Preview: Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse
ALTON, Ont.— One thing you may not know about the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse: If you go faster than 185 kilometres per hour, the windows automatically roll up, because otherwise the car might be too noisy and too windy.
One thing you do not know is how I happen to know this.
What you might know about Bugatti — assuming you are something of a car freak or you wouldn’t be reading this at all — is that Ettore Bugatti, an Italian-born Alsatian, built small numbers of fast, beautiful cars between the First and Second World Wars.
Like so many famous marques, his company didn’t survive the Great Depression.
An attempt to revive the marque in Modena, Italy — famously home to Ferrari — ended in 1995.
Dr. Ferdinand Piech, grandson of the original Dr. Porsche and boss man of the Volkswagen group, decided 15 years ago to take a whack at it. VW picked up the brand name, established a factory in Molsheim France, home of Bugatti’s original premises, and proceeded to develop the Veyron with the stated goal of producing a car with 1,001 horsepower.
This was provided by an 8.0 litre W16-cylinder engine — deep in its DNA, two VW W8s bolted together — force-fed by no fewer than four turbochargers.
The original plan was to sell just 300 of these two-seat four-wheel drive supercars; that was accomplished by 2011.
So the coupé was supplemented with a convertible, the Grand Sport. The plan was 150 of those.
So a Super Sport coupé with larger turbos and various other tweaks were added — 1,200 horsepower. That’s more like it.
Put two and two together, and you have the Grand Sport Vitesse — the big honking motor in the convertible body.
Which has brought me to the Millcroft Inn in this town near Orangeville, where pro race driver/Le Mans veteran Butch Leitzinger is going to ride shotgun with me.
They aren’t about to let a journalist run off by himself in a $2,500,000 car.
Butch fires the car up. The switchblade key fob is exactly the same as that for my 2003 Jetta TDI wagon, except for the leather cover. And the Bugatti emblem of course.
You can actually turn the key beyond the “switch-on-the-ignition” point — the spring-load is there and everything — but that does not activate the starter. For that you need to push a separate button, which makes no more sense here than it does in any push-button start car.
Hey, I have to find something to bitch about.
He nurses the car out of the narrow parking lot and cruises through this tiny town. Cruising at 50 km/h is not what this car is intended to do.
Which means the first truly remarkable thing I learn about it is how easy it is to drive, how tractable.
The transmission is a seven-speed Dual Clutch auto-shifted manual. If it’s good enough for Sebastian Vettel it’s good enough for you.
When left in auto mode, this beast of a car is no more difficult to drive than — well, my Jetta.
Once out on the open road, Butch gives the throttle a wee tweak.
Now, in case you didn’t know, “vitesse” is French for speed.
The 0 — 100 km/h time is given as 2.6 seconds. But it is barely clearing its four massive pressurized throats at that point; the top end with modified suspension is a tick under 410 km/h; for “normal” driving, an electronic limit of 375 km/h is maintained.
You won’t need that long a driveway after all.
Butch finds a wide shoulder, pulls over, and lets me take the wheel.
A $2.5 million car without power seats or power tilt/telescope wheel, yep.
Still, I quickly find a comfortable position, adjust the side-view mirrors (you won’t be seeing much out the back or over your shoulders thanks to the massive air intakes just above your ears) and off I trundle.
Almost embarrassingly slowly; you never want to be “that guy,” especially in a car like this.
Those air intakes provide you with what must be the most intimate aural connection to any engine in the automotive world. The turbos hiss, bang and pop — it sounds like a massive steam boiler about to blow a gasket. Lift off abruptly; more bangs and pops.
You almost think you can hear the pistons leap up and down, the valves snapping open and shut. Until you do the math and realize how many times all those things are happening.
An astonishing cacophony — you can barely even hear the exhaust.
The steering is remarkably light. I wish I could begin to comment on the car’s handling, but again, the grip level is so prodigious on its massive tires that any speed below “arrest me now” is way too slow to get anywhere near “handling” in the sports car sense of that word.
There are three suspension settings, depending on how fast you want to go. Even in the softest, the ride is pretty harsh.
The brakes emit just a hint of squeal on light application which is true of many high-performance brake systems. These things have to be capable of hauling nearly 2,000 kg of avoirdupois down from triple-digit speeds.
Among the stories that have been told about the Veyron is that you can only run the car at full throttle for 12 minutes before you ran out of fuel.
Leitzinger said, “I did the math; you’d need about 90 km of dead-straight road to do that. I don’t think that exists anywhere in the world.”
Certainly not in southern Ontario.
Needless to say, the car attracted eyeballs like nothing I have ever driven.
But unlike some obviously expensive cars, these were happy eyeballs, without the envious stink-eye some high-end cars elicit in many onlookers. Maybe they knew this car is so far out of their swim lane that there was no point in being jealous of its lucky occupants.
If I had a dollar for every cellphone snap taken, I still couldn’t afford one.
The weather was perfect for my drive. If you know it won’t be, there is a roof panel which snaps quickly into place.
It’s a two-person job — not that the panel is all that heavy (about 20 kg); you just need four hands to reach out over the car’s bulbous fenders.
If the weather turns when you’re away from your garage — there’s no place to store the hardtop on board — just drive faster; the rain will run right over the car.
If that isn’t “on,” remove the fabric top from the front trunk. It opens almost like an umbrella; unfold it, screw in the “handle” until it expands and snaps into shape, remove the handle, and pop the thing on to the same catches as for the hardtop.
Without the top in the front cargo area, you now have room for a set of golf clubs. Provided you grind them up into dust first. You will travel light in a Veyron.
But you will — or could — travel very, very fast.
I am almost ashamed to say I came nowhere near the limits of this car.
However, something this powerful is beyond evaluation on anything but a very high-speed race track or a corporate test track.
All that said, I am delighted to have had the chance to give it even the briefest of stretches.
The acceleration at full throttle is — quite literally — breathtaking.
As before, no drama. The four-wheel drive hooks up the massive rubber; you wonder if maybe you’re standing still and the car is spitting the pavement out behind the car.
Until you realize you can’t see anything out the side windows because the scenery’s going by too fast.
And I do have to ask Butch why those side windows just automatically rolled up all by themselves.
Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse
ENGINE: 8.0 litre W16, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and lift, quadruple turbochargers.
POWER/TORQUE, horsepower / lb.-ft: 1,200 @ 6,400 r.p.m. / 1,106 @ 3,000 — 5,000 r.p.m.
FUEL CONSUMPTION: Don’t ask.
COMPETITION: Irrelevant — you could buy one of everything and still have money left over for a nice house.
WHAT’S BEST: Everything.
WHAT’S WORST: Stupid start button; luggage limited to whatever you’re wearing; stiff ride; a set of replacement tires costs about $25,000.
WHAT’S INTERESTING: I had some clever thing to say here but I forgot; will try to remember before our deadline.
The vehicle tested by freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org