How do you make the 261mph Bugatti Chiron even even faster? Only the €5m Divo has the answer...
It takes a special type of mind to stroll in on your first day, poke around the quickest production car in the world, and decide item one is to make it a quantum leap faster. But on 1 January 2018, that’s precisely what Stephan Winkelmann, the new president of Bugatti, did. Eight months later, the Divo is the result – a car that takes its ingredients from the same allotment as the Chiron, but cooks them up into something with a bit more kick. Rule one of Divo: do not try to rationalise it – your head will explode and you’ll ruin the carpet. At €5m a pop, it’s twice the price of a Chiron, so unless the propshaft is forged in gold, dipped in unicorn poo and rolled in diamonds, it’s not a number that can be justified by any normal means. No, the key here is exclusivity. It might use the same 1,479bhp behemoth of an engine as the Chiron does, but everything else is stiffer, lighter and generally madder, refocusing the car not on top speed, but going around corners like an LMP1 race car. Only 40 will be produced (that’s 40 on top of the 500 Chirons Bugatti is already building), and you can’t have one. Despite buyers having to be proposed by a dealer and own a Chiron already, it sold out immediately.
“The brief was to design a car totally different from the Chiron, but make it recognisable, instantly, as a Bugatti”
And yes, more than one of the 40 bought a Chiron just to get their hands on the €5m fruit.
This is the genius of Winkelmann. A man who knows his customers better than they know themselves, who can take a relatively shoestring budget and, like Jesus and his loaves and fishes, turn one car into many, keeping the buzz going while, behind the scenes, he ponders his next move. At Lamborghini, he mastered the art, recasting the Murciélago as the Reventón, the Gallardo as the Sesto Elemento and the Aventador as the Veneno and Aventador J, while the Urus’s lengthy development process bubbled away. The Divo is born of the same philosophy.
Over to Achim Anscheidt, design director, the man tasked with turning Winkelmann’s brainwave into three dimensions: “The brief for the project was very clear, to design a car that is completely different from the Chiron, but make it recognisable, instantly, as a Bugatti. That’s why we still have the horseshoe grille, the centre line accentuation and a modified Bugatti line from the side.”
A tough assignment, then? “Sorry, it was easy for me. I’ve been burning all these years to do something like this, and who better could you ask for than a president that’s gained so much experience, knowledge and brand awareness in his former life.”
Fair enough. It’s at this point I should probably point out that this isn’t merely a design exercise or a Chiron with a new hat on, it has been honed and thrashed mercilessly around Nardò’s 6.2km handling circuit to make sure it has the speed to match its show. It worked… posting a lap time a full eight seconds faster than the Chiron. But why go down the route of a road-legal racer at all? Isn’t it at odds with Bugatti’s hardfought reputation for building cars that bend physics in a straight line, but possess the luxury and ease of use of a well-specced Rolls-Royce?
“We started in this direction already this year in Geneva with the Chiron Sport, which is already a bit lighter, a bit sportier,” Winkelmann explains. “But in the performance part of the cake, handling is something which we feel could be highlighted more in a Bugatti. That’s what we concentrated on here.”
But Winkelmann wasn’t about to push the green light without first consulting the history books. It’s from there that the name was plucked – Albert Divo – a two-time Targa Florio winner in the late
Twenties and a Frenchman of Italian descent, like Ettore Bugatti. The Divo also builds on Bugatti’s history of in-house coachbuilding, an idea driven through by Ettore’s son, Jean, in the Thirties. It produced some of Bugatti’s most iconic shapes, culminating in the most sought after of them all – the riotously curvy Type 57SC Atlantic, of which only two are in existence.
Back to the present. We meet the Divo in a dimly lit Hamburg studio, hours before it’s chained down, crated up and shipped to California for its world debut in the sun. But a gloomy lair is where it belongs, for the way it shapeshifts depending on the shadows, the sheer spectacle of its new light signatures and because pure evil belongs in the dark. There’s inspiration from the Gran Turismo concept, that spawned the Chiron, in its colour palette and extravagant aero, but every vent, duct and wing is there to work. In total it produces 456kg of downforce at top speed – 90kg more than the Chiron.
