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“Nothing, absolutely nothing other than a Formula One car on a hot lap, can prepare you for the time warping acceleration of the Veyron at full throttle. This car is disturbingly fast”
After twenty-three gruelling hours in a seriously packed economy class cabin, we arrived in Frankfurt via Abu Dhabi, ready for what we thought was a well earned luxury business class flight to Strasbourg in France.
Turns out, our double degree IT guru and fellow motoring journalist Alborz, (who said his friend at flight centre had it sorted), had completely misread the ticket. Bus – actually meant BUS – the road going version. All sorted?
By some stroke of luck though, the bus company had grossly overbooked both Strasbourg bound buses, and Bruno, the guy at the Lufthansa desk, worked some magic and presto, we had a Ford Mondeo TDCi for twenty-four hours, at no cost. Gold, we thought.
The diesel powered Mondeo is no slouch, within moments we are sitting on a comfortable 200km/h as we head towards Molsheim, the home of Bugatti.
It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes into the trip and bugger, something felt badly out of whack with the front end. What we found, was a dirty great big hole in the middle of the right front tyre tread, which meant we weren’t going anywhere fast. That is, until we got the spare on and rebooted to that blissful 200km/h.
The look of disappointment on our faces, when we lifted the boot lining and saw that 125-width space saver, said it all. And it was a Sunday!
Rather than push on at an impossible 80km/h (its downright dangerous on the Autobahns) we stopped in at Hertz in Heidelberg and switched over to a little Peugeot 307 1.6L diesel powered wagon, which believe it or not, was good for a steady 190km/h and that’s hauling the four of us, with a stack of luggage and camera equipment!
Alborz also forgot to download the Euro maps on our Mio Sat Nav and we were damn too tired to figure out the road map. Lots of stops to ask directions in my half decent French (the other’s will surely deny me that credit) eventually paid off.
Molsheim is not a big place, and when we saw the Bugatti sign inside a high security compound, smiles were a plenty. We were less than twelve hours away from an event, few in the world will ever claim.
But first things first. We had been up thirty-six hours and desperately needed a good solid meal. Food is what France does best, although low budget trips can be a nasty thing.
We drove back into Strasbourg and found the only place open, which happened to be covered in pictures of black and white cows.
We couldn’t get in fast enough. I had been talking up steak and chips or “steak frites” as the French call it, all day and this was the specialty of the house. For the equivalent of AUD$22.00 we had a king’s feed of steak drenched in garlic butter, with proper French fries. A bona fide heart stopper!
We arrived back at the not so salubrious Hotel Le Bugatti, which whilst pleasant enough, had a pungent odour in the foyer which none of us could locate the source of.
On the way in to Molsheim, we had noticed some beautifully picturesque countryside behind the town and decided to take the little PUG on what we thought would be a short reconnaissance mission.
Whilst we found some amazing shoot locations, darkness was descending and without maps or sat nav, it would be several hours before we would return to the hotel, despite being only 20 mins north of the town.
A quick check of camera and video equipment and we hit the sack. That’s three of us in one room to save on accommodation costs and Karl in a private room, which he ruthlessly claimed, the moment that option was raised by the hotel manager.
On approach to the security gate early the next morning, we got a sign from above of what was to come. A couple of fast moving Eurofighters buzzed the Bugatti compound with afterburners ablaze, going vertical!
As we handed over Passports in exchange for Bugatti ID badges, we caught a glimpse of our car through some trees in the distance. We had arrived. After six months of planning and requests, we were about to get an introduction to the world’s fastest production car.
Julius Kruta has been with Bugatti for just on seven years and take it from me, he’s not going anywhere. His title on his business card reads “Leiter Tradition” which I translate as Head of Bugatti tradition.
He’s a mild mannered yet confident guy, about thirty-five years old and while I’m not sure about his cooking, his performance behind the wheel of the Veyron borders on the astonishing!
And if you need to know anything at all about the Veyron or Bugatti the company, I mean down to what colour shoes Ettore Bugatti wore on Wednesdays, ask Julius. He’ll know.
The first thing that hits you about the car, is how much better it looks in the metal as opposed to the photos we have all seen. Its quite beautiful, yet utterly daunting.
