To breach 200mph in an automobile these days is almost as much old hat as topping the magic “ton” probably was back in the 1950s – but it’s something that eluded me until a few weeks ago, when I experienced my “double-ton” baptism behind the wheel of what seems likely to remain the apotheosis of the petrol-driven hypercar.
Speed freaks will need no introduction to the Bugatti Veyron, which burst onto the scene in 2005 with a €1m price tag and a list of remarkable statistics: its 16-cylinder, 8ltr engine boasted four turbo chargers, 10 radiators and a nominal output of 1,001hp, sufficient to propel the two-ton, two-seater to 253mph. It was the fastest street-legal production car in the world.
The planned run of 300 closed coupes was completed and sold last summer, by which time production of a targa-top version of 150 further Grand Sport cars was well under way. In-between, there was the Super Sport with an upgraded, 1,200hp engine and various special-edition models – including centenary versions in 2009 to mark 100 years since the founding of Bugatti, another trimmed by Hermès and even a one-off L’Or Blanc model partly (and unfathomably) clad in porcelain.
Indeed, the number of variants and specials that have been created in order to maintain interest in the world’s first hypercar has, to some, caused the whole story to wear rather thin. But now, we are assured, the ultimate incarnation of the Veyron really has arrived (probably) in the 256mph Grand Sport Vitesse model, which combines the Super Sport engine with the open-top body style to create the quickest convertible on earth.
The result of these technological travails can only be described as hurricane-in-the-hair motoring – a roofless ride into the realms of warp-speed travel at the sort of potential velocity that even Le Mans racers and Formula One drivers seldom experience.
Driving the “GSV” around the speed bowl of a private proving ground in Spain, I was permitted by the track officials to take the car up to 330kph in order to provide the childish satisfaction of having passed the 200mph barrier – although the GSV was only just getting into its stride and had a further 50mph to give. (With the roof removed it is electronically limited to a still not-sensible 235mph.)
Along the way, you can sprint from zero to 100kph in 2.6 seconds, zero to 200 in just 7.1 and cover a quarter of a mile from a standing start in 10 seconds. The real genius, however, is that the car makes it all seem absurdly effortless. At 150mph, around half the horsepower remains to be exploited and there’s still a mighty shove in the back for those brave enough to mash the throttle. If you love engineering, you cannot help but be impressed – not just by the power and the way it is delivered, but by the remarkable amount of thought and dedication that has been put into the whole package. If ever I become a space tourist, I want to travel in a craft designed and built by the boffins from the Bugatti factory in Molsheim, if the GSV represents a true reflection of their attention to detail.
At higher speeds, for example, the car’s hydraulic rear spoiler reaches skywards to provide extra downforce – but, with the roof off, a sensor automatically adjusts the way it is angled in order to compensate for the change in airflow caused by the open cockpit.
Such detail doesn’t come cheap, and among the many myths and legends that have built-up around the Veyron, there is one which says that the Volkswagen Group – owner of Bugatti – loses €4m on every Veyron it sells. In reality, the massive development costs of the car have resulted in a number of technical advances that have been exploited across the group’s many marques (which also include Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche) and, on individual build cost alone, each Veyron actually turns a small profit.
In any event, there is no shortage of buyers. At the time of writing, 69 of the 150 Grand Sport cars due to be made are taken, 13 of which are the swansong GSV models, starting from
But what next? Dr Stefan Brungs, Bugatti’s sales and marketing boss, is understandably cagey, and there has been little news of the Galibier luxury saloon concept car announced in 2009. “Once the production run of 150 open cars is completed, there will be no more Veyrons,” says Brungs. “What is clear, however, is that the Bugatti history will continue and with the same ethos of superlative excellence for which the Veyron has become known. As for the way a new car will be powered, we are keeping an open mind in terms of whether we use a petrol engine, hybrid or pure electricity.”
But according to Nick Trott, editor of leading supercar magazine EVO, there seems little doubt that the Grand Sport Vitesse represents the end of a short but glorious era of petrol-driven hypercars that have quickly become outmoded in our new, emissions-conscious world.
“Pagani is continuing with a turbo-charged petrol engine, but all the other players on the hypercar scene, Ferrari and Porsche included, are going the hybrid electric route. The Grand Sport Vitesse represents the culmination of a brilliant engineering achievement and driving it is to experience something wildly decadent – but, realistically, we’re never going to see another car like it. To adapt the Veyron concept to electric or hybrid power is simply too much of an engineering rewrite – and, in a way, that makes the car seem all the more special.”
So, if you want to discover what it’s like to drive a four-wheeled jet fighter and happen to have a spare €1.69m, roll up, roll up for the last, the final, the best and the ultimate Veyron… although we have heard a (possibly unfounded) rumour that the Molsheim magicians may extract a few more horsepower from the engine to make it just that bit quicker. But that really will be the last. Honestly…