It was just over 10 years ago this month that Anthony Crawford, Paul Maric and I (plus Karl Peskett, our then videographer and now occasional contributor) paid our own way to visit Bugatti’s factory in Molsheim, France, and spent two days with the Veyron. Then, the world’s fastest and most expensive car.
A decade on, that experience has remained for us as one of the best in our professional life and in many ways, it was a defining moment not just for all three of us personally (our videographer, Karl, also got a quick drive), but also for CarAdvice as an automotive publication.
Back then, who was CarAdvice if not a bunch of ‘cowboys’? As one industry ‘expert’ would refer to us. We were a team of passionate car lovers that struggled to get access to basically any car. Whether it was a Honda or a BMW, the answer from car companies was always a quick ‘no’.
These days, any influencer with enough ‘followers’ (whether they have any legitimate value is very hotly debated) can find themselves in a press car provided for by a car company, then shower it with praise as ‘the best car I’ve driven’ as to continue to get cars. Of course, reference is a nice thing, and it’s impossible to properly judge the automotive landscape without having first experienced the very best on offer.
It was indeed, Anthony’s idea for us to drive the Veyron. I told him he was mad, because if we can’t drive a Benz, how can we drive a Bugatti? I believe, if my memory serves me right, we got knocked back from a C-Class booking and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We decided that we should drive the best cars in the world, and work our way backwards.
How did we get it? We asked. Well, Tony asked and he can be very persuasive... when he told me they’d said yes, I thought he was having me on. It took 48h for the good news to sink in. This formed our very first ‘Full Throttle’ trip.
It was an interesting trip. To say the least. Maric was barely legally old enough to fly on his own and Anthony looked about 30 years younger (swap years for kg for me). We went over with a home video camera and Maric – the self-proclaimed professional photographer who hasn’t yet figured out how to take a single decent photo of a car - brought along his super expensive camera gear. Though, to this date, he has not yet taken one usable photo.
The idea was to first drive the Veyron in France, then the Lamborghini Gallardo and Gallardo Superleggera in Sant’agata Italy followed by the Aston Martin DBS at Gaydon in the UK.
We landed in Germany, picked up a Ford Mondeo wagon rental and started our drive out to Molsheim. At this point in time, yours truly had never driven a left-hand drive vehicle and despite insisting that Crawford hand over the keys to the Ford so that I could gain some much-needed experience, the Veyron became – to my retrospective horror – the very first car I ever drove on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – at a tender 23 years old. The thought of that makes me quiver even today.
With Tony at the helm of the poor Ford, it immediately got a puncture. Like within 500m of leaving the airport, so we continued on (and well beyond 80km/h) on a space saver.
We arrived at a nearby hotel, well, motel at best and checked in to the one single large room that was meant to house us all. The excitement and jet lag didn’t lead to much sleep and we spent all night discussing what we were going to film over the next two days. We really didn’t have much of a plan or idea, but we certainly didn’t lack any enthusiasm.
You have to remember that whilst we have since had extensive video experience and made hundreds if not thousands of car videos each, at the time we were all pretty green and getting Crawford to remember a single sentence for the camera was akin to getting the truth from Trump.
The next morning, we got dressed and headed to Bugatti. Actually, if you look at Tony’s outfit in the photos, it looks like a homeless person’s loot with oversized pants and a jacket made for Michael Jordan fitted to Danny DeVito.
I had managed to lose my belt at the airport and came wearing jeans far too big, so it was a comedy of errors that led to far too many laughs then and for many years since. The PR person from Bugatti also made plenty of jokes about us in German, then later apologised as he realised we were recording the whole time and would potentially get it translated. Which led to even more laughs. Oh, and they took our passports when we got there and while we were driving the car. You know, just in case.
Tony had an Aston Martin badge on his Jacket (for some stupid reason, because he thought that may impress the Bugatti folks), which the Bugatti PR guy immediately removed with that German sense of humour. From here we got acquainted with the car and despite all the hype that it had to live up to, it lived up to and surpassed it with ease.
We pushed hard to film a factory tour and went on to become the first media organisation allowed to film inside the factory, this would have been epic had Karl not then whipped out his home video camera with tape to start the shoot. This left some horrified faces at Bugatti that may have originally mistaken us for a professional outfit. Hah.
Thankfully, despite the lack of proper equipment the video produced (bar our clothing, lack of any talent and otherwise) went absolutely nuts. It got featured on YouTube.com’s global homepage and picked up by Discovery channel for their supercar program (although, they removed Tony from the video to avoid making it a ‘supercars for the homeless’ special).
We then actually went on to drive the Veyron. We were told at the time that we became the first Australian media to do so, but apparently some of our now friends from Bauer had driven an almost production ready prototype some months back (but prototypes don’t count, right?).
If you haven’t seen one of these on the road before, it’s worth noting that it’s tiny. It’s like a cockroach in the way it sits and moves around. It’s a unique car. So we were a little surprised that we got handed the keys and given a fair bit of freedom to do as we please.
This was extremely nerve-wracking. I became the youngest person to have ever driven a Veyron (that they knew of) before we let Maric put on his P Plates (seriously) and take her for a quick spin (What the hell were we thinking? The guy used to think an apex was a brand of washing detergent). You can take the boy out of Geelong, but you can’t take Geelong out of the boy. For ten long, long years, Maric mentions the Bugatti in every sentence that is possible. If you ask him how he is today, he will say ‘I am great but not as great as that time I drove the Veyron, have I told you about that?’
As for me, I may or may not also drop it into a sentence on the odd occasion. Tony is so old now he can’t even remember ever driving the thing.
But whilst its fun to look back at it now, approaching a roundabout in a left-hand drive country with zero experience of driving on the wrong side of the road, in a 2.7 million dollar car, was scary as f#$k. It was easier to take it up to 361km/h on a highway that clearly had speed limits (no one at Bugatti seemed to care, though). That was fun, I have never felt tunnel vision like that since, nor have I ever been able to top that speed. Though that was the plan in the Koenigsegg CCX the year later.
Here’s the thing about the 1000hp hypercar, the original hypercar in fact. It’s unbelievably fast. Not like a Lamborghini Aventador or Performante fast, its off the charts fast. It makes you sick in how fast it is. To give you a good indication of its acceleration, once we finished with the Bugatti and went to Italy to drive the Lambos, we thought they were broken. Seriously, we took them back and asked them to be checked over because they felt so ‘slow’.
Tony and I drove that Veyron as fast it was legitimately possible. In damp, tiny streets surrounding the small French town. We did dozens of 0-100km/h runs, we drove so fast that I had to stop the car because I thought I would be sick. It’s hard to capture that experience in words so many years on, so if you want to read the original review by Tony, click here.
In many ways the Bugatti Veyron was meant to be our benchmark from which we could judge all else, that has come true, except that it has consequently ruined so many other special experiences, because... well, they weren’t as good as a Veyron.
Not to worry though, because at this very moment, we are planning our way back to Molsheim, to drive the Chiron. This time, we won’t stay in a motel or bring a home camera, Tony might even wear fitted clothing (and no, despite both of us having no other brand of clothing, we are not sponsored by Lacoste – yet) and it will be a professional shoot.
Even so, you never forget your first hypercar, right?