SPEED KINGS

BY RICHARD HESELTINE PICS LUC LACEY


Early pluck has given way to intestine-wrangling tension – not that there’s anyone close enough to hear you curse. It’s just you, a Bugatti Chiron that is limited to 420km/h, and an ugly scar of blacktop that doesn’t feel level, even on foot. Take a breath. You know the drill. Word to the wise: if you absolutely have to talk to a car, for best results adopt a respectful tone. Launch… and we’re done with complete sentences.

So there you have it, the Chiron is fast. Who knew?

In a very roundabout way, it was Ferruccio Lamborghini – a man who in his own time upended the exotic market – who initiated the EB110. A discussion at the 1986 Turin Salon between the latter-day vintner and big-haired car dealer/importer Romano Artioli about resurrecting Bugatti led to further discussions, from which the nucleus of what we now know as the EB110 emerged. Lamborghini soon lost interest, but a highly motivated Artioli persuaded the French state-owned SNECMA aerospace company to sell the rights to the name. Bugatti Automobili was registered in Italy in October 1987. All that was needed was a product to sell.

Then there was the engine, an all-alloy, 60-valve V12 furnished with four tiny IHI turbochargers. Power was transmitted to all four wheels via a six-speed gearbox, while suspension was by conventional double wishbones and coil springs with twin spring/damper units at either end. Brembo provided the brakes, and Michelin developed special tyres for a machine that, during the homologation stage, established a production-car speed record of 342km/h.

THE CHIRON OPERATES AT THE OUTER LIMITS OF AN ENVELOPE ALREADY PUSHED BY THE MODELS THAT PRECEDED IT – THE EB110 AND VEYRON

Then the global economy tanked. The proposed Giorgetto Giugiaro-styled EB112 super-sedan was quietly dropped as production of the EB110 coughed and spluttered, with sales never getting close to the envisaged 300 units per year. Deliveries began in December 1992 and ended in September ’95. A mere 85 ‘entry level’ GT editions were made (one in right-hand drive), along with 30 carbonfibre-bodied Supersports and 13 test hacks.

Scroll forward to 1999 and there was a styling proposal, an 18-cylinder engine and only the vaguest notion of what to do next. It wasn’t until 2001 that the VW board agreed to build the Veyron in series, with the first prototype being completed in 2003. Power now came from a 7993cc 16-cylinder ‘W’ unit that essentially comprised two 4.0-litre V8s on a common crank. This was coupled to a Ricardo-developed dual-clutch, direct-shift, seven-speed transmission. Like its EB110 predecessor, it came with permanent four-wheel drive.

THE EB110 GT WAS OFFICIALLY THE FASTEST ROAD CAR AVAILABLE, AND ARGUABLY THE MOST SOPHISTICATED

All told, 407 Veyrons were made to 2013, each losing the parent company a fortune, but VW appeared happy to toss millions more onto the pyre with the creation of its replacement, the otherworldly Chiron. Mirroring Piech’s prior mandate, former Porsche R&D chief turned Bugatti/Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer gave his factotums a simple instruction: “Make the new car better than the Veyron in every respect.”

Nevertheless, when the Chiron was first revealed in 2016, some quarters of the media couldn’t help but point out that it was slower than the Veyron Super Sport. Bugatti’s retort was unambiguous: the car was limited to 420km/h for, ahem, ‘safety reasons’. The tyres might go pop at 421. Without the restrictor, and ignoring the rubber-related issue, it could reach at least 445. And of course now we know the Chiron is capable of at least 490km/h, after a ‘long-tail’ prototype – now officially confirmed as the Chiron ‘Super Sport 300 Plus’ – broke through the fabled 300mph barrier in the hands of test driver Andy Wallace at Ehra-Lessien in August.

There are no creaks, groans or clunks through the structure. The suspension soaks up the worst surface imperfections and, at ‘enthusiastic’ speeds, the EB110 doesn’t intimidate. The

Then there’s the Veyron. Nothing about this car is in the realms of the normal – not least the styling, which still polarises opinion. Open the (conventional) door, stoop to enter while also negotiating the wide sill, and the cockpit is a work of art in itself. The carbonfibre seats are swathed in hides from pampered cows, the centre console is made of a single piece of aluminium, while the instruments are jewel-like in appearance, if not necessarily easy to read at a glance. It’s supremely comfortable in here, even if there are a few built-in blind spots.

Track limitations mean v-max runs are out of the question today, but from experience we know the Veyron doesn’t threaten to take flight north of 250km/h. And that it’s a lot easier to navigate through cityscapes than you might imagine, so long as you remember to change the suspension settings from Handling to Standard. You really can potter in a Veyron.

You can’t help but be blown away by the attention to detail, even if those details might not be to all tastes. For starters, the badge is made of genuine sterling silver – and, we’re told, the audio tweeters contain real diamonds. Yes, really. The craftsmanship here is breathtaking, as befits a car costing what it does. (A lot.)

LEECHING OFF THE ORIGINAL MARQUE? WE WOULD COUNTER THAT THEY SIMPLY ADD FURTHER LUSTRE

It isn’t just the straight-line stuff that blows your mind, either. Emerge from a bend with your right foot only half buried and torque is transferred with the minimum of fuss. It’s just that your neck now has a crick in it. As with the other two, it is hard not to lapse into blissed-out reverie trying to describe how amazing the Chiron is to drive.

And the really controversial bit? If we had the wherewithal, the slowest car here would be our pick. The EB110 is, in just about every quantifiable way, the least-good car of the trio, but it worms its way into your affections. It might not be perfect, but it’s a car you love rather than admire. Which is how it should be.