Is Bugatti’s ‘La Voiture Noire’ Classy or Tacky?
The Bugatti la Voiture Noire is a one-off Chiron with a bespoke carbon fiber body. What could possibly be controversial about that? The automaker built this car as an “homage” to a lost Bugatti Type 57 SC. But some vintage Bugatti fans feel the modern, mid-engine hypercar can in no way claim the 1936, front-engine grand tourer as its “spiritual predecessor.”
Jean Bugatti’s ‘La Voiture Noire’ was lost to history
Ettore Bugatti founded the famed automaker brand in 1909, but by the 1930s, his son Jean was designing many of the bodies built in the factory. The younger Bugatti’s masterpiece may be the “Atlantic,” a dramatic Art Deco coupe built on the Type 57 chassis. Bugatti only built four (including the prototype). Jean claimed one, which he nicknamed “La Voiture Noire,” or “The Black Car.” Jean died in a 1939 crash while testing another car. By WWII, his “Voiture Noire” had disappeared.
Was “La Voiture Noire” scrapped by a grieving Ettore? Destroyed by Nazis invaders? Or is it still hidden in some barn in the French countryside? Its fate is a perennial debate among Bugatti enthusiasts and one of the greatest mysteries of automotive history. The modern Bugatti company and its customers are as hypnotized by the legend of “La Voiture Noire” as the rest of us.
“We were rather in awe of the idea of developing the La Voiture Noire. No other vehicle in the long history of Bugatti has acquired the same legendary status as the Type 57 SC Atlantic and has become so synonymous with the brand. We had a great deal of respect for this historical responsibility…”Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti Design Director
But what those at Bugatti saw as a sign of respect, some vintage Bugatti fans found heretical: building a replacement “La Voiture Noire” on a modern Chiron chassis.
The Chiron ‘La Voiture Noire’ special edition pays homage to the past
However you feel about “La Voiture Noire,” you have to admit that the design team at Bugatti did a masterful job crafting a one-of-one Chiron body, full of subtle design cues to the Type 57 “Atlantic.”
The designers behind the new car extended the Chiron’s stock wheelbase. They also deleted the Chiron’s large rear wing and increased both the front and rear overhangs. They added a body-length central fin, reminiscent of the Atlantic’s famous dorsal ridge. They even hid the A-pillars so the windshield and side windows appear to be a single piece of wraparound glass.
The artists who crafted “La Voiture Noire” developed incredible new techniques. Each of the unique headlamps gets its shape from 25 individually milled lighting elements. Every cell of the grille was 3D printed and honed to perfection. The rear tail light is set into a single-piece surround with no joints. A newly designed material allows airflow through seemingly solid body panels. Even the exposed carbon fiber body has been treated with an all-new clear coat type, which reflects no light.
The interior of “La Voiture Noire” leans on vintage Bugatti materials. The leather is a historically accurate shade of Havana Brown. Instead of modern trim, it features turned aluminum inlays and rosewood switches–just like the Bugattis of yesteryear.
No vintage Bugatti fan would disagree that the modern Bugatti company created a beautiful car with retro design cues. But calling it the “spiritual successor” to a front-engine grand tourer, and even naming it “La Voiture Noire” has drawn criticism. These objections may mask larger complaints about the modern Bugatti S.A.S.
Who owns Bugatti?
Ettore Bugatti started his self-named automotive brand in 1909. But after WWII, the business declined, and he died in 1947. A 1987 revival of the company (Bugatti S.p.A.) produced the EB110 GT mid-engine supercar, and a Volkswagen-backed 1998 revival (Bugatti S.A.S.) produced the mid-engine 2004 Veyron hypercar and 2016 Chiron before merging with Rimac.
When a Bugatti enthusiast complains that the Chiron-based “La Voiture Noire” is in no way the successor to the original, they may also be arguing that Bugatti S.A.S. doesn’t truly “own” the rights to Ettore and Jean’s masterpiece. And there is a clear break between the two companies. But the trademark was sold several times before Volkswagen bought it, fair and square, in 1998.
Ettore famously said, “When there is a comparison, it ceases to be a Bugatti.” And even while his company built championship-winning race cars, he made lots of money selling luxurious, road-going “grand touring” cars. So, probably nothing about the Chiron itself would seem anti-Bugatti to him. But naming it after his son’s one-of-a-kind Atlantic might bother him.
What do you think? Is Bugatti S.A.S.–and the latest La Voiture Noire–true to the spirit of Ettore and Jean’s original creation? Let us know in the comments below.
Next, find out whether Ettore would have wanted Bugatti to go electric or learn more about the La Voiture Noire’s record-shattering price tag in the video below: