MOLSHEIM, France – The Veyron 16.4, back in April 2005, was the first series production road car to accelerate beyond 400km/h. And it hasn’t been beaten yet…
The French luxury manufacturer of hyper sport-cars had achieved one of its development goals – yet, the company says, it was something the public believed to be unachievable. So, here’s the history… get a cup of coffee, settle down…
You’re locked-in by the Covid-19 emergency anyway – a pandemic the general public had also dismissed as impossible.
The first hypersport car was designed, from scratch, to produce more than 750kW/1250Nm: an eight-litre W16 fed through four turbochargers and delivered to the road through a new seven-speed, dual-clutch, gearbox and all-wheel drive.
Success came with a 0-100 time of 2.5sec – another first for a production car. Double that arrived 7.3sec after launch, 300km/h in 16.7sec and the car topped out at a record-setting 407km/h.
The engineer and driving force behind Bugatti, Ferdinand Karl Piëch who developed the legendary Porsche 917, a race car that won the Le Mans 24-Hour for the brand back in the 1960s and also topped 400km/h – 406km/h on the Hunaudières Straight. a formerly six-kilometre section of the Circuit de la Sarthe on which the 24-Hour race is decided.
The target: Make the Veyron faster!
Stephan Winkelmann, president of Bugatti, told The Corner in media release: ”Bugatti has been at the pinnacle of automotive engineering for more than 110 years. With the Veyron 16.4, we produced not only the world’s first hypersport car in 2005, but also achieved an unbelievable speed record.
“Even 15 years later the car remains an icon of sheer power, speed, and elegance in a timeless design. I’ve the greatest respect for the achievement, courage, and will-power of the team that created an extraordinary car.”
So, how was it done…?
The Veyron 16.4 can change its profile at 220km/h. Just as on an aeroplane, central hydraulics adjust the diffuser, rear-spoiler and separating edge. The vehicle height is also reduced to reach more than 380km/h – the objective: perfect stability across the entire speed range.
Aerodynamic rag has a quadratic increase so, at seriously high speeds, a further aerodynamic configuration is required. After months of tests (computer modelling was not possible back then) the engineers worked out the corresponding adjustment values.
Test-driver Uwe Novacki is said to have been relaxed when he climbed into the Veyron 16.4 on April 19 2005. He was, back then, Volkwagen’s lead driving safety instructor and as a member of the technical development team. He frequently drove at more than 300km/h who had been driving professionally for more than 30 years.
The now 71-year-old was also very familiar with the test site in Ehra-Lessien, an almost nine-kilometre, three-lane, high-speed track.
“It was a great honour for me to be the first driver to attempt to surpass 400km/h in the Veyron,”he said. ”I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t afraid, but I did feel respect.
”I was used to driving at high speed but 400km/h was a whole new dimension.”
Only a few drivers had exceeded 400km/h back then – but never in a series production vehicle.
April 2005 was a few months before start of production for the Veyron 16.4 and, Bugatti says, was an important signal to all who doubted the car would meet all its development goals.
The car had two keys – one to fire-up the monster motor, a second to change the car’s shape. It was nicknamed, unsurprisingy, the Speed Key.
It existed to activate an hydraulic system to drop the car into a V-shape, adjust the rear wing by two degrees and to close the diffuser flaps to reduce drag. However, on the first attempt, Novacki only reached 380km/h. A few days later, in good weather, he again put on his fireproof race overalls and crash helmet and strapped-in.
He recalled: “The car was very quiet, perfectly tuned. I could immediately tell that the engine was really giving off a lot of power.”
He had to maximise speed into the steep bends to reach top speed on the Ehra-Lessien track . The problem: centrifugal force caused the vehicle to press down hard on the suspension. Too fast and the suspension would compress too much, stress the tyres, and so make the car unstable.
“I cautiously approached the speed range. On the first lap, I drove around the steep bend at 230km/h – way too fast. I took the next bend at 220 and the car felt more stable”, he said. “Before I came out of the bend, I accelerated as hard as I could to get the full 750Nm out of the engine and was impressed by how stable, how effortless and safe, the car felt at 400km/h.”
AT THE SECOND TRY – 411KM/H
The car reached an unbelievable 411km/h the end of the straight. A digital display at the test site even recorded 427 km/h – later shown to be a miscalculation – the display generally only measures accurately up to 300km/h, after which it extrapolates the speed.
Novacki explained: “At that speed you have to concentrate very hard, know how to read the road and the car. The smallest irregularity or sudden movement of the steering wheel can have dramatic consequences.”
Several times the Veyron 16.4 reached more than 408km/h but in the end the value entered in the type approval documents was 407km/h. This made the Veyron the world’s fastest series production sport car at its production launch in 2005.
“For me,” Novacki said, ”it was a wonderful feeling to have been a part of it all.”
MORE RECORDS FOLLOWED
The Veyron went on to break two more speed records: by June 2010 the enhanced Veyron 16.4 Super Sport – now with 882kW on tap – reached 431km/h in the hands of French racing driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel, once again claiming the world record as the fastest street-legal series production vehicle.
- In April 2013 an open-top Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse set a record for a street-legal roadster – 408.84km/h.
- In 2019 a Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+ was the first manufacturer to reach 482km/h.
Even if Bugatti no longer focuses on breaking records those set will remain forever and will never be forgotten.
Such are the milestones in automotive history.