2010 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport: The Art of Seduction

Art, form, and technique synthesized from the ultimate marriage of precious metals, design and machinery have been manifested into one of the most glorified vehicles of this century. And as seductive as Bugatti vehicles are, they were equally salient as their historical archetypes in the heyday of the roaring 1920s. This was no mistake, this was an international movement from the ingenious mind of the great Italian artisan Ettore Bugatti whom focused more on design than engineering, unlike his counterparts W.O. Bentley and Ferdinand Porsche. A master of the moment, Bugatti’s vehicles were upscale, costly and much talked about. And yes, they won many many races; nearly 2,000 in ten years. Decades later, welcome to the 2010 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport.

It was an extraordinary one day stand in South Florida with Bugatti’s topless interpretation of the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport. My anxiety was high enough the day prior to the full-day drive that I turned it in early and enjoyed a relaxing night at the grand Epic Hotel in downtown Miami. With the forecast bringing great weather for my run from Miami to Tampa Bay with a wonderful afternoon lunch stop in Naples, I began studying the technical capabilities of the 16.4 to fully interpret what was to come. For it’s not every day one gets a call from Bugatti’s PR company JMPR asking if you want to drive a $2.2 million roadster that utilizes a 16-cylinder, quad turbocharged engine, generating an obliterating 1001 horsepower while blitzing from zero to 60 mph in an eye blinking 2.5 seconds. It’s the classic fable of beauty meeting the beast, or simply put the world’s fastest convertible.
Veyron is the name derived from the French company’s factory driver Pierre Veyron who won Le Mans in 1939 in the T 57C Tank  before World War II. This was actually the same vehicle Ettore’s 30-year old son Jean died in after steering into a tree to avoid a bicyclist during a testing session. Jean Bugatti was to take over the company when his father retired. After his untimely death the company never recovered — as well, society in France no longer yearned for big luxury vehicles. The Bugatti name and logo would not be resurrected until 1998 when eventual parent company VW brought its rights from an Italian entrepreneur. Ironically, Veyron was chosen from all of the great Bugatti drivers only because his name sounds good in multiple languages and there were no problems registering it.
Henceforth, VW transformed the Veyron platform into a technical wonder. They have taken the great layout of Bentley/Audi’s W12 configuration, added another block of four cylinders for its 8-liter W16 layout, integrated it with the 7-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission we see in Audi as well as exploiting Audi’s expertise in All-Wheel Drive (AWD) technology to accept the 1001-horsepower. With four total turbochargers, every bank of four cylinders has one turbo. Built intentionally to be an everyday driving vehicle first, opposed to a race car, the head of VW charged his engineers with building a supercar that maxes 253 mph and can navigate to the opera in comfort. Grand Sport would become the moniker for this new age vehicle. Named after the Type 40 and 43 by Ettore and Jean in the late 1920s, a Grand Sport was an open top vehicle, with a re-enforced structure featuring one door, and of course, were the cream of the crop. And the reaction we all exerted during its official unveil August 16th, 2008 at Pebble Beach let Bugatti know they made the right decision.
Time to test out all this technical wizardry after patiently awaiting over a year for my thrill behind the wheel. Yet, like a rookie, I started in the passenger seat while AMLS Pro Driver Butch Leitzinger broke down the vehicle’s performance procedures, which all seemed very simplistic from observance and just as easy to operate from the pilot position. The interior layout is far from complicated. Moisture-resistant, backstitched leather seats are very accommodating and supportive; the steering wheel houses the two paddle shifters for gear selection; a new rear view camera transfers images into the rearview mirror, and of course there is an iPod connection. Also, don’t expect a navigation screen — turn by turn and voice guidance are its substitute. The start button sits at the bottom of the multi-function gear selector which in turn is positioned within an oval and shiny plate of machined aluminium. Two simple switches decorate the gear selector — LC for Launch Control, a mode normally reserved for racing take offs, or should I say lift-offs with this vehicle. The button to the right of lever is Handling mode which lowers the entire vehicle and brings up the rear wing for more downforce. If you don’t want to use the paddles but need routine power then set the gear lever in Sport (S) which puts the Grand Sport in its lowest gear, but will deplete your 25 gallon tank at a rate of 8 or 9 mpg. Dynaudio’s $30,000 Puccini sound system specifies only four speakers (2 bass drivers in the doors & 2 tweeters) but is advanced with Magnesium-Silicate-Polymer and light aluminium featuring amplification with digital signal processing. Yet, an audio system is irrelevant when you have a 16 cylinder to listen to.
