By Mike Hanlon
Whether it be the world's fastest car or the world's strongest beer, the old maxim that "competition improves the breed" seems to hold true. Volkswagen spent an extraordinary amount of money, time and effort creating the 408 km/h (254 mph), 1001bhp Bugatti Veyron in 2005 — it knocked off the 387.37 km/h (240.7 mph) record set by Koenigsegg's CCR to become the fastest, most powerful and most expensive car ever built. Then SSC came along with the Ultimate Aero TT to set a new world mark of 412.28 km/h (256.18 mph). Now Bugatti's new Veyron Super Sport has pushed the record to 431 km/h.
SSC held the title for three years, but although it is known to have a car under construction which is targeting 280 mph, it is a far more multi-dimensional company than one which just builds fast cars. One of its other interesting projects is worth a look.
One of the major problems with building extreme cars is that such companies also have an obligation to create vehicles which can safely travel at such extreme speeds, and it isn't cheap engineering a road car into the unknown realm beyond 400 km/h. SSC and Bugatti are the only manufacturers with cars available that will travel at more than 400 km/h and Bugatti's latest record has now pushed that to a whopping 431.072 km/h—putting that in perspective, it's a statement of capability of Bugatti-proportions.
Adding nearly 20 km/h to a world speed record, after 120 years of human endeavour in the field, is a gargantuan achievement. It's a quantum leap forward—the equivalent of shaving a second from the world record for the 100 metre dash. It's hard to believe it's even possible to do that and still be able to viably sell such vehicles by making a profit.
431 km/h is a fearsome speed.
That's as fast as Shanghai's Maglev train, and if you've ever had the pleasure of watching mother earth flash past at that speed from the Maglev, you will appreciate exactly what I'm referring to. Scenery becomes blurred. The whole carriages twitch very quickly and suddenly you're aware of hypersonic wind roar outside which even the magnificently engineered levitating projectile cannot disguise. It's 100 km/h faster than the current state-of-the-art 250 bhp 2010 MotoGP bikes. of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Stoner, Rossi et al.Indeed, it's a speed you do not see even see on a racetrack because they are nowhere near long enough to get to top speed.
When they used Jenson Button's V10-powered Honda F1 car as a base for a land speed record in 2006, the best it could achieve on the salt flats at Bonneville was 400 km/h.
In two way average speeds over different distances it clocked 397.360 km/h (246.908mph) and 397.481 km/h (246.983mph). On one run down a measured mile, it bested the magic 400 km/h with a pass of 400.454 km/h. The original Veyron could outrun a Formula One car.
Aerodynamics play an important role at such speeds. For a record attempt that focusses on speed alone, it's basically how many horsepower can you muster to push the air out of the way, and then what you can do to reduce frontal area and co-efficient of drag, or aerodynamic friction.
Going fast is just half the battle for a luxury car manufacturer. Bugatti must also ensure a perfectly civilized automobile for all other speeds—quite some benchmarks to set when your car will hit 430 km/h.
Then there's the safety aspect. It's also a frightful speed if things go wrong, and Bugatti has met the full measure of its responsibilities in producing a car engineered to be safe at that speed. This isn't a stripped out one-trick beast that can outrun a Formula One car on an autobahn, it's also a refined, roadgoing, well mannered automobile.
Five replica record-breakers will be built and sold, complete with identical everything, including paint. The five identical cars of unmatched exclusivity and provenance have already been sold to five very wealthy, undisclosed gentlepersons.
The vehicles are limited to a top speed of 415 km/h due to the limits of the tyres, not the car, but will be otherwise in identical tune and trim to the Super Sport driven by Bugatti's Pilote Officiel, Pierre Henri Raphanel to the world record.
With our fullest respect, SSC will need to have some luck to best this speed any time soon. Based on extensive testing, the Bugatti team was aiming for a two-way average of 425 km/h when the attempt was staged. It was delighted to hit 427.9 km/h on the first run. On the return run, the car went even faster, clocking 434 km/h and returning an average speed 6 km/h faster than the target and nearly 20 km/h faster than the previous record, thanks to almost perfect conditions. Some speed record attempts in history have required entire teams camping on location for months for a record attempt. This was done and dusted in a day.
The speed is so high that it would have given the current day Bugatti Super Sports (had it been around back in the day), the outright land speed record until November 19, 1937 when British driver George Eyston's Thunderbolt ran 311 mph on Bonneville Salt Flats.
The most important thing to recognize with the Super Sports is that it is substantially reengineered from the original Veyron to cope with the added speed — the extreme forces on an automobile do not rise in a linear fashion as speeds rise from 410 km/h to 430 km/h and the Super Sport is indeed the climax of the Veyron series. It was not just a matter of squeezing an additional 200 bhp from the Veyron's 1001 bhp W16 motor but upgrading every aspect of the Veyron to ensure the vehicle continues to behave well in the new realm beyond 410 km/h.
