In 2005, the newly reconstituted
Bugatti Automobile astonished the world by releasing what is still today the fastest and most expensive production
car ever created.
For those unfamiliar with this supercar, the $1.45 million Bugatti Veyron -- named for French racer Pierre Veyron -- has a top speed of 253 mph and demolishes the 0-60 mph performance test in 2.46 seconds.
It has 10 radiators to dissipate the enormous heat generated from its 16-cylinder engine, which is fed by four turbo chargers and delivers 1001 horsepower to the driver.
The Veyron even comes with an automatic, hydraulic spoiler, which deploys to stabilize the car at top speeds and provides additional stopping power.
These are just some of the features that put this car in a performance class by itself. But let's take a closer look: Evident in the car's lines, body shape and interior details are echoes of Bugatti's rich history.
This is a car engineered looking forward but designed with eye on the past.
Beauty by Design
I recently took one of these mega machines out for a heady spin around southern Connecticut under the guidance of French F1 racer Pierre-Henri Raphanel, and afterwards I sat down with Aachim Anscheidt, Bugatti's director of design, to discuss what goes into crafting a machine such as the Veyron.
Car designers at a storied company such as Bugatti rarely will create an entirely new vehicle.
Inherent in the design process is what Anscheidt refers to as "the brand DNA" -- common design characteristics historically used in successive models produced by the same company.
Though the Veyron may be a singular automobile in terms of performance, careful observers will note the many nods to Bugatti's design style and history in the body, engine and interior.
Even something as simple as an engine turn (
see photo, below right
) -- the circular fan shape finely machined onto most of the visible metal in the cockpit -- evokes the company's heritage.
This geometric pattern has been etched onto Bugatti engines since the 1920s, back when the founder Ettore Bugatti's cars were widely admired as the cleanest of their time.
Perhaps this emphasis on aesthetic and accomplished design should not be surprising coming from a man also famous for saying, "Nothing is too beautiful, nothing is too expensive."
Bugatti was not an engineer by schooling; rather, he was essentially self-taught.
As a young man, he worked for several car makers in Germany, where he developed a knack for novel engineering solutions before founding his company in Molsheim in 1909, in the Alsace region of France.
Today, two Veyrons a week are assembled by hand in the atelier adjacent to the original Bugatti chateau.
The entire Bugatti family, originally from Milan, was awash in art and design. Ettore Bugatti's father was a well-known furniture and jewelry designer, his grandfather a sculptor and architect. Furthermore, Bugatti spent his formative years in Paris, a city long celebrated for nurturing artistic talent.
The appreciation of art and beauty, a gift for engineering and a demand for exacting manufacturing standards all found their expression in the unique car designs that Bugatti developed at Molsheim.
As Anscheidt says, "Ettore Bugatti was often very unhappy with what he found in tooling. He was not happy with the vises in his company, so he built his own vises. He was not happy with the wheels he was delivered, so he built his own wheels. That shows what a fanatic he was --
his will to make something work that is difficult to achieve. We make it work; we get it right. We take our time."
The Veyron is proof that Bugatti's philosophy continues to this day.
Though the Veyron is clearly a car of today, it has unambiguous references to older Bugatti models.
Looking at the Veyron for the first time, I was immediately struck by three things: The subtle line down the middle is a clear allusion to the Bugatti Atlantic's prominent middle ridge. The general shape of the Veyron grille (referred to as a "horse collar") can be seen on most Bugattis dating from the '20s. And the two-toned color scheme is evocative of the similarly styled Bugatti Royale of 1929 as well as of later models.
Speaking with Anscheidt about the process of designing such a machine, I was struck by his insistence on the use of clay models to develop the shapes and style, as opposed to the more modern process of relying solely on computer-assisted design.
"Sometimes you really need to feel those surfaces, and you need to check back all the time for
tactile feedback. Those things you can also do on the computer ... don't give you the true picture."
Anscheidt describes the Bugatti design process as a team effort with many modelers assisting different designers, but he notes that it's driven by one lead designer.
The reason is simple, he says: "You want to have a certain signature on the car. This
involves one person working by hand on a clay model and then tickling out nice acceleration of reflections, of belt lines, of glass graphic lines. This represents a certain character of design."
When Anscheidt is asked how flexible Bugatti's design crew is for options on the Veyron, he smiles and says, "At Bugatti, everything is doable. It's a matter of coming down to Molsheim, where you can configure your car."
Perhaps this philosophy, combined with Ettore Bugatti's lasting legacy, is why the Veyron calls to mind something beyond the usual sports-car cliches. You see history's echoes, a century of thoughtful design, grueling tests on the race track and radical engineering solutions all within an elegant metal package.
It's so much more than just a fast car. Now all I need is $1.45 million and a ticket to Molsheim.
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