BUGATTI TYPE 35 AND VEYRON Past master and last-of-line meet in California
THE KINGS AND I
As Bugatti prepares to move into a new era, Robert Coucher drives an early masterpiece and the end-of-line Veyron back-to-back / Photography Dominic Fraser
The Bugatti Veyron is history. The King of the Road is dead. It was first launched ten years ago, and Bugatti has produced only 300 Veyron coupés and 150 roadsters. The cars are all sold and no more are to be constructed. We are at the end of this particular era of technical tour de force. The diminutive #Bugatti
Type 35T you see here was also an engineering marvel when it was launched in the early 1920s, and is arguably one of the most successful racing cars ever, with more than 2000 victories and podium finishes, including five consecutive wins on the Targa Florio, the toughest road race of them all.
So, two completely different motor cars from opposite ends of the automotive timeline. It is incredible to think that the Veyron has been around for a decade, and this Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse is the last of the illustrious line – and the Veyron is still the fastest car in the world. The World Record model holds the highest top speed – electronically limited to 268mph to prevent the tyres disintegrating! And this Grand Sport Vitesse holds the top speed record for a roadster at 254mph.After a decade dominating the high-speed, high-tech automotive world, the Veyron is still… the daddy.
The gestation of the Veyron was not easy. In the 1990s Volkswagen Group supremo Ferdinand Piëch decided a 1000bhp 400km/h supercar would be a good idea. Having been the brains behind the all-conquering Porsche 917 and Audi Quattro, he’s the sort of fellow who thinks at that rarefied level. He charged his top engineers with delivering the project and, after a year expending maximum brainpower and engineering skill, they failed.
So Dr Wolfgang Schreiber was brought in as chief engineer and Le Mans racer Thomas Bscher was appointed as president, and the über-complicated Veyron came to fruition and blew away everything that had gone before. Among car enthusiasts the Veyron was met with mixed reaction. Yes, its performance statistics were unbelievable and it pushed the boundaries of the hypercar beyond comprehension. But to some it seemed too big, too complicated and too much. A completely different animal to the lean, minimal and beautiful (mostly) vintage Bugattis of the past. But these armchair critics had probably never slipped down behind the thick-rimmed, EBembossed steering wheel of a Veyron. Trust me, you’ll never experience anything else like it out there in the mad, bad world.
With those 450 examples now built and sold out, the model certainly found the clientele it was aimed at. There are urban myths about Bugatti losing money on every Veyron but, at €2 million a pop, depending on specs, that’s almost a billion into the Bugatti coffers. As successful as the great Type 35? Probably. Indeed, the Veyron is expensive to run, with a full service at around £14,000 and a set of tyres costing £23,000, with new rims required every five tyre-changes at £7000 a corner. Oh yes, and at full chat it will drain its fuel tank in eight minutes flat. But as the owners probably run thirsty private jets and superyachts as well, so what?
The Veyron is often compared to the legendary McLaren F1 (of which only 106 examples were ever constructed), the car that held the supercar mantle until Piëch and his boys unceremoniously yanked it away. Gordon Murray’s F1 is different to the Veyron, being light (1250kg), pure and untainted by such driver aids as traction control. Hell, it doesn’t even have servo-assisted brakes. Back in 2010 we did a track test with Rowan Atkinson comparing his McLaren F1 against a Veyron brought along by test driver and ex-Formula 1 and Le Mans racer Pierre-Henri Raphanel. Up at Rockingham Motor Speedway, the track was treacherously wet. Rowan, being Rowan, gave both cars the beans (sorry) and, while the all-wheel-drive Veyron remained clamped to the glistening tarmac at stupendous speed, the McLaren was immediately sliding off-line at some very adventurous angles.
I’ve had the good fortune to drive an F1 on fast country roads through France and it’s a superb machine with that naturally aspirated 627bhp 6.0-litre V12, which sounds soulsoaringly wonderful. But on tricky roads it’s a handful. Think of an early Porsche 911 with way too much power. The McLaren is astonishingly fast but I had problems keeping up with a Ferrari 599 on the unknown roads. With the normally urbane and smooth owner sitting next to me fast turning pale I was circumspect, especially when he told me he’d just taken the F1 to McLaren for a bit of servicing and sorting out. The bill was around £20,000. Hmm, these hypercars are all expensive to run and, now that McLaren F1s are valued at around £8 million, well, a sub-£1-million, pre-owned Veyron looks like good value no matter how many tyres you shred.
I drove a Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse last year on the Mille Miglia, taking a morning’s break from competing in a 1931 Bugatti Type 51 racer. Manuela Hoehne, Bugatti’s head of communications, gave me the key on the second day of the Mille and let me loose through the Italian mountains. On a particularly challenging section of road we came up behind mybête noire… a 599GTO.