The rear pulls its weight via a wider and deeper diffuser that splits either side of the retrimmed quad exhausts, and a 1.8m-wide hydraulic wing (23 per cent wider than the Chiron). On the roof, fresh air is rammed through a NACA duct before being cleaved by the fin and fed smoothly over the engine bay and square onto the wing. The front mucks in with a huge chin spoiler, air curtains to tidy the air as it passes over the wheels and no fewer than four separate vents channel air to cool the front brakes.
Really it’s a car of two halves, an imaginary line drawn horizontally along its midriff. On the top, organic shapes and smooth slipperiness, below is something more brutal, designed to slice and bully the air. It’s still a Chiron under there, no question, but this feels like something sketched after two-dozen espressos early in the Chiron’s development and binned in favour of a more sensible physique. It’s the front that’s the biggest departure. Impossibly thin headlights bracketed by LED running lights that swoop upwards and right to the outer edges of the bonnet, widening the car and defining it. It’s the same at the back where the tail-lights are pure concept car fantasy – made up of 44 3D-printed fins that light up individually.
You can see the push and pull between engineering and design departments playing out in front of your eyes. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t all plain sailing: “The days are gone when you just draw something and throw it over the fence at engineering. Of course there are arguments – it’s like talking to your wife,” says Anscheidt, grinning.
Inside, the architecture is familiar, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Slide across the sill, drop into the Divo Blue Alcantara bucket seat, and I’m instantly a giddy 15-year-old poking, rubbing,
“Every vent, duct and wing is there to work – it produces 456kg of downforce”
“Where the real shift has occurred is where the eye can’t see”
prodding, marvelling at the precision of the metal and carbon work, and the theatre of the illluminated arc. There are changes in here – more padding on the centre console and deeper sculpting on the seats – to hold your puckered butt cheeks in place when you turn in at a 220mph, or encounter a speed bump, but otherwise it’s all Chiron.
Where the real shift has occurred is where the eye can’t see. Stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars (no official figures on by how much), an extra degree of negative camber on the wheels and 35kg of weight saved though the carbon-fibre wiper blades, grooves cut into the wheel spokes, less insulation, a lighter sound system and deleted storage in the doors and centre console. Hardly a crash diet, I admit, but every little helps. Lead engineer Stefan Ellrott insists: “The step we’ve taken with the Divo in terms of agility… can be compared with the overall development from the Veyron to the Chiron.” Ballsy claim.
The 8.0-litre quad-turbo W16 produces the same 1,479bhp, the seven-speed twin-clutch ’box is identical, 0–62mph is still 2.4 seconds… but the top speed isn’t. While the Chiron is capped at 261mph, the Divo slams into its limiter at 236mph. That’s because the extra downforce and negative camber increase the load on the tyres, hence this nod to self-preservation. Essentially there’s no top-speed mode, unlocked with an extra key in the Chiron, just EB, Autobahn and Handling. Could it take on the Nordschleife? “Not for the time being, no,” says Winkelmann.
But what next for the Chiron? There’s still no news on if and when a top-speed run will occur. By Bugatti’s own admission, the engine is near the limit of what its components can cope with and good luck finding any space in the Chiron’s packaging for hybrid enhancement. But the boss is constantly busy, looking for an opportunity to expand. “We’re working on a lot of things, but do we have resources to do more? I will say no today because I don’t have the people and money. Already, people are telling me to slow down, but I don’t think that’s the way to act. If you’re ever satisfied, then something is wrong.”
Central fin reduces turbulence, letting the wing do its thing Interior splashed in Divo Blue Alcantara, because it’s lighter than leather
Replcement bulbs, probably not available in your local Halfords