by Nicolas Shammas
If the Veyron rewrote the book when it comes to hypercars, the Chiron represents Bugatti’s next volume. Harder, better, faster, stronger – we uncovered all you need to know about this Ultimate Car at its US launch in Pebble Beach.
They say there’s a fine line between madness and genius. This is certainly true of Bugatti, a brand that was started in 1909 by an exceptionally talented Italian engineer in the then German town of Molsheim, in the Alsace region of what is now France. And if one car truly defined the maverick brilliance of Bugatti then it was the Type 41 Royale. Produced between 1929 and 1933, it was a triumph of hubris over reason, and took as its power plant what was effectively half a Bugatti-developed military aircraft engine. With a capacity of 12.7-litres and an 8-cylinder inline arrangement, it produced an output of over 300bhp at 1700rpm, power enough to take a massive three tonne vehicle to well over 200 km/h. More impressive still was the torque – this thing pulled so hard that first gear wasn’t even necessary and you could use second to go from virtually zero to 150 km/h.
Sure, only six of these majestic engines were ever placed in a car and only three of those six were actually ever sold (notwithstanding that this motor found better success in the locomotive world, where it powered the French Autorail, the forerunner of the TGV), but it boggles the mind to think that the Type 41 engine is still, to this day, the largest engine ever to feature in an car.
Nevertheless, the Royale was so much more than just a motor, and as you’d imagine, Ettore Bugatti spared no expense in the cars’ lavishness. The finished products were longer than Duesenbergs, had twice the power of Rolls-Royces and cost more than both put together. Indeed, the Royale’s price in its day amounted to as much as 15 times the average annual income, which made it, more or less, the olden day version of owning a Boeing 747.
Sadly, Bugatti’s visionary ways were cut short by World War II and after a couple of failed attempts to get the company going again, it was eventually rescued by the Volkswagen Group in 1998. On the face of it, this may have seemed an incongruous marriage but it has proven to be the opposite because, with its almost infinitely deep pockets, VW has allowed Bugatti to create cars that may not make back their investment but at very least, they add a halo of rebellious genius to the group as a whole. And that’s precisely what their first product, the Veyron, was all about – it stood as a modern-day embodiment of all Ettore Bugatti stood for. Produced in limited numbers (just 450 came off the assembly line), it came with an outrageous price (1.7 million USD, or around 30 times the present average annual income) and boasted a monstrous engine (an 8.0-litre, quad-turbocharged, W16 cylinder engine). It would also prove to be fastest and most expensive car ever made. “The Bugatti Veyron is quite the most stunning piece of automotive engineering ever created,” said English automotive journalist, Jeremy Clarkson, at the time of its launch. “At a stroke then, the Veyron has rendered everything I’ve ever said about any other car obsolete. It’s rewritten the rule book, moved the goalposts and in the process, given Mother Nature a bloody nose.”
Given then that Bugatti is not your average car manufacturer, imagine how we felt when we received an invitation to fly out to Pebble Beach in California and attend the most prestigious, influential, and famous concours event in the world while also getting the chance to discover the Chiron, Bugatti’s hypercar replacement for their Veyron. Understandably, our bags were packed before we could even say yes please.
One of the great advantages of discovering a car like the Chiron in a place like Pebble Beach is the access you get on all levels. There are Bugatti owners ad infinitum, almost the entire top management from the company is around and the various classic Bugattis sprayed across the lawns of Monterey’s most prestigious golf course also helps add context. That we were handed the keys to a Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse for a morning certainly didn’t hurt, either.
Of course, Bespoke has driven a Veyron before but I wasn’t on that assignment so this was actually my very first taste of driving ‘the car that moved the goalposts’.
As expected, it was an intoxicating experience, although it was a little annoying that this had to happen in a part of the US where the roads are not all that smooth and where traffic is known for being horrendous. The feeling of being in control of 1,200bhp and 1,500Nm of torque is invigorating yet also shockingly easy to master. Literally, your grandmother could drive the Veyron. The only thing that takes getting used to is the width of this car. Well that, and the rubber-necking of literally everyone around you. Men ogle, kids point and women give you the look when you get behind the wheel of a Veyron. Then there are the other drivers on the road. They’re an absolute menace. They rush up from behind, tailgating as close as possible, often ending up in one of the Veyron’s rear-three-quarter blind spots, where they risk life and limb trying to snap photos of the car with their mobile phones. The only way out of this perilous situation is to flex your right foot and open up the taps, thereby creating a healthy distance between you and them. The downside of taking this course of action though is that it gets them even more riled up and the death trap cycle resumes. Then again, at least you have a legitimate excuse to feel the full force of a Veyron on the move. 100km/h is just 2.6 seconds away and 200km/h will be passed in 7.1 seconds. Beware though, those kinds of speeds will land you in jail. In my case, this was a once in a lifetime risk I was willing to take and I loved it.
