In February, Bugatti chief Wolfgang Dürheimer told German magazine Auto, Motor und Sport that the 450th and final Bugatti Veyron would be shown at the Geneva Motor Show, closing an important chapter in the history of performance cars. When word got out that the final car had officially sold, it became an international news story – and with good cause. Simply put, the Veyron is one of the most important cars ever built. Throughout its amazing 10-year production run, few cars captured the public’s imagination quite like the Veyron. When it was released, it was the fastest and most expensive car in the world. Over the car’s lifespan, the performance numbers and price tag increased, and so many different limited-edition models were introduced that the car remained relevant – so much so that the final production number of 450 almost feels low.
Introduced as a concept at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, the new Bugatti was a means for the ascending Volkswagen Auto Group to flex its engineering muscle. After buying Lamborghini and Bentley, Volkswagen was eager to prove that they could build the best cars in the world. Lamborghini and Bentley already had reputations for building some of the world’s best performance cars, but the Bugatti was designed from the ground up, making it Volkswagen’s first foray into the production supercar field. Over 16 years later, the Bugatti is hailed as an engineering triumph, and the Volkswagen Auto Group is one of the largest and most formidable automakers in the world.
That Volkswagen chose the Bugatti nameplate for its halo car is an interesting and fitting choice. Founded by Etoirre Bugatti in 1909, the company produced some of the greatest masterpieces of the pre-war era like the Type 35, Type 41 Royale, and Type 57 Atlantic. Unfortunately, World War II devastated the company, and it stopped building cars in 1952. The rights to the Bugatti name were bought in the 1980s by an Italian businessman, and the company had a brief revival with the 1991-1995 Bugatti EB 110. The EB 110 was a capable supercar, but a weak global economy and poor business decisions bankrupted the company after building only 135 cars. In 1998, Volkswagen purchased the name, and set about building a supercar for the ages.
Named after pre-war Bugatti engineer and racing driver Pierre Veyron, a prototype of the new Bugatti debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show with a massive W18 cylinder engine. According to Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piëch, the production car would have over 1,000 horsepower, and would unquestionably be the fastest and most powerful production car in the world. While the concept was an initial success, the Bugatti came dangerously close to becoming a failure for Volkswagen. The W18 engine was scrapped in favor of an all-new engine as rumors swirled that the Veyron was too powerful to safely drive on public roads, and its handling was too brutish to appeal to the car’s ultra-rich buyers. The price swelled well over the original $750,000 estimate, and the release date was pushed back well beyond the 2003 target. Corporate shakeups after Piëch’s retirement further put the car’s future in jeopardy.
Still, the Veyron’s development soldiered on. Engineers tirelessly worked out the logistics of creating a 1,001 horsepower road car, running as many as 11 prototypes to work out all the issues. Against strong odds, the car was finally ready for sale in late 2005, and miraculously, the Veyron lived up to the hype. The 2005 Veyron 16.4 looked nearly identical to the 1999 concept, but that was just about the only other car it could be compared to. The $1.25 million mid-engined car seemed to have more in common with a Gulfstream jet than a Volkswagen Golf.
The production Veyron was powered by a mid-mounted quad-turbocharged W16 engine (essentially two of Volkswagen’s W8 engine blocks bolted together), and lived up to the 1,001 horsepower goal. The car had 10 radiators, a dual-clutch automatic transmission that could shift gears in 150 milliseconds, an active suspension, and aerodynamics that adjusted to speed and driving conditions in real time. This added up to a two-ton car with a 253-mile-per-hour top speed that could go zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds.
With a such a unique car, came a unique set of problems. It isn’t easy to keep a million-dollar supercar that’s twice as powerful as a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 running properly. For safety, the car was designed to run out of fuel after eight minutes of traveling at top speed. Any longer than that, and the tires would be destroyed. To travel safely at over 250 miles per hour, unique tires had to be developed by Michelin at a cost of $10,000 a set. Oil changes cost $21,000. With all these maintenance costs, it was reported that the Veyron cost owners $300,000 a year to keep the car roadworthy on top of the already astronomical starting price.
Despite the seemingly endless parade of special edition models introduced throughout its production run, there have been four major versions of the Veyron. The original 16.4 coupe debuted in 2005 and remained in production until 2010. In 2009, The Grand Sport was introduced with a removable targa top. The car could match the coupe’s performance with the top up, but could “only” do 239 miles per hour with the top down. After spending five years as the world’s superlative supercar, Bugatti’s performance numbers began to feel attainable by its competitors, so not to be outdone, the Veyron was painstakingly reengineered for even more power.
In 2010, the final coupe versions were released as the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport. The W16 engine was tuned to produce an incredible 1,200 horsepower, and the top speed increased to an astonishing 267 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the tires couldn’t handle that power, so the car was electronically limited to a 258-mile-per-hour top speed. The Grand Sport Vitesse debuted in 2012, and had the Super Sport’s 1,200 horsepower engine in the Grand Sport’s open-topped body. With the extra 200 horsepower and engineering updates, the Bugatti’s price grew to over $2.2 million as the car entered its final production run.
From the beginning, it was Bugatti’s plan to sell 300 coupes and 150 open top cars. With the coupes sold out after the run of Super Sports in 2010, all Bugattis since have been Grand Sport and Vitesse roadsters. The last of the cars, called the Veyron “La Finale” has now been unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, and is a Grand Sport Vitesse model. On top of the 1,200 horsepower W16, the car is full of nods to Bugatti’s storied history. While the first production Veyron was black with painted red accents, the Veyron La Finale is the inverse – red carbon fiber with black accents. On top of the color scheme, the car features unique red wheels, “La Finale” emblazoned under the right headlight and on the rear air brake, and referencing the brand’s pre-war history, a relief of the company’s standing elephant hood ornament is inset in the car’s fuel door and between the seats.
In all, the La Finale edition is loud, brash, and technologically astonishing: a perfect summary of the Veyron’s history distilled into a single car. After 10 years as the world’s ultimate production performance car, Bugatti has decided that it’s time to move on. While the Veyron is still a capable performer, the car is based on a 17-year-old design – an eternity in the auto world. In 2016, Bugatti plans on showing the car’s successor in the Chiron, a model that Bugatti hopes will continue its reign as king of the supercars. Like the Veyron, the Chiron is named after a 1930s Bugatti driver, and takes the outgoing model’s performance to the next level. Early reports say the Chiron’s revised W16 could make upwards of 1,500 horsepower and a top speed of 288 miles per hour.
When Bugatti began designing the Veyron in 1998, the world had never seen anything like it before. Volkswagen’s engineers overcame unbelievable engineering obstacles to create the most technologically advanced performance car ever built, and nearly two decades on, it’s still a marvel. As a result, there aren’t many other cars that have ever had such a profound impact on automotive history as the Veyron. The new Chiron will certainly be faster and more powerful than the Veyron, but it will be nearly impossible for the new Bugatti to have the same impact that the Veyron did. That car instantly redefined what it is to be a performance car, and 10 years on, other automakers are still grappling with its after-effects. The Veyron may be gone, but rest assured, it’ll never be forgotten.