I love invitations, don’t you? They all start out about the same way but the fifth word in is critical. I mean, “Would you like to” is a nice beginning but where they go from there can make all of the difference in the world. For example, if it continues “run with me for 26.2 miles” or “join Weight Watchers starting on Saturday” or “see my home movies”, that may not be something which you’d jump at. Fortunately for me, since I do live in AutoLand (metaphorically and literally), many times that tantalizing lead is followed by something automotive. And luckily for me, the invitation just prior to the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance continued on with “drive the Bugatti Chiron on a 2-1/2 hour leg of the trip from Los Angeles to Pebble Beach.” This is a supersonic vehicle which can go 0-60 in under 2.5 seconds and, yet, I beat that mark as my reply was delivered in about one second – “hell yeah!”.
To provide a bit of color here – Bugatti has been my most-favorite marque since I was a child. I was fortunate to have a neighbor family which loved cars and their teenage son had – incredibly enough – a Type 35B Bugatti. Now before you go all “affluenza” on me, note that I am of a certain age so that my neighbor had what was then a “nice older car”. I assume that it was worth a few thousand dollars then as the Type 35B which won the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix in 1928 – arguably one of the most important Bugattis of all time — reportedly sold for 120 francs at a tax sale in 1954. So back to my youthful imprint story.
The car made a certain unusual sound, which became my siren’s call, and I would race to the end of my driveway to see it go by. And it wasn’t only the sound that spoke to me – the Bug was everything that a race car should be, and nothing more. Even to my prepubescent eye, it had perfect proportions. It also burned oil in copious amounts such that, long after it had disappeared from sight, the cloying smell of burning castor oil (the Castrol predecessor) hung in the air.
Thus, with my lifelong love affair with Etorre’s finest machines firmly set in the region of the brain devoted to automobiles, let’s fast forward to my trip to France to experience the Bugatti Veyron, the company’s first modern-day production car. The one I drove was the Grand Sport Vitesse version – the initial Veyron had 1,001 horsepower but the Grand Sport Vitesse upped it to 1,200 ponies. The experience of piloting that mythical car on the roads around Provence was exceeded only by 202MPH on the backstretch of Circuit Paul Ricard. That trip remains the highlight of my automotive journalist career but there are a few which come in right behind that, and this story is about one of them.
To replace the Veyron (which was in production from 2005 through 2015, if you include the few variants), Bugatti created the Chiron which, like the Veyron, is named after a famous Bugatti race driver from the past. The Chiron takes off (literally) from where the Veyron passed the baton. It’s still a W-16 engine (16 cylinders!) but it’s now at 1,500 horsepower. It has an eight-liter displacement and uses four turbochargers. While Bugatti doesn’t advertise its acceleration or top speed achievements, it’s clearly faster than the Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse that I drove a few years before, which would mean 0-60 in under 2.5 seconds and a top speed above 268MPH (that’s not a typo!).
So of course, I said “yes” to the invitation to drive it!
The Chiron is a vehicle about which you truly could say that there’s nothing which was compromised in order to meet a budget. The leather is sumptuous, the seats beyond comfortable, the fit and finish superb, the ergonomics outstanding, the body sleek sinuous and gorgeous – it’s all there. I felt immediately at home and felt a huge rush just when firing up the engine. My co-pilot, the great Andy Wallace, a professional racer who is Bugatti’s test driver, showed me a few things which had changed since my Veyron drives (I was lucky enough to have several different opportunities) and off we went. And I mean OFF.
Interestingly, the car is so sure-footed and capable that it’s actually very easy to drive. The transmission shifts are automatic (unless the driver chooses to use the paddle shifters), the steering direct, the suspension so sophisticated that its work is completely behind the scenes and all you know is that it’s taking care of business.
Whenever I mention Bugattis, people ask “How fast did you go?” This time I was better behaved, in no small part because of the plethora of polizia in the area. It was the Thursday of Car Week so everybody who had an exotic car was wending his way northward from Los Angeles. I saw gaggles of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Porsches and the like, and boy was it fun to pass the whole group at once! With the Chiron, you can go from the speed limit to a multiple of that in the blink of an eye and then get back down to the limit so quickly that should anyone, say, have a radar gun pointed your way, it will seem like an electronic glitch. At least, that’s what I told myself and I lived to tell the tale.
How to describe the indescribable? Well, with the Chiron, let’s start with this — your body experiences what your mind can’t really comprehend! It’s like “I am here but now I am there and I can’t figure out how that happened!” Neo would understand. With all-wheel drive and more computers than a Space Shuttle, the Bugatti wizards have figured out how to put 1,500 horses and 1,180 pound-feet of torque to work with so little drama that it’s the closest thing to an automotive miracle that I’ve experienced. On the other hand, a statement like “Sorry, officer, but it didn’t feel like I was going that fast” probably wouldn’t fly. Suffice to say, the Chiron is my new favorite ride.