The Bugatti Veyron is special.
Launched in 2005, the Bugatti Veyron was, and is, unlike anything else on the road. With an original list price of roughly 1.25 million dollars, the Bugatti Veyron entered the field with an 8-litre W16 engine spinning four turbochargers and offering 1001 horse power.
With grip provided by a Haldex all-wheel drive system, the original Bugatti Veyron was, at its release, the fastest production car in the world, with a top speed of 253.81 mph (408.47 km/h). For perspective, consider that the record bested by the Veyron had been set in 1993 by the 627 hp McLaren F1 – the Veyron was the next generation of speed. 2009 saw the introduction of the Grand Sport 16.4, which featured a removable targa roof, allowing you to enjoy a bit of sun while the cops readied your latest speeding ticket.
In 2010, for reasons most obvious (money, power, glory), Bugatti decided that the Veyron needed a little something extra, and upped the ante with an additional 199 hp. The new Bugatti Veyron Super Sport was born, and drove directly into the record books with a truly fantastic top speed of 267.86 mph. Finally, in 2012, all of these iterations came together in the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse, a targa-equipped model with the 1200 hp engine from the Super Sport. For around $2.5 million dollars, it seems you can have your cake and eat it too.
Furthermore, as supercars are often appreciated by watch lovers, it is of no surprise that Bugatti has a relationship with a high-end Swiss watch brand. Over the past decade, Parmigiani has worked with Bugatti to produce dual-branded timepieces such as the recent Aerolithe Flyback Chronograph and the-avant garde Bugatti Super Sport watch. Very special watches for very special cars.
I am not special.
Believe it or not, I am not Simon Cowell, Tom Cruise, Jay-Z, or Tom Brady (all Veyron owners). Indeed, I lead an average existence that would make for a truly unwatchable episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous. I’ve never been on a private jet, my friends are not titans of industry and I don’t have a foreign bank account. All of this is not to say that I don’t lead a rich and fulfilling life, but rather to illustrate just how absurd it is that I got to drive a Bugatti Veyron.
I’ve been deep into cars since I was old enough to read Road & Track, so when I was given the opportunity to attend Pebble Beach with Parmigiani Fleurier, it was a struggle to confirm my attendance in anything other than caps lock and wingdings. A couple of weeks later, I received a follow-up email that casually asked if I might be interested in a spin in a Bugatti Veyron at some point during the trip – queue restless nights, waves of happy/anxious neck pain, and the possible development of a facial tick.
Fast forward a few agonizingly long weeks, and I find myself trying to play it cool while I wait for a client to return in *my* Veyron. I’ve signed papers that, financially speaking, put the entire weight of the Bugatti Veyron’s intimidating value solely upon my vast kingdom, or the kingdom of my offspring, should I perish while behind the wheel. The “test drive” would take place on the open roads around the Quail Lodge in Carmel, and I would be in (hopefully) full control of 1200 well-fed ponies after a brief introduction and ride with a Bugatti Test Driver.
Roughly the size of a last-gen Ford Fusion, the Bugatti Veyron is not a huge car, but it has an amazing amount of presence, especially when you approach it with the intention of cracking a door and dropping into one of the body-hugging bucket seats.
My Veyron was all sorts of blue. The exterior was mostly clear-coated carbon fiber with a blue highlight in the weave, and the lower stance of the car was finished in Bugatti racing blue. Likewise, the interior was replete with blue leather and matching blue carbon fiber trim. Make no mistake, regardless of color, the Bugatti Veyron looks extreme, rather vulgar, and bloody expensive.
Once inside the cabin, I was surprised by the minimal design of the controls and layout. It’s not that any feature has been omitted, but rather each feature has been made to require the least amount of input from the driver. There is a clock, a simple stereo with a cd slot, and a matching set of buttons and knobs for the climate control system. The passenger has literally nothing in front of them, save for a wide panel of sumptuous leather and the road ahead.
With the best seat in the house, the driver has fast access to all of the controls and the gauge cluster that offers a view of the current horse power, a combo tachymeter, and digital display for gearing or additional messages (speed), and an analog speedometer that tops out at an indicated 280 MPH. Anything you can touch is metal or leather, and the steering wheel is small enough for the sort of spirited driving one might attempt in such a car. As the Bugatti Veyron is fitted with a sequential dual clutch gearbox, the driver can select gears via the steering wheel-mounted paddles or a lever in the center console. If you own a Bugatti Veyron, I suppose you could also use the fully automatic setting, but that option seemed both wasteful and entirely offensive on a test drive such as this.
Bugatti’s test driver, the affable Andy Wallace, took me out of the parking lot and down the main way to Carmel Valley Road, all the while explaining features and sharing development notes from the many versions of the Bugatti Veyron and how they affected the configuration of this Grand Sport Vitesse. He explained that the active aerodynamics and ride height of the car change with speed, braking, and whether or not you’ve opted to remove the roof (which limits the top speed to a barely-acceptable 229 mph).
