The $3-mil­lion su­per­car, with a top speed of 261 mph, is so over­built and so gor­geous that it’s bound to be­come one of the firm’s most sought-af­ter ve­hi­cles

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Charles Flem­ing

Two sum­mers ago, Bu­gatti Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Wolf­gang Durheimer promised that his com­pany was going to make the fastest, quick­est and most lux­u­ri­ous pro­duc­tion car ever built.

He de­clared that the Ch­i­ron, named af­ter a cel­e­brated French race car driver who pi­loted Bu­gat­tis to victory dur­ing the 1930s, would be a mar­riage of beauty and beast.

Beauty is in the eye of the be­holder. But beast isn’t. The Ch­i­ron is inar­guably the most pow­er­ful pro­duc­tion car on the planet and its per­for­mance is heart-stop­ping.

The $3-mil­lion luxury rocket is pow­ered by a 16-cylin­der tur­bocharged en­gine that makes 1,500 horse­power, ac­cel­er­ates from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than 2.5 sec­onds and hits a top speed of 261 miles per hour — be­fore an elec­tronic speed lim­iter pre­vents it from going any faster.

It’s a pre­pos­ter­ous ve­hi­cle, in other words, a sin­gu­larly silly car so over­built and so achingly gor­geous that it is bound to be­come one of the most sought-af­ter Bu­gat­tis of all time.

Bu­gatti, a di­vi­sion of the huge Volk­swa­gen Group, shares cor­po­rate own­er­ship with top mo­tor­ing brands Porsche, Audi, Lam­borgh­ini, Bent­ley and Du­cati.

The his­toric mar­que, founded in 1909 by French de­signer Et­tore Bu­gatti, boasts a glo­ri­ous rac­ing history. The sig­na­ture red and white oval logo, ac­quired by Volk­swa­gen in 1998, was a dom­i­nant Grand Prix mar­que dur­ing the 1920s and 1930s.

In mod­ern times, its pre­vi­ous hy­per­car un­der VW own­er­ship — the Vey­ron — cap­tured the of­fi­cial Guin­ness record for the world’s fastest street-le­gal car when it was clocked at 268 mph.

De­spite a $1.5-mil­lion price tag, which made it then the world’s most ex­pen­sive new car, the com­pany sold the Vey­rons as fast as it could make them, and had no trou­ble find­ing cus­tomers for each of the 450 units pro­duced be­tween 2005 and 2013.

Durheimer’s prom­ise to build the world’s pre­miere hy­per­car, then, was a plan to best him­self, and de­sign a car that could out-per­form the Vey­ron. Could that even be done? I went to Mal­ibu to find out, to meet the Ch­i­ron at an exclusive in­vi­ta­tional drive event this week.

The Mal­ibu event was a chap­er­oned af­fair. The com­pany didn’t just hand over the keys and say, “See you next week,” as is typ­i­cally the case, even with some ex­otic cars.

In­stead, they in­tro­duced me to Andy Wal­lace. The soft-spo­ken English­man, a

pro­fes­sional driver who raced at Le Mans, Se­bring and Day­tona for McLaren, Jaguar, Bent­ley, Audi and oth­ers, would be my “co-pi­lot.”

I slid into the low-slung pas­sen­ger seat as Wal­lace walked me through the Ch­i­ron’s con­trols.

On the left side of the steer­ing wheel were the set­tings for drive modes — EB for nor­mal driv­ing, Au­to­bahn for high-speed driv­ing, Han­dling for rac­ing and drift­ing, and Trans­port, which raises the ve­hi­cle to clear speed bumps or steep drive­ways.

Near the bot­tom of the steer­ing wheel was the “launch con­trol,” for what Wal­lace called “max­i­mum at­tack” ac­cel­er­a­tion.

Be­low the seat was the “speed key,” which would al­low the driver, un­der cer­tain con­di­tions, to raise the ve­hi­cle’s max­i­mum al­lowed speed from 236 mph to 261 mph.

On a dial in the cen­ter con­sole was a screen that would record data such as top speed.