To fully understand Bugatti's engineering approach, it is necessary to be aware of the history of the name.
In short, Ettore Bugatti was an Italian aristocrat born into a famous family of artists and sculptors. Bugatti tackled automation and became a lion in the development of high quality and high performance machinery. His track record of building machinery which captured world speed records in four quite different endeavours—cars, boats, trains AND aeroplanes, make Ettore Bugatti, an automation polymath with no equal.
Industrial giants, Kings, Heads of State and the wealthiest people of the day all sought Bugatti's automobiles and if they were of poor manners or disposition, then he was just as likely to refuse them the badge of honour they sought.
Though he chose a different path to the rest of his family of extraordinarily high achievers, it was Ettore who gave the family name its global renown.
The Bugatti family (Ettore collaborated closely with his son Jean who died testing a race car in 1939) also built the most successful racing car in history and the most expensive automobile in history.
VW purchased the name a few years ago and created the fastest, most powerful, most expensive Veyron, and in so doing, the exclusive brand name was successfully resurrected.
The car which will follow the Veyron series will be the US$1,470,000 16C Galibier, which will be, predictably, the fastest, most exclusive and most powerful four door automobile available. The Galibier comes with a Tourbillon wristwatch by Parmigiani which doubles as the clock on the dashboard.
In keeping with a tradition established by the aforementioned aristocracy which would routinely ask Ettore to give their car a special extra few horsepower, Bugatti had apparently been getting similar requests from its current Veyron owners and the Super Sports has been cast as Bugatti's response to its customer needs.
I'm sure that at least some of the justification for the Super Sport was also the desire to deliver an appropriate Bugatti response to the SSC world record.
Some examples of the detail of the new car are quite remarkable. The carbon fiber body has been aerodynamically refined for "efficiency" and so the car will "maintain perfect balance in every situation." The refined shape and advances in carbon fiber construction have enabled the weight to be reduced from that of the original carbon fiber Veyron chassis, at the same time as increasing torsion rigidity. It's not just the top speed and the power that have changed. Almost everything is better.
This fits perfectly with the heritage of Bugatti, and the astonishing quality of its workmanship.
Bugatti designed and built the world's most successful racing car EVER—its record will never be matched. His cars, planes, boats and trains went faster than anything had ever done before.
But it is the legend of the sunken Bugatti which best illustrates just how good Bugatti was at building quality that lasted. Last July a salvage team pulled a 1925 Bugatti Type 22 from Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, where it had been more than 50 meters below the surface, for over 70 years. How it got there, and the legend of its existence all contribute to the legend, but the remarkable condition of the car dwarfed all other aspects.
The car will soon be on display in America in its unrestored glory as living proof of the craftsmanship of the era in general, and the Bugatti marque in particular.
Now that the first five cars have been created in the record breaker's black and orange livery, Bugatti's customers can now order the car in clear lacquer. Without paint, the exquisite detail of the workmanship involved in building a car almost entirely out of carbon fibre composite becomes evident. Whatever the five owners of the replicas paid, their investment will almost certainly appreciate for a long time to come—one wonders what such a vehicle at auction might bring now?
While prodigious top speed is the most obvious difference from the original Veyron, there's also better handling thanks to lighter weight, increased wheel travel, and revised suspension and new shock absorbers from motor racing. Bugatti claims this gives noticeably more precise control of the wheels and the car as a whole.
The top speed might be the most prominent marketing characteristic of the Super Sport, but in most environments, you'll never see that speed — even long racetracks aren't long enough to allow a car like this to approach its top speed.
Unless they wish to hire Nardo for a day, the owners of these cars will probably never see 431 km/h on the dashboard.
While the speed may not be evident, the most obvious driving characteristic that every driver will be perpetually aware of, every day, every time he or she depresses the accelerator just a millimeter or two, is the massive mid-range grunt.
How much grunt? Imagine getting 1,500 Newton metres of torque into those massive tyres on every corner exit. Bugatti claims "a lateral acceleration of up to 1.4 G plus improved interaction between the tyres and the intelligent all-wheel drive system".
The innovative W16 light alloy engine develops a phenomenal 736 kW (987 bhp) at 6000/min and is installed in the mid-engine position ahead of the car's rear axle. Because of the W configuration—essentially two V8 engines grafted together, the 64 valve, 7,993 cc engine remains very compact at 710 millimetres long and 767 mm wide. The Veyron produced an almost unfeasibly strong mid-range, unleashing 1,250 Newton-metres via the intelligent all-wheel-drive—the Veyron Super Sport has an additional 20% more pulling power at useable speeds.
It achieved this increase of both 20% of mid-range and 20% of power, with the help of four enlarged turbochargers and bigger intercoolers.
The chassis is stronger and lighter and the suspension has also been reworked with more main-spring travel, stronger stabilisers, and new shock absorbers.
The Super Sport will begin production this year at Bugatti's Molsheim plant and appeared for the first time on the concept lawn of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance last month.