roundabout way, it was Ferruccio Lamborghini – a man who in his own time upended the exotic market – who initiated the EB110. A discussion at the 1986 Turin Salon between the latter-day vintner and big-haired car dealer/importer Romano Artioli about resurrecting Bugatti led to further discussions, from which the nucleus of what we now know as the EB110 emerged.
Lamborghini soon lost interest, but a highly motivated Artioli persuaded the French state-owned SNECMA concern to sell the rights to the name. Bugatti Automobili was registered in Italy in October 1987. All that was needed was a product to sell.
The EB110’s specification made other supercars look unimaginative. The basic layout was mapped out by soon-to-be-axed Paolo Stanzani, with early prototypes featuring aluminium monocoques, although these made way for carbonfibre tubs manufactured by French aeronautics company Aérospatiale. The superstructure was then skinned in hand-formed aluminium.
Then there was the engine, an all-alloy, 60-valve V12 furnished with four tiny IHI turbochargers. Power was transmitted to all four wheels via a six-speed ’box, while suspension was by conventional double wishbones and coil springs with twin spring/damper units at either end.
Brembo provided the brakes, and Michelin developed special tyres for a machine that, during the homologation stage, established a production-car speed record of 212.5mph.
The EB110 is named in honour of Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday
Unveiled at the Place de Défence, Paris, on 14 September 1991 – to mark Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday, hence the initials and numerical designation – all looked rosy: the EB110 GT was officially the fastest road car on sale, and arguably the most sophisticated.
Then the global economy tanked. The proposed Giorgetto Giugiaro-styled EB112 supersaloon was quietly dropped as production of the EB110 coughed and spluttered, with sales never getting close to the envisaged 300 units per year.
Deliveries began in December 1992 and ended in September ’95. A mere 85 ‘entry level’ GT editions were made (one in RHD), along with 30 carbonfibre-bodied Supersports and 13 test hacks.
The Veyron was revealed in 2005 and was clocked at 253.81mph that year
Following the bankruptcy sale, race-team principal Jochen Dauer acquired and completed a batch of partially built cars, while adding a few tweaks of his own. Volkswagen subsequently acquired the rights to the name for a rumoured £20m and released a flurry of concept cars before creating the Veyron.
That said, this remarkable machine was essentially a vanity project; one dreamed up by Volkswagen Group czar Ferdinand Piëch, who gave his engineers a simple brief: build a car packing 1000bhp that can exceed 250mph. No pressure…
Scroll forward to 1999 and there was a styling proposal, an 18-cylinder engine and only the vaguest notion of what to do next. It wasn’t until 2001 that the VW board agreed to build the Veyron in series, with the first prototype being completed in 2003.
Power now came from a 7993cc 16-cylinder ‘W’ unit that essentially comprised two 4-litre V8s on a common crank. This was coupled to a Ricardo-developed dual-clutch, direct-shift seven-speed transmission. Like its EB110 predecessor, it came with permanent four-wheel drive.
Following repeated delays, the Veyron 16.4 was officially revealed in 2005 with a claimed power output of 1001PS (987bhp). In April of that year, the model was clocked at 253.81mph at the Ehra-Lessien test track in Lower Saxony. Inevitably, other variants followed, not least the targa-style Grand Sport and Grand Sport Vitesse models plus, of course, the heavily re-engineered Super Sport, which boasted 1187bhp and a top speed of 267.8mph. Oh, and a price-tag of more than £2m.
Chiron is limited to 261mph for ‘safety reasons’
All told, 407 Veyrons were made to 2013, each losing the parent company a fortune, but VW appeared happy to toss millions more on to the pyre with the creation of its replacement, the otherworldly Chiron.
Mirroring Piëch’s prior mandate, former Porsche R&D chief turned Bugatti/Bentley boss Wolfgang Dürheimer gave his factotums a simple instruction: “Make the new car better than the Veyron in every respect.”
The recipe was familiar: quad-turbo W16 engine, carbonfibre body structure, Ricardo-devised transmission and Haldex all-wheel- drive. This is more than a Veyron makeover, however. Much, much more.
Just consider the stats: peak power – 1479bhp – arrives at 6700rpm. There’s 1180lb ft of torque available from 2000 to 6000rpm. It can accelerate to 60mph from a standstill in 2.5 secs and manage 0-300kph (0-186mph) in 13.6 secs. Oh, and in one independently verified record run, a Chiron was taken from 0-400kph (249mph) in 32.6 secs, before returning to a standstill 9.4 secs later.
Nevertheless, when the Chiron was first revealed in 2016, some quarters of the media couldn’t help but point out that it was slower than the Veyron Super Sport. Bugatti’s retort was unambiguous: the car was limited to 261mph for, ahem, ‘safety reasons’. The tyres might go pop at 262mph. Without the restrictor, and ignoring the rubber-related issue, it could reach at least 275mph.
Where, precisely, they would find anyone brave enough to discover that is open to conjecture, but if the regular model isn’t sufficiently hardcore for you, there’s always the track-orientated Sport and Divo editions.
Above: One of 30 SSs, this car was a special order for Bugatti owner Romano Artioli, with 650bhp; quad-turbo engine is a work of art; lack of an airbag marks out the 110 as a child of the ’90s Which brings us to today, and the theatre of all three Bugattis being gathered together for a shootout like no other.