Its driver clocked the big Veyron in his mirrors and went into full-blooded attack mode. He drove the Ferrari well and absolutely flat out. He cut the apexes, flinging dirt at the Bug, and used every millimetre of the road, slewing the 599 at ten tenths. In the Veyron I clicked down a gear and watched the antics at about six tenths. The Veyron idly toyed with the 599 without even beginning to try.
So here we are in California on the quiet and genteel 17 Mile Drive near Monterey (in the Land of the Free, the armed guards check you in and out at the security gate) with this Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse and the well-used Type 35T. And riding shotgun to show us how it’s done is Le Mans winner Andy Wallace (he piloted the fearsome ground-effect 240mph TWR Jaguar XJR9 in 1988). Without wanting to blow hot air up his intake restrictor, Andy is a gentleman and tremendously overqualified to show a bunch of hacks around these great cars. But he remains polite, patient and amusing and is incredibly well informed about everything Bugatti.
Now I’m not going to kid you that we laid all 1200bhp (metric) of Veyron power (and 120bhp of Type 35 grunt) down along the guntoting enclave of 17 Mile Drive but it makes a dramatic backdrop to these dramatic motor cars and I hope you enjoy Dominic Fraser’s photographs. Andy has driven many properly fast cars at insane speeds but he is clearly taken with these Bugattis.
The Veyron looks menacing but the finish of the matched carbonfibre-weave bodywork is lustrous and the two-tone blue colour scheme looks smart and expensive. Against it, the faded and patinated Type 35T looks almost like a child’s toy car. But don’t be fooled, it is anything but.
Says Andy: ‘The Veyron is set up to understeer slightly but this can easily be balanced by the throttle and the turn-in is razor sharp. The engine has huge reserves of torque and the steering is terrifically accurate and communicative. The Grand Sport Vitesse has a slightly softer damping set-up than the coupé, which gives it a very composed ride, so the car is not in any way intimidating and can be threaded down a road with accuracy. The really amazing thing is its sheer traction. Hop in and I’ll show you.’
The cockpit is very low, the seats are mounted low in the frame and I find it amusing that on this €1.9-million car they are adjusted manually by pulling on the lever at the front of the squab. Good old-fashioned weight-saving to prune the Bug’s kerbweight down to 1990kg! The interior is quite simple but beautifully hewn. The leather buckets are offset by blue stitching and that massive steering wheel is a work of pure art. ‘Being so low-slung helps the handling as the car’s centre of gravity is as near to the ground as possible,’ says Andy, as he fires the 8.0-litre W16 engine. The sound is astonishing. It is unlike that of any other motor car. It’s a hard, aggressive, loud monotone. The engine has four turbochargers and their whooshing overlays the mechanical thunder.
Andy snicks the delicate shifter into Drive and eases away. The flat engine note climbs as the seven-speed dual-clutch ’box slurs up through the cogs. The road clears and Andy looks at me. Here we go. I know what’s coming so I brace myself and tense my neck muscles as tightly as I can. With a monstrous roar the Veyron launches and, yep, my head smacks back onto the headrest. Hard.
The raw acceleration is quite stupendous. Your brain takes a couple of milliseconds to catch up with the speed of movement as your eardrums are assailed by the mighty bellow from behind. Le Mans winner Wallace was being gentle up until now but he’s morphed into a focused racer as he firmly takes control of the 1184bhp Bug. And when it is time to slowdown hedoessowithabsoluteconviction. He stands on the brake pedal and the huge carbon-ceramic discs cut the speed with such ferocity I’m slammed up hard against the seatbelt. Oof.
This Veyron experience is as overwhelming as always. ‘The tyres are not up to temperature just yet so the gearbox is selecting second gear to allow the most traction from a standing start,’ says Andy. I’m not looking forward to the full-on first gear thrust, I can tell you. And no, we won’t be troubling the special key that is required to unlock speeds of over 375km/h.
Andy then lets me take the wheel and I’m reminded of the Veyron’s beautifully fluid and feelsome steering, the awesome brakes, forgiving suspension and the pure rush of driving such a machine. When left in automatic it’s happy to potter but use the paddles and it’s supersonic. Bear in mind the Veyron’s top speed is 100mph higher than Concord’s landing speed. Ample sufficiency.
Climbing out of the recessed Veyron and into the Type 35T is a reverse shock. You feel perched and exposed in its tight cockpit, with your feet scrabbling for room on the oil-kissed bare aluminium gearbox case. Whippet-slim Andy leaps behind the wheel and deftly sets about the start-up procedure. Kill switch, ignition, magnetos and fuel switches – I pump the dash-mounted fuel pump up to pressure – before firing up the 2.3-litre straighteight, which burst into angry action. The whole car shivers and shakes with mechanical energy. The exhaust is deliciously raspy and loud through the delicate twin tailpipes, and the view through the aero-screen and down the long, louvred bonnet with its leather straps is emotive.
