By Jeremy Clarkson of The Sunday Times
Utterly, stunningly, jaw droppingly brilliant

When you push a car past 180mph, the world starts to get awfully
fizzy and a little bit frightening. When you go past 200mph it
actually becomes blurred. Almost like you're trapped in an early
Queen pop video. At this sort of speed the tyres and the suspension
are reacting to events that happened some time ago, and they have not
finished reacting before they're being asked to do something else.
The result is a terrifying vibration that rattles your optical
nerves, causing double vision. This is not good when you're covering
300ft a second.
Happily, stopping distances become irrelevant because you won't see
the obstacle in the first place. By the time you know it was there,
you'll have gone through the windscreen, through the Pearly Gates.

It has always been thus. When Louis Rigolly broke the 100mph barrier
in his Gobron in 1904, the vibration would have been terrifying. And
I dare say that driving an E-type at 150mph in 1966 must have been a
bit sporty as well.

But once you go past 200mph it isn't just the suspension and the
tyres you have to worry about. The biggest problem is the air. At
100mph it's relaxed. At 150mph it's a breeze. But at 200mph it has
sufficient power to lift an 800,000lb jumbo jet off the ground. A
200mph gust of wind is strong enough to knock down an entire city. So
getting a car to behave itself in conditions like these is tough.

At 200mph you can feel the front of the car getting light as it
starts to lift. As a result you start to lose your steering, so you
aren't even able to steer round whatever it is you can't see because
of the vibrations. Make no mistake, 200mph is at the limit of what
man can do right now. Which is why the new Bugatti Veyron is worthy
of some industrial strength genuflection. Because it can do 252mph.
And that's just mad - 252mph means that in straight and level flight
this car is as near as makes no difference as fast as a Hawker

You might point out at this juncture that the McLaren F1 could top
240mph, but at that speed it was pretty much out of control. And
anyway it really isn't in the same league as the Bugatti. In a drag
race you could let the McLaren get to 120mph before setting off in
the Veyron. And you'd still get to 200mph first. The Bugatti is way,
way faster than anything else the roads have seen.

Of course, at Ł810,000, it is also jolly expensive, but when you look
at the history of its development you'll discover it's rather more
than just a car . . .

It all started when Ferdinand Piëch, the swivel-eyed former boss of
Volkswagen, bought Bugatti and had someone design a concept car.
'This,' he said, 'is what the next Bugatti will look like.' And then,
without consulting anyone, he went on. 'And it vill have an engine
that develops 1000 horsepower and it vill be capable of 400kph.'

His engineers were horrified. But they set to work anyway, mating two
Audi V8s to create an 8 litre W16. Which was then garnished with four
turbochargers. Needless to say, the end result produced about as much
power as the earth's core, which is fine. But somehow the giant had
to be cooled, which is why the Veyron has no engine cover and why it
has 10 - count them - 10 radiators. Then things got tricky because
the power had to be harnessed.

For this, VW went to Ricardo, a British company that makes gearboxes
for various Formula One teams.

'It was hard,' said one of the engineers I know vaguely. 'The
gearbox in an F1 car only has to last a few hours. Volkswagen wanted
the Veyron's to last 10 or 20 years. And remember, the Bugatti is a
damn sight more powerful than any F1 car.'

The result, a seven-speed double-clutch flappy paddle affair, took a
team of 50 engineers five years to perfect.

With this done, the Veyron was shipped to Sauber's F1 wind tunnel
where it quickly became apparent that while the magic 1000bhp figure
had been achieved, they were miles off the target top speed of 400kph
(248mph). The body of the car just wasn't aerodynamic enough, and
Volkswagen wouldn't let them change the basic shape to get round the

The bods at Sauber threw up their hands, saying they only had
experience of aerodynamics up to maybe 360kph, which is the effective
top speed in Formula One. Beyond this point Bugatti was on its own.

Somehow they had to find an extra 30kph, and there was no point in
looking to the engine for answers because each extra 1kph increase in
speed requires an extra 8bhp from the power plant. An extra 30kph
then would need an extra 240bhp. That was not possible.