After a few agonizing minutes of listening to the 8-litre-purr behind me, Andy pinned the throttle and gave me a little taste of the Bugatti Veyron’s sweet definition of speed. I’ve been in a few fast cars, and I’ve been in some cars that were scary when pushed, and the Bugatti Veyron is fast by a completely different measure, and that speed comes without a hint of sketchiness. When you consider that it’s making two times the power of a Ferrari 458, a hard second-gear launch should be accompanied by tire spin, instability, and a handful of naughty lights on the dash. In the Bugatti Veyron, you get none of that, just rollercoaster-like g-force and a brief moment in which your brain scrambles to pick up the papers you just blew of its desk.
After such an instance of acceleration, Andy jumped on the brakes and I’d bet the pavement folded up in front of the wheels. The braking opened my eyes to the ethos of the Veyron. It’s… more. Moments later, we had pulled over and, after a few quick photos, I was in the driver’s seat, facing a twisty bit of California side road with the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and 1200 horsepower under my right foot.
I took off slowly, cautiously, expecting the car to surprise or scare me. The speedo was less intimidating because I am used to the metric system, and the Bugatti Veyron does a lot to insulate the driver from the ever-blurring world around them. When driving like a regular person in a regular car, the Bugatti Veyron is compliant and more comfortable than I expected. It took roughly thirty seconds for me to tire of cruising speed, and a quick pull of the left paddle brought all 16 cylinders to attention. I stomped on the accelerator and the response forced a complete perspective change within my mind. For a brief moment, pseudo-panic set in, the sort of feeling I’ve had in the slow-motion seconds before a car accident. That panic is quickly dissipated in a crashing wave of adrenaline. While only a moment has passed, I’m going very fast and pushing towards the top of third gear.
As the speed reaches triple digits, my brain goes into risk assessment mode, and I start to calculate just how quickly I’m going hit that car in front of me. A car that was a thousand feet away, now seems to be drawn towards me, as though it’s caught in a vacuum. I lift, and before reaching the brake pedal I hear the release of the wastegates and the de-acceleration of the gearing is enough to drag me back to reality. I am now into the brakes and realizing that I had so much more space than I first thought. The Bugatti Veyron is capable of a 0-60 run of just 2.4 seconds and will cover a standing quarter mile in a hair under 10 seconds. While driving the Bugatti Veyron, my perception of space changed ever so slightly, distance was much shorter when I was on the power – and so much longer when I was deep into the brakes.
The grip, even when winding along a canyon road, is impressive. The steering is a bit numb, but still very direct and faster than I expected for a car like the Bugatti Veyron. Perhaps the strangest element for a regular guy is the effect it has on those around you. Pedestrians wave, other drivers flash their lights and, perhaps most astonishing, was the Honda Civic that flat out pulled off the road to let me by. Maybe it was just luck, maybe the driver was scared, or maybe it was a kind-hearted fellow regular guy that didn’t want to hold up a Veyron on a fast and windy stretch of road. Regardless, I like to think that he or she was thrilled to have a Veyron blow by with third-gear in full effect. I know I would have been.
The Veyron eggs me on.
There is a numbness to the speed I experienced, because it is so far from the limit of what is possible for this car, like how 25 mph doesn’t seem that fast in your rusty Cavalier. Every gap, every slow minute to build a space in front of me, my Veyron-addled mind was looking for reasons to get that horse power gauge all the way to 1200. Pull after pull, my level of comfort grew wider and my ability to think rationally faded away until I was simply the automotive equivalent of a slot machine junky.
Pull, engage, recover, repeat.
Reality struck when I was on the road back to the lodge – back to my real life – and a glistening Pagani Huayra pulled into a gap I was building for the traffic ahead. The Huayra, while different in so many ways, competes in the same circles as the Bugatti Veyron, and seeing one on the road was a stark reminder that I was nothing more than an interloper in this existence.
I would soon arrive back at the lodge knowing I had to face a post-Veyron existence that would assuredly be a more enlightened but perhaps less exciting path. I had met a hero, and I had eaten the forbidden fruit. It’s not necessarily that the Bugatti Veyron is a new standard among supercars (which was certainly true when it was released), it’s that the expanse that exists between the sorts of cars that have been my daily drivers (think: ’89 Blazer S, ’94 V6 Cavalier Wagon, ’91 Mazda 929) and a car like the Bugatti Veyron gives me a true and literal understanding of the term “supercar”. If Clark Kent were a car, he may well be a Jeep Cherokee or an Oldsmobile Alero, but Superman is of a different planet, and the Bugatti Veyron is simply out of this world.
I am just a regular guy, the sort that is closer to ownership of a Veyron poster than the actual car. I’ve been in fast cars, and I’ve certainly driven fast in slow cars, but this was my first experience in a top tier supercar. It goes without saying (especially if you’ve read this far) that if you can wrangle your way into a truly special car, Veyron or otherwise, it’s worth whatever hoops you have to jump through. I will never forget my 30 minutes in that car and I will undoubtedly carry my Veyron-smile with me for the rest of my days. My most enthusiastic thanks to Bugatti and the kind folks at Parmigiani Fleurier for getting me in the driver’s seat – the 6-year-old inside me owes you all a great big hug. bugatti.com