In fact, I wanted the Veyron to be mine, and a little later in the day we met Simon Kidston, one of the classic car market’s top international dealers, who told us that he believes second-hand Veyrons are actually undervalued, especially when compared to other exotic hypercars like as the McLaren F1. “I acquired one recently and of all the cars in my collection, it’s the one everyone gravitates towards,” he told us. “Even my wife loves it, and that’s saying something.”
That was all the excuse I needed to start doing searches for used Veyrons online. Unfortunately though, I came across other information that served as a wake-up call. Insuring a Veyron will cost around 40,000 USD a year, the annual service runs as much as 20,000 USD, the custom-made Michelin PAX Pilots tyres need to be changed every 4,000 kilometres and they’ll set you back 25,000 USD. Worse still, every 16,000 kilometres, Bugatti recommends mounting fresh tyres on new wheels – a process undertaken only in France – and that’s 70,000 USD. I soon realised I wasn’t cut out for the car.
I asked Dr. Stefan Brungs, a member of the board of Bugatti and the company’s head of marketing and customer service if he knew what their typical customer makes. “The average Veyron customer owns 42 cars, has over a billion USD net worth, and spends over 350,000 USD on customisation options over and beyond the 1.7 million USD catalogue price,” he answered. Well, that was me out then.
So what sort of upgrade does the Chiron offer customers over the Veyron? Just like the Veyron, the Chiron employs an 8.0-litre W16 quad-turbocharged petrol mill and all-wheel drive (no hybrid shenanigans here, then). But the new engine has been tinkered with so much it could almost be considered entirely new. There’s now direct injection, while the turbochargers are both larger and smarter, apparently drastically reducing lag. Peak power has been upped by 279bhp, while torque is 300Nm higher. “Increasing the power output by 25 per cent made the need to increase air intake too,” explains Willi Netuschil, the head of Bugatti’s engineering department, “and for us the most complex problem to solve was that of cooling.” At full grunt, the new engine requires 60,000 litres of cooling per minute, that’s the about us much as a human breathes in five days. It’s why you’ll find eleven radiators on the Chiron as well as an exterior design that optimises thermal efficiency. “The overall design is form following performance,” adds Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti’s director of design.
No one – bar a Saudi prince who successfully bid for the first finished car – has yet to drive the Chiron and the company hasn’t even provided official zero to 100km/h figures yet. They have, however, confirmed that it will be “less than 2.5 seconds”. It should also hit 200km/h in less than 6.5 seconds and the 300km/h-mark will be obliterated in less than 13.6 seconds.
Where the new car finds huge gains over the Veyron is in terms of interior luxury. As Etienne Salomé, Bugatti’s head of interior design tells us, “Passion has driven every solution.” His interior design aesthetic pares back everything to the point of stunning simplicity. The instrument displays are positioned to the left and right of the analogue speedometer (which goes all the way round to 500 km/h). And apart from the steering wheel’s various buttons, the controls are grouped into four dials grouped in the centre of the cockpit. Everything from the buttons to the dials, stalks and even the rear-view mirror are made of solid aluminium. The visible carbon fibre elements are not for show, they’re structural and Bugatti actually had to figure out how to deploy the airbags through this carbon fibre, without risking injury to the passengers.
So obsessive has the attention to detail been that Salomé admits he had even enquired if it was possible to remove the airbag logo from the beautiful leather on the dashboard. Of course, it was not but he did manage to get creative in other ways. For example, the leather seamlessly extends over the frames of the air vents, as well as over the speaker grills of the custom-made Accuton sound-system (though it has been perforated there to allow the sound to escape without any adulteration). Even the magical ‘Speed Key’, which allows you to access the top speed of 420km/h rather than the hardly mundane 380km/h, is a wonderfully sculptural bit of engineered metal that sits in its own dedicated recess near the step plate on the driver’s door.
Sure you have to pay a handsome premium for all this luxury – the Chiron costs a staggering 2.65 million USD – but, with only 500 examples ever to be made and almost 200 already accounted for, we’d hazard a guess that the Chiron’s value will hold if not even appreciate in the years to come. In other words, I need to start saving. Fast.