When Ferdinand Piech unveiled the Audi Avus concept car, was he already dreaming of a supercar that surpassed the competition? Unveiled at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show, this exceptional aluminum-bodied sports car featured the headlights of the future Bugatti Veyron and the latter’s W-shaped mechanical architecture.
Since the late 90s, the Volkswagen group’s strongman has spawned concept cars with this particular mechanical architecture and a similar approach: following the stunning Volkswagen W12 Syncro at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, and in the process in 1998, Bugatti, Bentley and Lamborghini bought around the same time, every new concept car introduced by one of Volkswagen’s new high-prestige brands felt like Piech’s statement of intent.
It started by installing a monstrous 18-cylinder W engine under the hood of the Giugiaro-designed 1998 Bugatti EB 118 concept at the Paris Motor Show. The following year, he kept it in the EB 218, an evolution of the EB 118 that was shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 1999. A few meters from the stand, behind the cockpit of the very same Swiss Bentley Hunaudières, was the new W16. show, in a naturally aspirated version with 8 liters and 630 hp instead of 6.25 liters and 555 hp for the big Bugattis’ W18. A few months later, the Bugatti Chiron concept presented at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show abandoned the sedan genre to return to supercars with the same W18 as the EB 118 and EB 218.
It was in 1999 at the Tokyo Motor Show that the Volkswagen Group conceptualized the Bugatti Veyron for the first time. It then took over the Chiron concept’s whimsical W18, but in a different body. Finally, on June 1, 2000, Audi presented the Rosemeyer concept, this time powered by a W16 from Bentley Hunaudière and connected to all-wheel drive for the first time (in a 710 hp version).
Bugatti Veyron, Ferdinand Piech’s chosen one
It is likely that Ferdinand Piech combined in his mind such a series of concept cars and technical options that Volkswagen’s great decision-maker finally stopped the conquest strategy after Paris Motor only at the end of 2000. Show where the EB16/4 Veyron concept with close-to-Audi Rosemeyer mechanics is on display: in addition to the series release of new W engines for top-of-the-range models from Volkswagen, Audi and Bentley, it’s now huge. The German group would design the world’s most powerful and fastest car. That task finally fell to Bugatti, and no longer Audi or Bentley, but with an improved version of the Veyron concept car. At the last minute, Piech ordered his team to produce over a thousand horsepower and a top speed of over 400 km/h. At a time when the most extreme machines on the market didn’t even reach 600 horsepower, the bar seemed very high.
Especially since Ferdinand Piech, the Austrian engineer who once developed the engine of the Porsche 917, literally dreamed up this supercar to be comfortable and take its two passengers to the opera in uniform. Five years later, after billions of sleepless nights of sweaty engineers, numerous management changes and endless budget stretches, Bugatti officially unveiled the first production Veyron to the international press. 0 to 100 km/h in 2.6 seconds, 0 to 200 km/h in 7.3 seconds, 0 to 300 km/h in 16.7 seconds (0 to 100 and 200 km in 2003 Ferrari Enzo /h vs. 3.65 and 9.6 seconds respectively) with a top speed of 407 km/h.
Test journalists spoke of many accelerations of historic violence, and these early testers appreciated the car’s surprisingly comfortable ride, worthy of a true GT. But the enthusiasm did not match the feedback from the grips of the Porsche Carrera GT or the Ferrari Enzo a few months ago. For example, Steve Sutcliffe of the British Autocar magazine wrote: “As a feat of engineering, the Bugatti Veyron will remain unrivaled for many years, perhaps forever. But that’s not enough to automatically make it the best supercar in the world. The most impressive, yes, without a doubt. But the most memorable? not for me”, he claimed. Described as a cold engineering machine and punished by some reliability problems in the advanced series reported during the first grips, Ferdinand Piech’s technological dream did not benefit from an excellent commercial start: invoice 1.64 million euros. Including VAT, Euro has struggled to please customers. Experienced in the most exciting Ferraris and Porsches to drive. Why pay so much for a car that is unanimously described as less exciting than an Enzo V12 or a Porsche V10? Was the dream of Ferdinand Piech just an expensive chimera of a megalomaniac engineer doomed to failure?