What strikes you about the EB110 in particular is that it’s a lot smaller than you remember, being 6in shorter than a Ferrari 488. This 1994 SS edition – 603bhp rather than 550bhp for the GT – is a thing of wonder, if perhaps no great beauty.
Pull down the scissor door and the base of the window is at neck level. Headroom is surprisingly tight but the leather-clad seats are ultra-comfy, the pedals are only slightly offset towards the centre line and the instruments are easily visible. It even has adequate ventilation, which is something of a novelty for exotica of this vintage. There are only a few ergonomic quirks, but you would almost be disappointed if there were none. Expecting the V12 behind you to erupt with surround-sound fanfare, there’s just a muted burble. It’s all very civilised. So far, so ordinary.
Then comes the good bit. Hit 4000rpm from a standstill and the turbos start to inhale air. Acceleration builds abruptly but effortlessly. Back off and you can hear the quartet of turbos exhale sequentially left to right, left to right. Power on again, keep the throttle nailed open this time and forward thrust is astounding. Peak torque (479lb ft) arrives at 4250rpm and the four-wheel-drive arrangement and broad Michelins ensure otherworldly levels of grip. There are no creaks, groans or clunks through the structure, either. The suspension soaks up the worst surface imperfections and, at ‘enthusiastic’ speeds, the EB110 doesn’t intimidate. The gearchange is slick, the power-assisted steering – with just 2.8 turns lock to lock – is far from edgy.
That a car packing more than 600bhp can be this easy to drive is extraordinary given its vintage. Remarkably, it was criticised in period for being too refined.
Above: air intake apes the classic Bugatti ‘horseshoe’ grille; techno-marvel ‘W16’ unit was formed by mating two V8s on a common crank; cabin is beautifully put together and remarkably civilised for a supercar Then there’s the Veyron. Nothing about this car is in the realms of the normal – not least the styling, which still polarises opinion.
Open the (conventional) door, stoop to enter while also negotiating the wide sill, and the cockpit is a work of art in itself. The carbonfibre seats are swathed in hides from pampered cows, the centre console is made of a single piece of aluminium, while the instruments are jewel-like in appearance, if not necessarily easy to read at a glance. It’s supremely comfortable in here, even if there are a few built-in blindspots.
Autocar wrote in period: ‘If a Veyron sets off from a standing start 10 seconds after a McLaren F1 – in which time the F1 will already be travelling at 130mph – the Bugatti reaches 200mph at exactly the same time.’
With that quote recalled just in time for blast off, you feel every heartbeat thump in your temples. Engage each electronic nanny feature and the Veyron bolts off the line with nothing so gauche as wheelspin. Instead, the tail squats ever so slightly and you grip the steering wheel somewhat tighter than you might normally, but it doesn’t writhe in your hands.
You accept a certain amount of chaos and confusion as givens, but you don’t white-knuckle the Veyron as in so many supercars of old. Molten grip and perfectly weighted steering see to that, but the sheer punch broils your mind and turns your mouth to
Once you have overcome your awkwardness, you appreciate the Veyron’s abilities all the more. Track limitations mean that maximum-speed runs are out of the question today, but from past experience of the model we know the Veyron doesn’t threaten to take flight north of 160mph. And that it’s a lot easier to navigate through cityscapes than you might imagine, so long as you remember to change the suspension settings from ‘Handling’ to ‘Standard’. You really can potter in a Veyron.
Above: 1479bhp results in epic pace; Chiron has an evolution of the Veyron W16, but with 50% more urge; dramatic interior reflects huge price-tag
The same is true of the Chiron, perhaps even more so.
There is so much about this car that invites hyperbole, but, like the Veyron, you cannot help but be surprised by how easy it is to drive at low speeds. The electrically assisted steering is light and sensibly geared, the wheel having been honed from a single billet of aluminium.
Switch the wheel-mounted rotary dial to ‘Handling’ and there is greater heft, but you still feel as though you’re driving a leather armchair.
You cannot help but be blown away by the attention to detail, even if those details might not be to all tastes. For starters, the badge is made of genuine sterling silver – and, we’re told, the audio tweeters contain real diamonds. Yes, really. The craftsmanship here is breath-taking, as befits a car costing £2.5m.
Chiron’s sculptural flanks give a more resolved look
Time behind the wheel of the Chiron is all too fleeting, yet the opportunity to drive it at anything approaching real speed proves as memorable as it is brief.
You may be familiar with supercars, but nothing can match the sense of slingshot delivery as the Chiron hooks up. It’s internal-organ-bruising stuff. From rest, three-figure speeds arrive in less time than it takes you to read this sentence, and the brakes – eight-piston calipers up front, six out back – stop you with the sort of force that threatens to turn you inside-out.
It isn’t just the straight-line stuff that blows your mind, either. Emerge from a bend with your right foot only half buried and torque is transferred with the minimum of fuss. It’s just that your neck now has a crick in it. As with the other two, it is hard not to lapse into blissed-out reverie trying to describe how amazing the Chiron is to drive.
There will no doubt be some who believe these cars are leeching off the accomplishments of the original Bugatti marque; that they are unbefitting of the name, regardless of how fast they are.
We would counter that they simply add further lustre. And the really controversial bit? If we had the wherewithal, the slowest car here would be our pick.
The EB110 is, in just about every quantifiable way, the least-good car of the trio, but it worms its way into your affections. It might not be perfect, but it’s a car you love rather than admire. Which is how it should be.
BUGATTI EB110 SUPERSPORT
BUGATTI VEYRON 16.4