The EB18/4 'Veyron' – to give it its full concept name – started life in 1999 at the Tokyo Motor Show as a concept car designed by Volkswagen's Hartmut Warkuss. It was never intended to be put into production, but rather as a marketing piece for the Volkswagen Audi Group's (VAG) takeover of the Bugatti name. At that point in time, the French car manufacturer had just been bought from its previous Italian owners by the German Volkswagen Audi Group. The Veyron was the first Bugatti in a long time to not have been designed by ItalDesign.
The marque was put into the watchful hands of the Audi part of the group, which joined the also recently purchased Lamborghini. It was decided to place them under the stewardship of Audi as they are well known for their pioneering use of technologies and designs.
The concept was called the EB18/4. In line with all previous code names for Bugatti models, the numbers came from the engine inside the car, in this case a W18 (3 banks of 6 cylinders) and 4 turbo chargers. The car was shown at various shows around the world, with no modification; a rare thing in a concept, as they preceed major style changes.
However in 2001 Ferdinand Piëch – VAG Chairman – announced at the Geneva Motorshow that interest in the Veyron had been so high that the group would undertake the task of making the car production ready. He also stated that the car would be the fastest, most powerful and most expensive car in history. Now, some would think that the announcement would put people off, and yet VAG stopped taking orders for the car well before the first road going prototype had even hit the road.
There were some changes to the specification of the concept car that were announced as well. The car would not be using the W18 engine, instead it would use a W16 engine, which had already been shown by VAG in their 1999 Bentley Hunaudières concept car. This would be increased in power by adding 4 turbo chargers to it. Top speed was promised to be 250mph (403kph) and the car would have in excess of 1000Bhp.
This announcement, as it turned out, was almost the end of the Veyron project. The story of this car is not its immense performance, it is the engineering that had to go into the mammoth project that created it.
You see there was a problem. The car's design had been shown and signed off by would be purchasers, so the car's looks and shape had to remain fairly close to the concept. Purchasers had also been told that the car would be the fastest, most powerful car ever created. Unfortunately for the Veyron team, these two factors struggled to sit nicely together, and the resulting Veyron is a testament to all of the team involved in making it work.
Reliability and top speed stability were causing issues, so much in fact that one of the prototype cars was destroyed in a high speed accident, and another spun out and crashed at an event at Laguna Seca during a public demonstration.
This rather public demonstration of the handling issues slowed the development process down. Not only was the construction of more prototypes needed, but the motoring press grabbed hold of the Veyron's issues and it started to become a running joke that the car would never make it to market.
Bernd Pischetsrieder took over the running of VAG, and it was thought that he would kill the Veyron project. It had already developed new technologies that could be used in the rest of the VAG range of cars, and many believed that Bernd would drop the project while VAG could still save face. He did something that any other engineer junkie would have: he sent the car back to the drawing board for major overhauls in key areas.
There is a much used quote from Gordon Murray, who designed the McLaren F1. It appeared in Evo magazine – "The most pointless exercise on the planet has got to be this four-wheel-drive 1000 horsepower Bugatti. I think it’s incredibly childish this thing people have about just one element — top speed or standing kilometre or 0-60. It’s about as narrow minded as you can get as a car designer to pick on one element. It’s like saying we’re going to beat the original Mini because we’re going to make a car 10 mph faster on its top speed—but it's two foot longer and 200 kilos heavier. That’s not car designing — that just reeks of a company who are paranoid."
There were the handling issues that had to be solved. There were also braking issues; testing had shown that the car's weight was an issue at 1890kg. The biggest problem though seemed to be cooling. The massive 8ltr engine with 16 cylinders, 64 valves and 4 turbo chargers – the engine is termed a W16, and is best thought of as two narrow opposing V8 engines – generated a massive amount of heat. It was proving difficult for the teams involved to keep the car cool enough to be reliable.
The car kept loosing luggage space, to be replaced by yet another radiator. In fact, the final production car not only has the top of the engine exposed to the elements, but 10 radiators as well. These radiators break down as follows: 3 radiators for engine cooling, 1 engine oil radiator, 1 hydraulic oil radiator, 1 differential oil radiator, 1 transmission oil radiator, 1 heat exchanger for the air/liquid intercoolers and 2 radiators for the air conditioning system.
With all the car's power now cooled and reliable, the Veyron needed a transmission capable of putting the 1001bhp and 922ft-lbf to the road. Audi had released the DSG Gearbox to the world, and it was decided that this, along with Audi's knowledge of 4 wheel drive, would form the drivetrain platform. This caused issues: nothing that Audi had available could manage to harness the massive power output from the engine.