Julius starts to explain the car but at this point I’m finding it hard to focus on what he is saying to us about the Veyron. I should be listening intently, but all I can think of, is how on earth I can raise the AUD$2.7 million to buy one!
The Bugatti hugs the ground in standard ride height but you’ve got three suspension heights, (the other two are lower again) depending on how brave you’re going to be when you commit your right foot to the throttle. I’m not kidding about the brave part either!
It’s surprisingly short. Shorter even than a Mercedes Benz SL class and only fractionally longer than Porsche’s diminutive 911 pure bred.
But its almost as wide as a Range Rover, so you need to watch your step on narrow mountain passes otherwise you could put a wheel or two off the side of the road and at over EU40,000 a set, you don’t want to do that.
You can’t quite believe the size of the tyres on board the Veyron either. Initially, I couldn’t make out the digits on the tyre wall. Too many numbers. 365-710 ZR 540A (108Y) PAX System is inscribed on the rears for example. What you’re looking at are the widest set of run flat tyres on the planet, jointly developed with Michelin for speeds over 400km/h.
Strange thing is though; they don’t look as wide as those on the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, which are 335’s. I suppose that’s testament to the creative balance of the car.
What does blow you away, is the view from the rear of the Veyron. The fully exposed engine is breathtaking. Two huge polished metal heat exchangers, beautiful in form, sit either side, ready to suck in the enormous volume of air needed to cool over 1001 plus horsepower, at full throttle.
The whole car is a study in heat reduction. There are air intakes everywhere you look, and that’s apart from the twelve, (not ten as has been widely reported) overall radiators on board. It’s as if the form of the car was the product of function and creativity, and it all came together perfectly.
At a staggering $2.7 million Australian dollars each, the Veyron is the definition of Bespoke. Hand made over 300 hours, in a stunning glass building called the Atelier, by twenty specialists using Bugatti designed components if you will. And it shows.
Carbon-fibre and forged aluminium components are well represented, as are other exotic lightweight materials such as the large titanium bolts used extensively in the car’s construction. These are almost weightless yet offer enormous tensile strength, that is, until they have to be removed as part of the maintenance schedule. At that point, they are discarded as waste material and at 60 euro each; I placed dibs on the scrap metal bin.
Oh, and you’ll love this. The W16 engine, that’s 16 cylinders, 4 turbos and all those radiators I mentioned above, is hand assembled by a talented young French glamour, Fanny.
She has worked on Ferrari and Maserati engines and is also one of France’s best Rally co-drivers. As expected, the two unmarried journalists, Paul and Alborz, were infatuated when they found this out (they are currently both learning French via CD’s from their local libraries).
At just on six times the price of Lamborghini’s Gallardo Superleggera, you don’t just hop into the Veyron and drive out the gate in the only press car in Europe. No sir. Not on your sweet life!
Julius will decide whether you get a drive at all, and that’s only if you pass the initial “Veyron Experience” but more on that shortly.
There was dead calm from everyone, as I climbed into the driver’s seat of the world’s fastest and most expensive car. Not difficult at all really.
You open the doors using a regular door handle and climb into the extraordinarily comfortable racing style seats.
Only, these pews are carbon-fibre backed and covered in the finest leather I have ever sat on, from Austria of all places.
Firing up this monster requires nothing more than a twist of the key, which activates all the electronic systems, waiting for the audible “she’s right to go” beeps, and then one firm stab at the start button.
I’m trying not to smile in the presence of Julius and my own Car Advice colleagues as 1001 horsepower and 1250 Newton metres sits idling so deeply, that it's making the ground vibrate around the car. The feeling that you are in control of so much power, waiting to be unleashed on public roads is a trip into another world – you’ve got to remain on high alert anytime you’re behind the wheel of the Veyron.
We have been blessed with a typically overcast European day, so my first taste of driving the Veyron will be at a crazy 5km/h as I move the car around the Bugatti compound, under precise instructions from our photographers.
Five kilometres per hour might seem absurd in the Veyron, but that’s the beauty of this car. You can sit in peak hour traffic or travel between countries faster than France’s TGV (very fast train) listening to Bach on the ultra high end Burmester audio system. I’ve got to be honest with you though; I didn’t switch on the sound system for fear of missing just a moment of all sixteen cylinders - live in concert.
