Sat, Aug 18, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Wheels for the wealthy

Bugatti's parent, Volkswagen, set out to build the fastest production car in the world and succeeded. The Veyron tops 407kph and costs a cool US$1.4 million

By EZRA DYER  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT

But quickly, almost too quickly for your brain to process, the Veyron speeds straight out of your frame of reference. Once the Veyron's hooked up and putting its 1,001 horsepower to the ground, there's no comparison I can invoke that will help you understand it, unless you're a Navy fighter pilot or a circus clown with extensive cannon experience.

When you floor the throttle of the Veyron on the highway, the sensation is as if every other driver slammed on the brakes. Except they didn't. They're still doing 96kph, but you're blurring the space between the guardrails like an antiproton in a particle collider.

In most cars, you expect a reduction in acceleration as you move up through the gears - longer gear ratios and aerodynamic drag eventually trump horsepower. But the Veyron is different. First gear is quick and violent. Second gear takes slightly longer but seems equally violent. By third gear, you're worried about your driver's license and your life, and the thrust shows no sign of relenting. (Did I mention the violence?)

Mission control, something is wrong. The booster rockets don't seem to be dropping off.

So you hit the brakes and discover that they're excellent, but they're of the realm of mortal cars, unlike the motor. Thanks to active aerodynamics and the wonders of downforce, at higher speeds the Veyron's stopping and cornering power begin to approach the standard set by its go-power.

But by higher speeds, I definitely mean faster than I cared to drive in suburban Connecticut. For example, if you hit the brakes and look in the rearview mirror to see the spoiler extended high and angled down in air-brake mode, you'd better hope there are no constables nearby, because that trick doesn't come out of the bag unless you're going at least 209kph.

I was informed of this by none other than Pierre-Henri Raphanel, a Bugatti test driver, who was riding shotgun at the time and probably had little desire to see the air brake in action on the Merritt Parkway.

The gist of Raphanel's spiel is that cranking out 1,001 horsepower is just the first of many challenges in building a 407kph automobile. In fact, even attempting such a thing is ambitious bordering on crazy.

"Ferrari would never build a car like this," he said. "They simply don't need to. They could give a car 700 horsepower and sell out a production run of 400. So why bother going to all the trouble to make it 1,000 horsepower?

"Nobody else will ever make a car like this again. This will be the high point for cars powered by an internal combustion engine."

I hear you, Pierre, but you know that at some car company, somewhere, there's a chalkboard emblazoned with a new target: 408kph.

Already, you can walk into Exotic Cars at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and put your money down on a Koenigsegg CCX, which has a claimed top speed of "394-plus kilometers per hour."

Bugatti has sold 150 Veyrons because the car holds the record for the world's fastest production automobile. And they haven't sold the other 150 because records are made to be broken.

"Ferrari would never build a car like this. They simply don't need to. They could give a car 700 horsepower and sell out a production run of 400."

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