Theme : Romance – Veyron The Road To Nowhere

Ferdinand Piech’s Ultimate Car should have been the definitive offering in our romance with the automobile. Why wasn’t it?

Veyron Pedal Car 3

A fair amount of my not-so-uber income comes from working, directly or indirectly, for people with lots of money, so I’m vaguely qualified to comment on this. I have discovered something quite amazing. The very rich are much the same as the rest of us – but richer. Some are discerning, some are not. So the fact that people actually bought Bugatti Veyrons at an average rate of almost one a week over its 10 year life doesn’t really give the vehicles more or less credibility in my eyes.

About a year before its long-delayed release, I was driving round Belgrave Square (an expensive part of London) early one morning and came across a burgundy and black pre-production Veyron being photographed in what I assume was one of its intended habitats. But I remember thinking that it didn’t really look at home there though, at the same time, with its fussy retro paintwork, it wouldn’t have looked at home at the ‘Ring. I admit to not really having followed its gestation too thoroughly at the time, since my own preconception of a modern Bugatti would have been something far more light-of-touch in its concept. Seeing it, my immediate question was ‘what is it for?’, and that has never been answered to my satisfaction.

Why is my dismissal of a car so vehement? In part there is the purist in me that feels it doesn’t fulfil my idea of a Bugatti for the 21st Century since it lacks the engineering elegance of its predecessors. But despite this it still deserves to be judged as a car in its own right and there was a time when the car could have appealed. Not now though. What I really find depressing about the Veyron is that it shows up so many of our romantic petrolhead aspirations as the sad, wet-dream fantasies they really are.

The road South to Antibes beckons, the musical sound of the 16 cylinders fills your ears, the needle rises 300, 320, 340. Does it really? The mega-rich inhabit the same physical world as everyone else and, the last time I looked, the road to Antibes was more-or-less full. So, sociopaths aside, when does this actually happen in Europe, beyond the odd early Sunday morning blast over a couple of kilometres? And don’t give me that “it’s the thrill of knowing you could” thing – that’s the most futile idea of all, a bit like keeping a set of surgical instruments under your desk in the knowledge that you could carry out open heart surgery, should you so wish. Or, bearing in mind the criminal nature of really giving the Veyron its head in most countries, maybe keeping a sawn-off pump gun in the boot just so you know you could do over a Bank if you wanted to, is a better comparison.

This one is better.
This one was better.

What else does Veyron ownership give you? Custodianship of an incredible piece of engineering? Well, it’s highly effective, but it’s not elegant. There are systems on top of systems, all there to achieve Dr Piech’s stated end, but there is no pure engineering that you can physically admire, as on its pre-war namesakes. It’s got an exposed engine you say? Well, you can see some covers and shrouds in a classy looking material, but an exposed engine that you can marvel at? To know what that looks like see the Cosworth DFV hanging out the back of an old Lotus 49. What the Bugatti has are the nipples on George Clooney’s Batman costume.

If you rate a car by its ability to actually deliver its owner what it promises, how does it score? I’d give both a Lotus Elise and a VW Up! 95%. My own car (and many other people’s) 75%. A Veyron? 25%, absolute tops. This isn’t a mad rant against a car that I could never afford, although it is true that I could never afford one. No matter how rich I was, there would always be something else I’d rather buy first.

But am I still missing the point entirely? Of course I am. The Veyron was never really there for the driving. It was a symbol. A Holy Grail to put in the garage if you could afford the real thing, or to have as a screensaver if you couldn’t, in order to keep our noses, rich and poor, stuck to whatever grindstone in the hope that, one day, it would be us on the empty, sunny, romantic road to Antibes.


14 thoughts on “Theme : Romance – Veyron The Road To Nowhere”

  1. Just for the sake of discussion, what did you think of Romano Artiolli & co’s Bugatti EB110?

    1. Of course the EB110, the LaFerrari and whatever the current big Lamborghni that is the Countach’s successor is called are just as irrelevant to the real world as the Veyron. But as the ‘ultimate’, my largest scorn falls on the Bugatti.

      To answer your question, personally I prefer the EB110. To me it is better looking, has better visibility and is probably fast enough for the M4 westbound on a Friday evening. That said, I found the idea of reviving Bugatti as cynical as most brand revivals. Neither Artioli and Piech’s visions concur with what my preconception of a continuation of Ettore and Jean Bugatti’s philosophies would be.

      Although I’ve expressed my personal disinterest in Swiss timepieces elsewhere, I do admire their craftsmanship and I’d like to have seen a Bugatti that majored on that, being both a technical aesthetic pleasure and a tactile one, with every input feeling precise and intimate. Wanting the car to be ‘the fastest’ seems just a little bit fatuous.