Because of this, the team turned to British company Ricardo for help. The Ricardo team created a custom, 7 speed, dual clutch gearbox for the car, and helped Audi's engineers enhance the 4 wheel drive system and software to be able to reliably cope with the car's performance.
With all the parts in place, the car underwent testing in a variety of places for the hot and cold tests that are required of production cars. It was also spotted in testing at the Nurburgring, as the engineers honed the suspension and engine mappings. This testing also saw the addition of the automated downforce system.
This aero package can create in excess of 3420 newtons of downforce; the car is lowered to only 8.9 centimeters ground clearance, and has a high performance mode, where the car keeps its aero profile as small as possible and is able to reach its 252mph top speed. This mode needs to be activated by using the key in a special lock, and this in turn makes the car do a system check on all of the cars major systems: from tyre pressures, to oil quality. The day-to-day aero profile – called the handling mode – only actualy allows a maximum of 234mph to be achieved.
The Veyron was unveiled in its final production version on the 19th of October 2005, at the same place as it was initially shown in concept form: the Tokyo Motorshow. The car was then shown at the Dubai Motorshow in December 2005, and it is rumored that 6 cars, including the demonstration models at the event, were sold on the opening day. The car was officially unveiled for sale at the Los Angeles Motorshow in January of 2006.
The retail price for the car was 1Million Euros.
It was announced that Bugatti would make 300 cars over the Veyron's five year production life, and in March 2006 over 70 cars were officially sold; this amounts to 14 months of the car's production. Due to this, Bugatti announced that production of the cars would be increased. The 70 that had been paid for due where to be completed before the end of 2006.
Bugatti does not have many dealers around the world, and because of this VAG announced that the cars would be sold and serviced through their Bentley dealer network; if a serious problem with the car was to occur then a mechanic would be flown out to the owner within 24 hours.
The crowning achievement of this car, in my eyes, is what Gordon Murray said about it after driving the final version of the car – this appeared in Top Gear Magazine: "One really good thing, and I simply never expected this, is that it does change direction. It hardly feels its weight. Driving it on a circuit I expected a sack of cement, but you can really throw it at tight chicanes. Breaking is phenominal and the primary ride and control are good too. It's a huge achievement". So huge an achievement that he ordered one.
0-60mph : 2.5sec
0-100mph : 5.5sec
0-150mph : 11.3sec
0-200mph : 22.2sec
0-250mph : 55sec
Engine : VAG W16, 16 cylinders, 64 valves, 4 Turbo Chargers
Displacement : 7993cc with a square bore and stroke of 86mm with 9.0:1 compression.
Tyres : Custom Michelin Run Flats
Front : PAX 245/690R520
Rear : PAX335/710R540
Wheelbase : 2710mm
Length : 4462mm
Height : 1206mm
Width : 1998mm
Power to Weight : 524bhp per tonne.
Power per Litre : 125.25bhp
The 7 Speed DSG gearbox can change gears in 8ms, faster than all Formula one cars at the beginning of the 2006 season, before the introduction of the Honda and Toyota seamless shift gearboxes.
Top Speed 253mph – electronically limited due to tyres – 257mph physical limit if de restricted.
Average fuel economy : 8mpg
Fuel economy at 253mph : 2.1mpg – this means the car can empty it's 100ltr tank in 12 minutes.
The Veyron's handbrake system includes a special emergency stop mode that will stop the car if the main brakes fail. This includes a special ABS system to arrest the car in the shortest possible time. This, coupled with very clever cross drilled and turbine vented 8 pot brakes, and the fact that the rear aero stabiliser extends to 70 degrees to act as an air brake, can arrest the car from its 252mph top end to 0 in under 10 seconds.
Due to the car's aero profile, the engine had to generate 2bhp per 1mph over 200mph.
If Bugatti sell 300 cars at £1Million each, the VAG group will have lost £4.25Million per car, due to the mammoth production cost involved with the R&D project. This is not as bad as it sounds: a lot of the technology in the Veyron will filter down into the VAG range of cars at some point in the future.
It is also rumoured that a 'Sport' version of the Veyron will be unveiled shortly. This new car is rumoured to be not only lighter, but more powerful as well. With 1200Bhp and less weight the 'Sport' could get close to the 280Mph mark. That is, if Michelin can create an adequate tyre.
I'm just glad that in the modern era, there is a company like the VAG group willing to risk reputation and money on a project like the Veyron. Yes, it may not make them any money, but it has proved that they are the masters of engineering, and because of that their reputation as one of the premier car makers in the world has been cemented into the minds of all petrol heads on the planet.
As such, it wins not only my Car Of The Year award, but my engineering award for the year as well.