The car chor­tled to life, its 8-liter W-16 en­gine, inches be­hind our heads, gur­gling smoothly, as Wal­lace eased the car up the drive­way and onto Pa­cific Coast High­way.

Head­ing south, he said, “For such a pow­er­ful hy­per­car, it’s sur­pris­ingly easy to drive. It’s un­be­liev­ably quick, but you’re not afraid it’s going to bite you.”

The Ch­i­ron’s prin­ci­pal en­gi­neer, Martin Grabowski, had ex­plained in a morn­ing pre­sen­ta­tion that the car’s tractabil­ity was the re­sult of dozens of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions.

The power is cre­ated by a com­plex ar­range­ment of four two-stage tur­bocharg­ers that use cap­tured ex­haust gases to in­crease horse­power. It is de­liv­ered to the wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion that of­fers the op­tion of au­to­matic or manual pad­dle-shift modes.

The wheels are kept on the ground by a very stiff car­bon fiber mono­coque body and an ad­vanced sus­pen­sion sys­tem. Stop­ping power is sup­plied by mas­sive car­bon fiber brakes.

This was aca­demic, if in­ter­est­ing, un­til Wal­lace turned off PCH and headed up Kanan Dume Road.

“We’ll just give th­ese cars a chance to pass us,” he said. “Then you can get a bet­ter idea of the ac­cel­er­a­tion.”

Mo­ments later, the pro driver pressed the gas pedal to the floor. With a rush of turbo in­hala­tion, the Ch­i­ron rock­eted for­ward, press­ing my spine against the seat and emp­ty­ing the air from my lungs.

Wal­lace braked hard as we ap­proached the end of the straight­away. He pointed at a dial on the cen­ter con­sole and said, “There’s the num­ber.”

The dial said 136 mph. OK, now you

Wal­lace pulled off the road at the next vista point, got out of the car and said, “Ready to give it a try?”

I saw at once what he meant about the Ch­i­ron’s good man­ners. De­spite the hideous horse­power, the car ac­cel­er­ated and braked smoothly, re­quir­ing none of the race-car-driver ex­per­tise that I do not pos­sess.

It felt in­cred­i­bly sticky, cling­ing to the road as it arced around the tighter turns.

Though the as­phalt was a lit­tle damp from a low fog hang­ing over us, the tires — de­vel­oped by Miche­lin specif­i­cally for the Ch­i­ron and not found on any other car — didn’t slip or squeal as they gripped the road.

As we turned from Kanan onto Mul­hol­land, Wal­lace said, “Now, put it in first and go.”

I down­shifted into first and put the pedal to the floor, turn­ing the road­side brush and scrub into a beige blur for sev­eral sec­onds.

Af­ter I lifted my foot from the ac­cel­er­a­tor and be­gan ap­ply­ing the brakes, and found my eyes func­tion­ing prop­erly again. Wal­lace drew my at­ten­tion to the cen­ter con­sole gauge, which bore a num­ber some­what be­low the 136 mph fig­ure he had achieved.

“It doesn’t feel that fast, does it?” he said, as my pulse dropped to nor­mal. “Quite smooth, re­ally.”

Wal­lace, who has been with Bu­gatti for six years and has logged more than 30,000 miles test­ing the Ch­i­ron, said he felt the car was quicker to 124 mph — about 6.5 sec­onds — than any car he’d ever raced.

Though not au­tho­rized to make of­fi­cial pre­dic­tions on be­half of Bu­gatti, the for­mer pro driver said his ex­pe­ri­ence with the Vey­ron and the Ch­i­ron left him be­liev­ing the new car could far out­pace the old.

Top speed, he said, could be above 280 mph. The zero to 60 num­ber could end up be­low 2.25 sec­onds.

No ex­pense spared

Bu­gatti has draped its hy­per­car in un­par­al­leled luxury. The set­ting for the Ch­i­ron’s West Coast de­but was equally lav­ish, at a $23mil­lion Mal­ibu es­tate where an in­fin­ity pool dropped away to a view of curl­ing waves, surfers and pass­ing dol­phins.