With a bespoke seven-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) hand crafted by UK based transmission gurus Ricardo (it has to withstand the huge torque output), you can drive around all day in full auto mode or use the fast shifting paddles, as you would in a Golf GTI.
Inside the Veyron, is pure art. Luxury, yes. But no high tech clutter. Every instrument, dial, and piece of switchgear could find a place in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The steering wheel alone, with its embossed EB initials and beautiful form, should be in a glass case in the Chateau Saint Jean.
Julius asks me to get in the passenger seat so he can give me a little one-on-one Veyron orientation course. I have no idea what I have just signed up for!
The security gates are lifted without the need for even the slightest signal. We cruise out to a short bit of country road just a few minutes drive away from Bugatti and pull to the side of the road. It’s less than a one-kilometre stretch of road and its not that wide!
Without so much as a warning, we have engaged what can only be described as hyper-drive, and I’m in a serious state of panic. My brain has gone into damage control and is telling me to prepare for my final moments of life, as no one on this earth can control a car going this fast around a bend on an overtake!
I can’t recall the precise moment we passed the car, as motion sickness had suddenly kicked in, but I was ecstatic to be still alive. You have no idea how fast we just went in less than one kilometre. The effect on your mind and body at that point is simply indescribable. Julius looked at me and casually mentioned, “We just hit 270km/h”. The Veyron is not from this planet!
Here we go again, but this time I think we’re going even quicker and I’m trying to remember “The Lord’s Prayer”. Too late, we have already completed the run and pulled over. Julius hands me the keys to this alien spacecraft.
Don’t get me wrong, I like fast. But this car can distort time, as we know it. There might just be such a thing as too quick! But this is my Veyron driving test and I’m not about to fail.
I move the Joystick-like shifter to the right and engage D for drive mode. If I’m going to give this thing full throttle, I won’t have to time to think about using paddles. No joke.
No traffic in either direction. That’s a relief. I plant the throttle and we are accelerating faster than BMW’s 2008 Sauber F1.08 car. That’s 0-100km/h in less than 2.5 seconds. The feeling is surreal. “Can I go again” I ask Julius. He’s on the phone – still, and I’m feeling more confident so I push it slightly quicker through the bends. Apart from travelling disturbingly fast, the level of grip at 250km/h plus seems contrary to the laws of nature. Who said the Veyron didn’t handle?
I must be doing OK as Julius hops out and allows Alborz to get in and set up the high def video camera. Time for some flat to the firewall acceleration runs on a straight but narrow road. He’s still on the phone, so Alborz stays in. He won’t know what hit him when I engage all 1001 horsepower and 1250 Nm and attempt to hold the pedal down fractionally longer than on those trial runs.
While Alborz is fiddling with the camera angle, I move the shifter to the right, two times to engage the “S” drive mode, which will hold the revs at 3000 between shifts. This will be ferocious.
Boom. Within milliseconds we are doing 240km/h but there’s a sharpish bend on the horizon. No Problem. The Veyron’s ability to stop is just as prodigious as its speed. Enormous carbon-ceramic brakes using eight piston calipers up front and six down the back work in concert with an aircraft-like air brake, which has deployed.
Alborz is not smiling and says he has motion sickness. Welcome to the Veyron experience!
We find a place to turn the Bugatti around safely and do it again for the video camera. There’s a guy in an AMG SL 55 on our tail -he must not have read about the Veyron. One quick stab of the throttle and we’ve dusted him. You can’t get used to the power. You just can’t. That’s what Bugatti test driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel says too. Never heard of him? He was leading Nelson Piquet at the Monaco F1 Grand Prix in 1989 and before that was French Formula Three Champion so yes, he knows what he’s on about and he’s Bugatti’s test driver.
I truly wish that every car enthusiast in the world could have just one run in the Veyron, as it’s impossible to describe how fast this car accelerates without resorting to a barrage of hard core expletives and even then, it wouldn’t be accurate.
We need to get some car-to-car footage, so Julius returns to the passenger seat and Alborz along with Paul and Karl, set things up in our chase car – the Peugeot 307 diesel powered wagon.
We are heading up into the mountains behind Molshiem and pass through a beautiful little Alsatian town complete with cobblestones and age-old cottages.
