It was always going to be the drive of a lifetime. Itís one of the most talked about cars in the history of motoring, and on paper it doesnít just own all the biggest numbers, itís stolen them and locked them away forever. As new supercars are developed they invariably aim to break records and to set the bar higher for those followers who dare to challenge them. The Veyron has gone one better and rewritten the records books - completely.
If the Veyron could be expressed as a single sentence of prose it would be purely a list of superlatives. The 8-liter, 16 cylinder engine (with its four turbochargers) produces a mammoth 1,001 horsepower, and thatís in Ďstandardí Grand Sport guise. The Super Sport manages to find extra Ďumphí within itself to pump that up to 1,200, enough to push the car along at 431km/h, the Grand Sport reaches its maximum at 407km/h Ė letís call that Ďsufficientí shall we?
Yet the Veyron is so much more than a list of statistics. It is the product of a very human passion, a passion both of the man whose vision it was to create it, and of those who choose to drive it. And of the latter there is none more intimate with the car than Bugattiís Ďpilote officielí, Pierre-Henri Raphanel, with whom we met and shared some very fast moments courtesy of Kuwaitís Al-Zayani Trading Company, the official importer for Bugatti in Kuwait.
Raphanel is the archetypal race-car driver. With his chiseled good-looks itís easy to imagine his skeleton is made of carbon-fiber and many of his internal organs have been replaced with replicas of titanium. His is a race pedigree that more than demonstrates he knows a thing or two about cars Ė heís won the iconic Le Mans 24 hour race and raced Formula One cars over two seasons including around the glamorous streets of Monte Carlo. For the last few years heís spent much of his time inside a Bugatti Veyron.
ďItís quite simply the best car Iíve ever drivenĒ, he says, ďthe best car ever madeĒ.
It may never have seen light of day without the single-minded vision, some would call it stubbornness, of Ferdinand Piech. In 1998, whilst chairman of Volkswagen, he bought the rights to produce cars under the Bugatti marque and then set about re-establishing Bugatti as a brand that people would talk about for all the right reasons.
They bought one of Ettore Bugattiís former homes, Chateau Saint Jean, in Molsheim, France and refurbished it to serve as the companyís headquarters. Whilst care was taken to re-plant Bugattiís roots firmly back in French soil, what was really needed was a world-beating car. This came in the form of the Veyron.
For Raphanel the key to Bugatti succeeding with the Veyron is a simple reason; ďThe company is run by engineers, not accountants. When Piech wanted to create the Veyron there were only engineers around him, and there wasnít a single one amongst them that was going to say noĒ.
One would think that a car such as the Veyron was designed to be driven by race-car drivers, indeed it might be a reasonable assumption to suspect that perhaps it only could be. In fact driving the car is about as far from Ďtaming the beastí as you can imagine.
Aside from being a long way down to climb into, the surprisingly cockpit is big and roomy. The driving position is disarmingly comfortable and well thought-out. All the controls are in the right place, and thereís a distinct aura of supreme elegance about the whole experience. Very little hint of Ďone point four million Euro worldís fastest and most powerful supercarí about it.
The car is an example of engineering excellence in every respect. Thereís more than enough precisely recorded and unique detail to write a book about the car Ė and several volumes of it too. Even the oil-tank Ė which no-one other than a specially trained Bugatti mechanic will ever see Ė is intricately finished with an engine-turned surface most manufacturers would not even choose to replicate on visible portions of their vehicles. But the owner, and equally the engineers at Bugatti, know that itís there.
Of course itís on the road that the Veyron reveals itself. When it comes to accelerating and braking abilities the superlatives run out. A zero Ė 100km/h time of 2.5 seconds matched with 100 Ė zero in 2.3 means that the car accelerates in the same way a light bulb illuminates the room when you flick the switch Ė instantly.
Whilst being an eminently drivable and deliciously intense vehicle, doubtless it takes a pilot with Raphanelís experience to get the very best out of the car. Heís been attached to the progress of the car through a virtual umbilical cord throughout its development. How must it feel for Raphanel, at 49, to know that itís very likely heíll never drive a better road-car?
Heís surprisingly affected by the thought, and we compare his experiences in the Veyron to those of the pilots of the Space Shuttle and Concorde. In the same way that thereíll likely never be another Concorde, there will almost certainly never be another Bugatti Veyron.
The Veyron is available in Kuwait through Al-Zayani Trading Co.
First published in Men's Passion issue #30 April 2011