Full Speed Ahead

With the new Chiron, Bugatti channels its rich history to rewrite its future

Replacing an icon is a tall order.

It was a sad day for auto enthusiasts when French automaker Bugatti announced last year that it was retiring the revolutionary Veyron—which stunned the automotive world in 2006 with its breathtaking speed, sleek looks, and astronomical price tag. With the Veyron, Bugatti had achieved what no other car company had before: building a luxury vehicle capable of hypercar performance. (In its most extreme variant, the 16-cylinder, quad-turbo Veyron Super Sport produces 1,200 horsepower and can reach 267.8 miles per hour.) In so doing, the Veyron cemented Bugatti’s reputation as the world’s most exclusive performance brand.

Then, after much anticipation, at the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show, Bugatti unveiled its replacement, the Chiron. Unlike competitors, including the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari, and Porsche 918, the Chiron is not a hybrid. Rather than supplement its thrust output with an electric motor, Bugatti engineers employed an alternate approach: developing a new 8-liter, quad-turbo W16 engine that features a one-piece intake system made from carbon fiber and a special two-stage turbocharging process. The result kicks out 1,500 horsepower and 1,180 pound-feet of torque.

All that power is good for an official—and governor-limited—top speed of 261 miles per hour—just shy of the Veyron’s 267-miles-per-hour mark, recognized by Guinness World Records to make it the fastest production car on earth. “Without the limiter, [it could go] considerably faster,” says Bugatti director of design Achim Anscheidt, who joined the company in 2004 with one mission: to build a car worthy of replacing the already legendary Veyron.

We’d like to think he’s succeeded. The challenge was to create something unique but to ensure it wouldn’t be outdated in five, or even 50 years. Though the Chiron retains the Veyron’s fundamental proportions, it’s different in almost every other way. The elegant solution for this car of the future was drawn from the past: Bugatti’s own rich heritage.

“We took inspiration from key figures and key automobiles in our history,” Anscheidt says. “The key figures include [company founder] Ettore Bugatti and [his eldest son] Jean Bugatti, one of the more underestimated geniuses in our history.” The key automobile is the Type 57SC Atlantic, which was designed by Jean Bugatti and is considered by many to be the most beautiful car ever built. (Ralph Lauren owns one of only two left in the world. Read more about that amazing automobile here.)
When you are designing a 1,500-horsepower car that can top 260 miles per hour, cooling and aerodynamics are everything.
The car’s namesake, multiple Grand Prix–winning driver Louis Chiron
The car’s namesake, multiple Grand Prix–winning driver Louis Chiron

The Chiron’s bodywork screams 57SC, most notably via the C-shaped curve that loops from the A-pillar all the way around the C-pillar and back through the front wheel arch. The central fin that runs from stem to stern is intended to be a subtle version of the more prominent but similar central seam on the Atlantic. The fin is “one of the [Chiron’s] most vivid elements,” Anscheidt says. “Follow it over the hood…all the way back to the rear spoiler.”

Even though the Chiron draws upon many design elements from the past, form very much takes a back seat to function. “There is a reason for every line. They don’t just look nice,” Anscheidt says. When you are designing a 1,500-horsepower car that can top 260 miles per hour, cooling and aerodynamics are everything.

“The Chiron’s bodywork is designed to harness and control power,” Anscheidt says. The C shape that dominates the side of the vehicle might have historical ties to the 57SC, but it isn’t just for aesthetics. “It is a large, highly efficient air intake designed to feed more air to the engine and the radiators,” Anscheidt says. “It funnels cool air into the engine bay, through the radiator, over the brakes, and then channels the hot air away from the vehicle, keeping the car from overheating at high speeds.” The cutaway rear end is also necessary for aerodynamics and cooling. “All the energy that that engine produces has a chance, through the sub-pressure zone that is created behind this rear end, to be sucked out of the engine compartment,” he says. The overall result? A power increase of 25 percent.

Even the most obvious details at the front end, including the horse collar grille— possibly the oldest historical reference to a Bugatti of the past—and the headlights, are designed to enhance airflow. The grille directs cool air down to the front brakes, keeping them from burning up by pushing hot air out through the wheels.

Like its predecessor, the Chiron is named after a famous Bugatti racecar driver. Louis Chiron was one of Bugatti’s most successful drivers of all time, known for his smooth driving style and unflappable demeanor on the track. Choosing him as namesake didn’t turn out to be very difficult. “When you look at the successful run of the pilots from Bugatti, there are actually not so many beautiful names in there,” Anscheidt says. “And after Veyron was taken, Chiron was pretty much the only one left that had a nice ring to it.” Indeed, it’s difficult to image driving a Bugatti Wimille, Junek, or Friederich.

Of course, it may be just as difficult to imagine driving a Chiron, given the base price of $2.6 million—almost $1 million more than an “entry-level” Veyron. But then, Anscheidt would argue that it’s worth every penny and more. Compared to the now-legendary Veyron, he says, it’s better in almost every respect. We’re inclined to agree.
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CHUCK TANNERT is a seasoned journalist who has been covering everything from automobiles and other toys for boys to the latest technology and how it is shaping our future for more than 20 years.
  • All photographs courtesy of Bugatti Automobiles, S.A.S.