The Veyron, with Xenon’s blazing is a site to behold. School kids and adults alike, are firing off their digital cameras like no tomorrow. It’s a pity I can’t see their faces but peddling this thing through one thousand year old streets just wide enough for a horse and cart, requires razor sharp focus.
Finally, we break through onto some twisty mountain roads as we head towards a small ski village. Paul is doing a commendable job with the 307 as Karl attempts to shoot the Veyron with a view to showing speed through the bends.
The sophisticated all-wheel-drive system is making light work of wet roads and thankfully my heart rate has dropped significantly, as I settle into gearshifts via paddles.
The roads are still narrow and while I’m trying to stay on my side of the bitumen, I have no intention of dropping one of these 10,000-euro wheels (remember, that’s each corner) off the edge.
At these more civilised speeds the driving is effortless and luxury car comfortable. Volkswagen and the supremely talented Bugatti engineers at Mosheim, who build these cars, have achieved nothing less than the automotive Holy Grail.
Things must have gone well enough for Car Advice today, as we near the Bugatti gates, Julius asks me to pull over and hand my driver’s seat over to one of the other guys. Everyone is going to get a steer in the world’s fastest car and the world has just become a better place!
Before Julius handed me the keys he wanted to take me for a quick spin, just to give me the basic run over. I have to admit, having seen Tony's face before, I was a little nervous.
I got in and put on my seatbelt, I looked over at Julian who had a peculiar smile on his face, "Ready?" Julian asked. "Ready for what? It's just a bloody car, 0-100km/h in 2.5 seconds doesn't scare me" I thought to myself while I nodded cautiously.
He pulled out onto a small country road which in Australia would have a speed limit of about 50km/h. I began talking to Julius about the car, telling him how comfortable the seats were, he simply didn't respond, about 0.003 seconds later I found out why.
When Julius put his foot down, my world came to an end. I had no time to think, I got pushed back into the seat so hard it actually hurt my neck. Our on-board video camera had by this stage thrown an error due to the Gs and it was impossible to actually sit forward to check the speedo, but Julius was keeping me informed.. 100...200....300!
Believe me, at 300km/h time slows down, the birds were flying so slowly that I was absolutely sure that either we were about to die and I was in some sort of right-before-death moment or I was going to pass out.
"310" Julius screamed as we went past a 60 sign. "Are you ready" he said with an even bigger smile on his face. Ready? Again? Are you kidding me, what more can there be? I looked ahead and saw a roundabout about 400 or so metres away.
I started realising why he kept saying "are you ready", he meant death, are you ready to die? Although I am not a religious man, I began asking for forgiveness as certain death was only seconds away. There was no possible, physical way, anything could stop from 300km/h so quickly. But Julius took his hands off the steering wheel, slammed on the brakes and we stopped, with room to spare.
The 400mm carbon ceramic brake system, which more than likely cost more than an average house in Brisbane, had just saved my life.
We pulled over and Julius handed me the keys, I'll be honest with you, I had never been so nervous in my life, sure I'd driven Lamborghinis and Aston Martins, but the Veyron, I am sorry, you can't comprehend the feeling.
We took off and headed to the highway where I was going to do some video recording and some acceleration runs, all that I could think about at this stage was a little voice in my head saying "407km/h... 407km/h...".
After a brief drive around Julius was comfortable with my driving and he indicated that I should do some practice acceleration runs. When the guy from Bugatti gives you the green light to experience decades and hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D, you can't help but to smile.
As Tony mentioned, I too wish I could take each and every one of you with me as I did the 0-300km/h acceleration, because firstly, I'd never get bored of it, and secondly, words are simply incapable of describing the feeling. Nothing so comfortable and luxurious should ever be able to accelerate this quickly, but it does.
Imagine the fastest theme park ride you have ever been on, like the Superman ride on the Gold Coast, 0-100km/h in 1.9 seconds, but the Veyron feels faster, because it can keep going, and going, and going.
If you have 2.7 million dollars spare, this car will make you realise that money can buy you happiness.
It’s a shame that Ettore Bugatti and his son Jean, weren’t still around to see what has become of the Bugatti name.
Our time at Bugatti has come to a close and we can’t thank Volkswagen and the team at Bugatti (Julius and Jan) enough. We take some last minute stills of the car before we race back to Strasbourg to catch a plane to Bologna for a rendezvous with two Lamborghini’s first thing in the morning.