GREENWICH, Conn. (
) -- A straight stretch of road -- an onramp to Interstate 95 in Greenwich, Conn. -- was an invitation to open up the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport.
As Butch Leitzinger, whose job title is Official Bugatti Test Pilot, hit the gas, the sensation was the same as plummeting down the first hill of a roller coaster. That "joy ride" feel is just one of the perks for buyers able to shell out $2.1 million for the privilege to own a 16-cylinder twin-engine marvel that can roar up to 250 miles per hour in seconds.
While its power is undeniable, little details make driving it fun. The steering is absolutely flawless, with just the right amount of tension to let you feel totally in control. Braking is smooth and the handling is close to perfection. The interior, covered in unbelievably smooth leather, made from calves raised in a bug-free environment, is an aesthetic delight.
Bugatti plans to produce 150 Grand Sports.
Whether roaring along the highway or meandering along scenic side roads, we kept coming back to a surprising realization: If it weren't so impractical, the Grand Sport would be a perfect "everyday" car.
Consider the gearbox. Its seven-gear, twin-clutch design allows the driver to choose whether to drive the car in manual or automatic. One clutch controls four gears, while the other handles three gears and reverse. The car's transmission anticipates the next gear, swapping clutches when it's time to shift. The result is a smooth transition.
"The gearbox is quite a bit about what makes this car unique," Leitzinger says. "It gives the car really good manners and you are able to drive through town with a car that has 1,000 horsepower."
bought the legendary Bugatti brand in 1998, making it a subsidiary of its French division two years later. The company unveiled the Grand Sport last year at the Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance in California. Only 150 cars will be built, each of them crafted at Bugatti's factory in Molsheim, France.
According to John Hill, Bugatti's U.S. market manager, 30 cars have been ordered so far, the first of which was delivered last week to a West Coast buyer.
Marketing the car, he says, is an exercise in networking. The company attends one or two top trade shows a year and does little advertising.
"The trick is getting the car in front of the right people and getting them behind the wheel," he adds. "The people we typically deal with already have all the other cars. So it is not like, 'Do I get a Ferrari or do I get a Bugatti?' They already have all the other cars, so this is the pinnacle of their collection."
When a qualified buyer shows interest, Bugatti arranges a specialized demonstration with one of its drivers, Hill says.
"If a high-profile person is from Scottsdale and says he wants to drive the car in the middle of nowhere in Montana, we will truck the car and a driver out there and spend an afternoon with them," he says.
About 30% of the buyers are from the U.S. Others are from Europe and the Middle East. Car collectors in the growing economies of China and Russia may soon become a new source of revenue.
Orders take 10 to 12 months to process and require a $450,000 deposit. Five months before the production date, an additional $450,000 deposit is due and the buyer is asked to make final decisions on colors and custom features. Then there's a five-week assembly period in the Molsheim factory, which produces a car a week.
The buyers have all been men, with ages ranging from 30 to late-70s. Their business interests cover a broad range of industries.
"They have more money than you could ever conceive of having, but if you put them in a room they are just guys who like to sit around and talk about cars," Hill says.
Hill agrees with the test-drive assessment that the Grand Sport performs surprisingly well when it comes to "normal" driving.
"I have taken it to shopping malls and I have gone through drive-through windows," he says. "But after I drive through, I get out. I don't eat in the car. I sit on the curb."
-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.