First things first. After chatting with Butch about his racing career we stopped briefly in Fort Lauderdale to take off the top and meet up with my Automotive Rhythms co-host Amanda Heisman. Two people are needed to remove the polycarbonate roof which comes with its own stand. In the “hood” of the vehicle is an umbrella like canvas top which snaps on in case increment weather hits while you’re out. You will get a small bit of windnoise with the secondary top. Yet, you barely feel any air turbulence when running hard with either top off. We caused a lot of spontaneous combustion from young beach goers, cute elderly couples, auto aficionados and women who wanted to hear it roar during our thirty minute beach front exhibition! So I gave them what they wanted — a little “aural” authority from the unique titanium exhaust system.
For Bugatti to convert the coupe to a Grand Sport many structural changes had to be made to the monocoque body. It’s been toughened near the side skirts, B-pillars have been cross-braced with a carbon fiber reinforcement, a plate of carbon has been placed under the transmission tunnel to reduce torsional flexing, and the carbon fiber doors house a beam for further support. When the top is off and the 16.4 surpasses 120 mph, the sophisticated wing raises to a higher elevation and adjusts to a steeper angle from 15 to 22 degrees for more downforce. Also with the roof off, top speed is limited to only 217 mph. Geez! During a stretch through “Alligator Alley” on route to Naples I let her open. This allowed me to acknowledge the dual clutch gearbox which pre-selects its next gear. One clutch controls 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th while the other clutch manages reverse, 2nd, 4th and 6th. So when you ask for second gear, instead of having to engage another gear, it simply swaps clutches for a very seamless and very fast shift giving drivers the benefits of a manual and the ease of an automatic. I didn’t force it so I only accelerated to about 140 mph before emphatically showing off the transformation of the wing to an air brake and the impressive carbon ceramic brakes (8 piston front, 6 piston rear / 4 shoes on each front wheel and 2 shoes on each rear wheel) with hard braking to bring me back down to 60 mph instantaneously.
I’ve never felt acceleration that was so powerful but so liquid. Words can’t transcribe unless you are a former Le Mans winner.  “When I had the chance to test-drive the new Grand Sport for the first time myself, I was filled with excitement,” said Pierre Henri Raphanel, Bugatti’s Pilot official. “As soon I shifted into second gear, I knew this was a completely different car. I could immediately feel the difference. Even with the roof still on, in the tips of my fingers and at the base of my spine everything was more present, more intimate. More precise with less understeer, almost as if you had taken away some filters from the suspension and the steering.”
All day I accelerated while playing conjuring lyrics in my head to the rhythms from the aeronautical acoustics emanating from within. Hit the gas and you hear an extended jet stream resonance. Relieve the pedal and a dumping woosh is released. Let me explain. Step on the accelerator and you send electronic information to two of the motor controllers. We want to accelerate so they open the throttle to put more fuel in the engine, so the volume and temperature of exhaust goes up. The turbines from the four turbochargers start to spin (jet noise you hear when accelerating) and pump air — coming from the two massive intakes (also act as rollover protection) behind the driver and passenger — causing the pressure in the suction area to increase. With more air blown into the cylinders (cooled  by 2 intercoolers) more fuel can be added which in-turn generates more power. And when you lift off the accelerator you stop this process and all this pressure is released through the waste gate (the woosh sound). There are also different functions for the side air intakes. The left side cools engine oil while the right side cools the transmission oil and the rear differential. Add in a titanium grille, titanium pistons, titanium bolts and aerospace wiring and you see why this vehicle costs what it costs. Even the Michelin Pax Tire System is sophisticated. Diamond polished aluminium rims are wrapped in massive run-flat 20s up front — with a “section width” that expands 265mm — while wider 21s in the rear reach out to 365mm. That’s a lot of rubber!
Normally, a supercar likes this is uncomfortable to drive. We’ve always been told if you want performance these are the comprises you have to make. Bugatti is an example that you can have both and they don’t have to be exclusive. Most of these cars are hard to drive around town with a heavy clutch and engines that do not like to idle. Like a racecar, it’s fantastic on the track but stalls a lot in the pits. The Grand Sport is more like a Bentley around town and rocket when you step on it.
As a society we always want what we can’t have. It fuels our fervour and increases our need for desire. For a lucky 150 wealthy individuals they will have this exact unforgettable opportunity. Yet, I wonder how many of them will engage the Grand Sports’ second “top speed” key which catapults the 4,387 pound Frenchman into orbit!

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