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Bold, Beautiful Bugatti

You'd think ¿1.1 million would buy one heck of an automobile.

And it certainly does.

What you get is the most powerful, most expensive and fastest street-legal production car in history, going zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds.

I recently had the rare opportunity to drive a 1,001 horsepower Bugatti Veyron 16.4, accompanied by professional driver Butch Leitzinger of Dyson Racing.

High-End Heritage

Bugatti has a historical pedigree like no other.

Ettore Bugatti started building the cars at the beginning of the 20th century in the Alsace region of France.

The company was very successful in early Grand Prix motor racing, winning the first-ever Monaco Grand Prix, and went on to chalk up thousands of victories in the next few decades.

Fast-forward to 1998: Volkswagen purchased the rights to produce cars under the Bugatti marque, and in 2000 Volkswagen founded Bugatti Automobiles SAS and introduced the EB 16/4 Veyron, to be built at Bugatti's original historic factory in Molsheim.

Life in the Fast Lane

My chance to drive this Bugatti (base price: $1,440,800) came recently, thanks to Miller Motor Cars in Greenwich, Conn., which was one of nine selected U.S. dealers to get the car for three days only.

For this rare appearance, Bugatti sends a Veyron to the U.S., and Leitzinger runs the car through its paces for prospective buyers.

The Veyron began full production in September 2005 and began delivering in 2006. With a top speed of over 250 mph, the 16-cylinder Veyron is named after racing driver Pierre Veyron, who won Le Mans in 1939 while racing for Bugatti.

As is customary for demonstrations like this, your driver takes you and the car out initially, then you get a chance to put it through its paces on the way back.

But this time, not only was the car a champion, my chaperone was also extraordinary. Among other honors, Butch Leitzinger has won the 24 Hours of Daytona three times, the World Sportscar Championship twice and both the CanAm championship and IMSA GTU championships.

The Veyron' s power plant features a wishbone W16 engine with 16 cylinders in four banks of four cylinders, or the equivalent of two narrow-angle V8 engines mated in a V configuration. Each cylinder has four valves, for a total of 64, but the narrow V8 configuration allows two camshafts to drive two banks of cylinders, so only four camshafts are needed. The engine is fed by four turbochargers, and it displaces 8.0 liters.

The major advantage of this engine configuration is size -- the wishbone shape can fit a lot of cylinders into a compact space.

The Veyron has a dual-clutch DSG computer-controlled manual transmission with seven gear ratios via shifter paddles behind the steering wheel boasting an 8 ms shift time.

The two clutches make the gear transitions effortless and immediate. The first clutch does the odd-numbered gears, while the second kicks in for reverse and the even-numbered gears.

This means that although the Veyron can be driven by in fully automatic mode, the seven-speed gearbox doesn't have a true torque conversion: The gearbox instantly switches from one clutch to the other as you shift. This lessens the time it takes to get from one gear to another, as the other clutch takes over immediately.

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