A pair of Chi­rons were in town for a week, mainly to be driven by cus­tomers who had al­ready put down de­posits and by other rich folks who Bu­gatti hopes will buy one. Al­though the com­pany doesn’t break out sales fig­ures by city, of­fi­cials said they chose the L.A. area as the first U.S. stop be­cause of its im­por­tance as a key mar­ket.

So far, 270 of the 500 planned cars have been spo­ken for, and 19 have been de­liv­ered. Thirty per­cent of the de­posits to date came from North Amer­i­can cus­tomers.

Un­der a gray June-gloom sky, the Chi­rons stood like pa­tient su­per­mod­els, pos­ing for pho­to­graphs in the drive­way while their de­sign­ers gave a slideshow pre­sen­ta­tion to high­light the car’s unique or un­usual fea­tures.

Each mono­coque body unit, made en­tirely of layer upon layer of car­bon fiber, re­quires 500 man-hours to build.

Each leather in­te­rior, avail­able in 31 col­ors of calf­skin, re­quires 16 hides to com­plete. Eight col­ors of al­can­tara are also avail­able.

The wide, thin tail­light is made from a sin­gle piece of hand-brushed alu­minum and con­tains 82 in­di­vid­ual LED lights.

The “mac­aron” Bu­gatti em­blem on the ra­di­a­tor grill is made from solid sil­ver — the only piece on the Ch­i­ron that weighs more than its Vey­ron coun­ter­part.

Bu­gatti head of de­sign Achim An­scheidt stressed that his march­ing or­ders al­ways in­clude one cen­tral ques­tion — the cre­ation of value.

Though the de­sign included iconic Bu­gatti lan­guage, from the horse­shoe grill to the slen­der tail, An­scheidt in­sisted that “form al­ways fol­lows per­for­mance.”

More horse­power re­quired a larger en­gine, which de­manded larger wheels (20-inch in front, 21-inch in the rear), which in turn al­lowed for larger brakes, which then de­manded su­pe­rior air­flow and bet­ter brake cool­ing.

A more pow­er­ful en­gine also cre­ates more heat. The French curve “C-bar” that en­cir­cles the driver and pas­sen­ger doors may hark back to Bu­gat­tis of old, but it is also the sys­tem by which cool­ing air is di­rected onto the mas­sive W-16 power plant.

An­scheidt ob­served that the over­all de­sign, while quite mod­ern, was en­tirely clas­si­cal in its di­men­sions, whose ap­peal may ex­tend be­yond the au­to­mo­tive realm. “A small waist and wide hips also works on cars,” he said.

An­scheidt, head of Bu­gatti’s de­sign team since 2004, said the early draw­ings for the Ch­i­ron were made as far back as 2006, a full decade be­fore it was ready for its global de­but.

How long be­fore he must be ready to present the next Bu­gatti, suc­ces­sor to the Vey­ron and Ch­i­ron?

“It’s fin­ished,” An­scheidt said. “It’s in my stu­dio.”

Pho­to­graphs by Myung J. Chun Los An­ge­les Times

ONLY 500 of the Bu­gatti Chi­rons will be pro­duced. The su­per­car fea­tures a 16-cylin­der en­gine that pro­duces 1,500 horse­power.

THE IN­TE­RIOR is avail­able in a va­ri­ety of col­ors. Each leather in­te­rior, avail­able in 31 col­ors of calf­skin, re­quires 16 hides to com­plete.

THE WIDE, thin tail­light is made from a sin­gle piece of hand-brushed alu­minum and con­tains 82 in­di­vid­ual LED lights.

Pho­to­graphs by Myung J. Chun Los An­ge­les Times

THE CH­I­RON rides on 20-inch wheels in front, 21-inch in back. So far, 270 of the cars have been spo­ken for, and 19 have been de­liv­ered.

AMONG THE di­als in the cen­ter con­sole is a screen that records data such as top speed.

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