Featured | Bugatti Veyron

Bugatti’s remarkable Veyron heralded both the arrival of the modern hypercar, and the first combatant in what might loosely be called the ‘400km/h Club’.

It signified an automotive ‘Big Bang’ moment. Bugatti’s remarkable Veyron heralded both the arrival of the modern hypercar, and the first combatant in what might loosely be called the ‘400km/h Club’.

‘Veyron’ became shorthand for a very special, rarified level of performance. It was the best, the coolest, the most extreme. It was the Top Trump Card.

As much as its manufacturer’s EB badge was already a byword for luxury (albeit at irregular intervals until the early 2000s), it was the low-slung, rounded hypercar’s performance stats that were the real headline. The truth is the Bugatti Veyron was a pioneeringly powerful engine, wrapped in an exotic shell.

Genius auto engineer, Ferdinand Piëch – who would go on to become Chairman of the Executive Board of the Volkswagen Group and dominate its wider activities through the first decade of the 21st Century – was the main driver behind the Veyron project.

Bugatti had been purchased by Volkswagen at the end of the 1990s and Piëch saw an opportunity to create an engine unlike anything anyone had built before, using the esteemed Bugatti brand as a platform. The original idea was for an 18-cylinder engine, built from three VR6 cylinder banks, although a smaller W16 – the equivalent of two V8s bolted together, fed by four turbochargers – was what was eventually blueprinted for the Veyron.

When it was revealed to a stunned automotive world in 2005, the hypercar boasted a power output of 1000PS (987hp, 735kW), 1250Nm of torque, and could accelerate from zero to 100km/h in under three seconds. Today’s breed of hypercar still hasn’t bettered that. Two hundred kilometers per hour could be attained in 7.3 seconds. Three hundred? A rather brisk 16.7 seconds.

But for Piëch and his development team, the real goal was 400km/h. Over 400km/h in fact. No series production vehicle had been able to break that barrier before the Veyron, but Piëch already had form: he was instrumental in developing the famed Porsche 917 racer of the early 1970s, which drove at a top speed of 406km/h on the Hunaudières Straight at Le Mans. Piëch’s goal for the Veyron was 407km/h. But of course it was.

Almost as celebrated as the eventual record-setting speed the Veyron achieved (411km/h with test driver Uwe Novacki at the wheel at the Volkswagen Group test track at Ehra-Lessien) was the method deployed by any brave driver who got there – the Veyron ‘Speed Key’.

 

Inserting the ‘Speed Key’ changed the already-brutal Veyron’s temperature again. With the help of clever active aerodynamics, the Veyron could essentially alter its silhouette when it reached 220km/h. Just like on an aeroplane, central hydraulics adjusted the diffusor, rear spoiler, and separating edge. The vehicle also hunkered down on the road further to reach more than 380km/h, offering greater stability as it relentlessly ploughed its way through the brick wall of air ahead.

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