Julius Kruta, head of tradition at Bugatti, freely admits this Type 35T (‘T’ for Targa Florio) is something of a bitsa, but they’re all real bits and it’s used properly by the enthusiastic Bugatti staffers who are lucky enough to take it on the Mille Miglia and other historic events. Incidentally, Pierre Veyron was an early Bugatti development engineer and driver and he won the 1939 Le Mans with Jean- Pierre Wimille, co-driving the rather bulbouslooking Type 57G ‘Tank’. He is honoured with the latest Bugatti being named after him.
The Type 35 has its pedals in the normal layout – many of its contemporaries have the throttle in the middle – but the gearshift pattern is the ‘wrong’ way around, with first gear to the left and back, third back and right. No matter, Andy guns the straight-eight, eases it into cog one via the long shifter poking out through the aluminium bodywork, and the lightweight 750kg Bug roars away with glee. Immediately he’s ‘on it’, enjoying hustling the little Bug through the curves with beautifully clean gearshifts. The skinny tyres offer little grip and soon we are sliding neatly through the corners.
The T35 is superbly balanced with 50:50 weight distribution and, when I take my turn behind the large-diameter, thin-rimmed wooden steering wheel, it is incredibly alive and involving. The brakes are cable-operated but they work. You need to get your head around the gearshift pattern and the crash ’box. It doesn’t require force and the trick is to let the shifter linger in neutral, doubledeclutch, and then use your fingertips to snap it into the next gear. Best not to keep rubbing the gear selector up against the cogs.
The steering is quick and direct and the gear ratios are tightly stacked but whine loudly in third. The ride is very good for a car of this era and you can feel its racing pedigree. But it’s the jewel-like engine that’s the real joy. It has lots of grunt and is cracklingly eager to rev and makes driving down any road a total pleasure. Impressive for a 90-year-old machine.
While both of these motor cars are Bugattis, they are not really comparable. Yet both exhibit engineering of the highest standards and both break the rules, the Type 35T being the first race-winning motor car you could use effectively on road and track, and the Veyron because it redefined any previous envelope of performance.
Which to have? Well, obviously, both. Which one would I like most? The Type 35T, because it is one of the greatest vintage motor cars ever and I could have all sorts of fun with it, popping to the shops, blasting around the Mille Miglia or sliding around a racetrack with the Vintage Sports-Car Club nutters.
The Veyron, on the other hand, is an expression of utterly astonishing automotive engineering but, as I’m not part of the jet set, it’s not for me. Le roi est mort, vive le roi… Turn to the next page.
Right and below. An 8.0-litre quad-turbo W16 versus a twin-cam straight-eight: the elder is simpler and more purist in its approach, but there’s no denying the appeal of that thundering 1184bhp.
TECHNICAL DATA 2015 #Bugatti-16.4-Veyron-Grand-Sport-Vitesse
ENGINE 7993cc W16, DOHC per bank, four turbochargers, electronic fuel injection and engine management
POWER 1184bhp @ 6000rpm
TORQUE 1106lb ft @ 3000-5000rpm
TRANSMISSION Seven speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive
SUSPENSION Double wishbone hydraulic with three height settings
BRAKES Carbon-ceramic discs; rear spoiler acts as air brake above 120mph
STEERING Rack and pinion, power-assisted
PERFORMANCE Top speed 254mph. 0-60mph 2.6sec
TECHNICAL DATA #1925 #Bugatti-Type-35T
ENGINE 2262c straight-eight, OHC, twin #Solex
POWER 120bhp @ 5200rpm
TORQUE 100lb ft @ 4000rpm
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
SUSPENSION Front: hollow axle, leaf springs, friction dampers. Rear: live axle, cantilevered quarter-elliptic leaf springs, friction dampers
BRAKES Drums, cable-operated
STEERING Worm and roller
Top speed 120mph
‘CLIMBING OUT OF THE VEYRON AND INTO THE TYPE 35T IS A REVERSE SHOCK. YOU FEEL PERCHED AND EXPOSED IN ITS TIGHT COCKPIT’
Left and right A tale of contrasts: nine decades separate Type 35 from the last of the Veyrons, which has ten times the power but also three times the weight. Interior character has evolved from raw racer to first-class luxury.
‘ANDY WALLACE HAS DRIVEN MANY PROPERLY FAST CARS AT INSANE SPEEDS BUT HE IS CLEARLY TAKEN WITH THESE BUGATTIS’