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.

The Veyron also features full-time all-wheel drive and uses special Michelin run-flat tires designed specifically for the Veyron to accommodate the vehicle's top speed.

Although rather large and heavy for a speedster (curb weight is a little over 4,000 lbs), the Veyron has a tight turning radius and an amazing power-to-weight ratio of 529 bhp per ton.

As you can imagine, at these speeds and with this horsepower, the Veyron could have some real heat issues. But another unusual feature of this car is that it has 10 radiators: three radiators for the engine cooling system, one heat exchanger for the air-to-liquid intercoolers, two for the air-conditioning system, one transmission oil radiator, one differential oil radiator, one engine oil radiator and one hydraulic oil radiator for the spoiler.

The computer system in the Veyron does more than just control the air conditioning. It also deploys "handling mode." When the car reaches 137 mph, hydraulics lower the car until it has a ground clearance of about three inches, at the same time deploying the rear wing and spoiler to help grip the road.

(This can also be done manually, with a button in the cockpit, so I was able to engage it without trying to hit 137 mph on the Merritt Parkway.)

The Veyron's brakes, utilizing cross-drilled and turbine-vented carbon rotors, are remarkably quick for the size of the car. There is no pull or movement from a straight path, even when stomping on them. The brakes use eight titanium pistons that draw in cooling air to reduce fade, and Bugatti claims maximum deceleration of 1.3 g on road tires.

All of this adds up to a Formula-One-powered ride with the handling of a street car. When Leitzinger or I punched the acceleration (when the coast was clear), I felt a true g-force pushing me into my seat. When I hit the brakes hard, the car came to a straight, level, fast stop, with deceleration smoothly pushing in the opposite direction.

Yet the car is still fun to drive even at 35 mph around town, and the looks you'll get from passers-by are unlike any other. Any Bugatti driver is bound to spur expressions that range from admiration to amazement, as though you've just dropped in from outer space.

The Veyron will be sold at 20 Bentley dealers worldwide, and maintenance will be possible at Bentley dealerships. Bugatti also promises buyers that a mechanic can be flown in anywhere, 24 hours a day.

According to Michael Parchment, general manager of Miller Motor Cars, Bugatti is ramping up production, as initial orders for the car have exceeded expectations. More than a dozen cars have been shipped to the U.S., and Bugatti hopes to complete orders for 70 more cars within a year.

This model is already popular among the bold and the beautiful, with the first models going to Jay Leno, Ralph Lauren and UAE Vice President HH Sheikh Rashid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum; Tom Cruise arrived at the Mission Impossible III premiere in one.

The only drawback? City driving EPA is only about 8 mpg, and at 250 mph the Veyron will empty its 100-liter tank in 12 minutes. But that's not too bad for a UFO.



Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Russell Dean Vines is Chief Security Advisor for Gotham Technology LLC and a bestselling author. His most recent book is The CISSP and CAP Prep Guide: Platinum Edition, published by John S. Wiley and Sons.

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