The extra speed had to come from changing small things on the body.
They started by fitting smaller door mirrors, which upped the top
speed a bit but at too high a price. It turned out that the bigger
ones had been keeping the nose of the car on the ground. Without them
the stability was gone.

In other words, the door mirrors were generating downforce. That
gives you an idea of how much of a bastard the air can be at this

After some public failures, fires and accidents, and one chief being
fired, they hit on the idea of a car that automatically changes shape
depending on what speed you're going.
At 137mph, the nose of the car is lowered by 2 inches and the big rear
spoiler slides into the slipstream. The effect is profound. You can
feel the back of the car being pressed into the road.

However, with the spoiler in place the drag is so great you're
limited to just 231mph. To go faster than that you have to stop and
insert your ignition key in a slot on the floor. This lowers the
whole car still further and locks the big back wing down. Now you
have reduced downforce, which means you won't be going round any
corners, but you have a clean shape. And that means you can top

That's 370ft a second.

You might want to ponder that for a moment. Covering the length of a
football pitch, in a second, in a car. And then you might want to
think about the braking system. A VW Polo will generate 0.6g if you
stamp on the middle pedal hard. You get that from the air brake alone
on a Veyron. Factor in the carbon ceramic discs and you will pull up
from 250mph in just 10sec. Sounds good, but in those 10sec you'll
have covered a third of a mile.

That's five football pitches to stop.

I didn't care. On a recent drive across Europe I desperately wanted
to reach the top speed but I ran out of road when the needle hit
240mph. Where, astonishingly, it felt planted. Totally and utterly
rock steady. It felt sublime.

Not quiet, though. The engine sounds like Victorian plumbing - it
looks like Victorian plumbing as well, to be honest - and the roar
from the tyres was biblical. But it still felt brilliant. Utterly,
stunningly, mind blowingly, jaw droppingly brilliant.

And then I reached the Alps where, unbelievably, it got better. I
expected this road rocket to be absolutely useless in the bends but
it felt like a big Lotus Elise.

Occasionally, if I accelerated hard in a tight corner, it behaved
strangely as the four-wheel-drive system decided which axle would be
best equipped to deal with the wave of power. I won't say it's a
nasty feel or dangerous. Just weird, in the same way that the
duck-billed platypus is weird.

You learn to raise an eyebrow at what's only a foible, and then, as
the road straightens out, steady yourself for Prince Albert's boiler
to gird its loins and play havoc with the space-time continuum. No,
really, you come round a bend, see what appears to be miles and miles
of dead straight road, bury your **** in the carpet and with a big
asthmatic wheeze, bang, you're instantly at the next bend, with your
eyebrow raised again.

From behind the wheel of a Veyron, France is the size of a small
coconut. I cannot tell you how fast I crossed it the other day.
Because you simply wouldn't believe me. I also cannot tell you how
good this car is. I just don't have the vocabulary. I just end up
stammering and dribbling and talking wide-eyed nonsense. And everyone
thinks I'm on drugs.

This car cannot be judged in the same way that we judge other cars.
It meets drive-by noise and emission regulations and it can be driven
by someone whose only qualification is an ability to reverse round
corners and do an emergency stop. So technically it is a car. And yet
it just isn't.

Other cars are small guesthouses on the front at Brighton and the
Bugatti is the Burj Al Arab. It makes even the Enzo and the Porsche
Carrera GT feel slow and pointless. It is a triumph for lunacy over
common sense, a triumph for man over nature and a triumph for
Volkswagen over absolutely every other car maker in the world.


Model Bugatti Veyron 16.4
Engine 7993cc, 16 cylinders in a W
Power 1001bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 922 lb ft @ 2200rpm
Transmission 7-speed DSG, manual and auto
Fuel 11.7mpg (combined)
CO2 574g/km
Acceleration 0-62mph: 2.5sec
Top speed 253mph
Price Ł810,345
Rating Five stars
Verdict Deserves 12 stars. Simply as good - and as fast - as it gets