  2. The car is a message, a human version of the peacock’s tail. Not really good for much but an indicator of, um, fitness. If it is a holy grail, it is one for, in nearly your words, sad fantasists.

    There are many such. Consider, for example, the wristwatches advertised in the New York Times.

    I wonder whether the sunny, romantic road to Antibes exists. The idea brings back memories of my girlfriend of the spring of ’68. I one took her in my Alpine (Sunbeam) to a romantic site with a wonderful view for a picnic. While we were on winding scenic roads, driving gently with the top down at perhaps 2/10, she ignored the world outside the car and stared fixedly at me. “Why?” “I’ve never been with anyone whose beard I could see grow.” At this remove I’m still sure that the young woman existed, wonder whether the car, roads and romantic site did.

    1. In Germany there’s even a “Romantische Straße”, and I can remember some sections of road I’ve driven along as seeming ‘romantic’ in some way or another. By which I mean that they seemed to comply with a preconception I had of a perfect road. There was a long right hand sweep in the mountains in Norway 35 years ago, driven in daylight at 2.00 in the morning, that I still remember. Alpine roads I find quite romantic, but then I often mix up romantic with gothic and find the odd thunderstorm improves matters. But, generally, roads stopped being romantic a long time ago. As did cars.

  3. There’s too much of a gap betweent the Bugatti’s ability and it’s environment. Only the closed loop of a racetrack allows the car a chance to stretch its legs. And circuits are… circular. Romantic? No, it’s a power symbol. More romantic is a battered 2CV and a farmhouse in the Cevennes. Bugatti’s romance is as insipid as a big Disney castle with way too many banners and towers.

    1. I’ve always viewed the Bugatti far more of an exercise in engine cooling (and to a lesser extent – packaging)than serious motor car. In fact the Veyron comes across about as romantic a prospect as a putative night of passion with Dr. Piech himself.

      Now there’s a mental image to conjure with…

    2. I’m expecting to see a sudden glut of used Veyrons in the classifieds tomorrow after our substantial blue-chip clientele have slept on that image Eoin.

  4. The technology of a Bugatti is quite impressive – relatively speaking for a car. But an Airbus is far more impressive. Though The Veyron is far more Airbus than Spitfire (or Concorde even). Still, quite a few Veyron owners probably have an Airbus too.

    1. I’d rather get myself a tidy Convair Coronado or Vickers VC-10, thanks very much.

    2. Both excellent choices Kris, to those I’d add the De Havilland Comet and Lockheed Constellation – if elegance is your criteria.

    3. G: that´s an impossible test for almost every person on earth. I don´t think that the Veyron needs to be driven to be understood almost entirely. I think there is probably something thrilling in leaping from a fifty story building but I don´t need to do it to understand the eventual problems with such an action. The fact that intense engagement from driving a car can be obtained in a 1.6 litre Peugeot 205 on any Irish mountain road undermines a large part of the claim made by the Veyron. The cost of the car which is a relational value not an absolute value is not here or indeed there. There is also the fact that to achieve the level of performance of the Veyron one must consume so much money and fuel points towards a flagrancy or disregard for economy that really counts against it. In contrast Rolls-Royce does actually give you much of what you pay for in a much more proportionate way. You can´t mimic most of the RR´s capability in a top-spec Buick Park Avenue, for example but I think a Toyota MR2 or Lotus Elise driven on the right road will leave you as thrilled as having done 240 kmph on some Franconian autobahn.

  5. I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said. Sure, it is the kind of thing that someone who buys a diamond encrusted iPhone cover would be right into, and that’s a little bit sad. But thanks to that crazy old man who found himself sitting on top of Scrooge McDuck’s vault, and decided to channel his inner 10-year-old self and go completely mental, we should simply applaud the fact that the Veyron even happened.

    1. Scott. And I see your point about celebrating anything that the automotive industry (especially VAG possibly) puts out that isn’t just more of the same. Putting aside any personal opinions I might have about the state of society, I’ve no particular problem with the Veyron’s price tag. I just wish that the customer’s money (and the handsome subsidy provided by Golf owners around the world) was buying something that had a purer mechanical aesthetic.

      I realise that is a difficult brief to follow. When I think about it, I have the idea of a machine that uses mechanical solutions rather than a plethora of electronics, but when I visualise the hypothetical thing, I keep seeing the fussy steampunk interior of a Spyker with its contrived gearchange. Not a good look.

  6. Have you driven one? I mean really driven it.

    Of course not.

    Experience leads to the conclusion that a week touring around in one would change you. In the meantime the commentary here is as misguided and banal as that of the well known wolf dismissing unreachable grapes as sour.

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