Bugatti has made it known that it is working on a new Veyron, a fact many would have found quite startling 10-years ago when it was launched. A car with an endless gestation, which crashed publically during development and came to market hideously late and grossly overweight, it appeared to be not so much a car as the world’s most expensive white elephant.
But then I got to drive it, and now that production has stopped and it is therefore, by one definition at least, a classic car, I can tell you what happened next.
I couldn’t work out why they chose to launch the car in Sicily. The island certainly had the right climate and landscape to make sure the pictures were pretty, but were its tight and tortuous roads really the right place to launch a 1000bhp, two tonne, two metre wide behemoth? I wasn’t so sure.
‘When the power indicator needle spun around its dial to indicate the full thousand was now being deployed, it felt like a high-speed car crash played backwards.’
Nor, however, was I complaining. I felt lucky even to go because you can perhaps imagine that the only thing shorter than the invitation list was the number of Veyrons Bugatti was able to summon up for the launch. I think it was four. We flew as normal human beings to the island but were then immediately thrust into the parallel universe that is Bugatti-world, involving helicopter transfers to a hilltop retreat of such splendour even us spoiled and cynical hacks were temporarily less than our usual blasé selves.
Outside were not just Veyrons, but Bugattis from the marque’s pre-war heyday. As it turned out, we were parked right next to the Targa Florio course and, if we so chose, the owners of these magnificent vehicles would take us for a ride up the road. Of course: Bugatti had won the Targa five times. So this is why they chose Sicily.
I was directed to a Type 35T, an unsupercharged, 2.3-litre Grand Prix car designed specifically for the Targa Florio. Even by Type 35 standards it was a spectacularly rare car. Shamefully, I asked if I could drive. ‘Have you ever driven anything like this before?’ it’s owner asked, and because I felt the question open to fairly liberal interpretation I said I had. Which is how I found myself howling around part of the legendary Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie in a stranger’s priceless pre-war Bugatti to the no less famous tearing calico soundtrack of it straight eight motor.
Which I thought set me up well for the rather more portly and powerful Bugatti I’d really gone there to drive.
So off I set in this 8-litre, 16-cylinder, quad turbo monster with its – count ‘em – ten radiators and a Bugatti engineer in the passenger seat ‘just in case I had any questions’ while I was driving, the fact he appeared to speak not one word of English an apparent irrelevance.
And, to be honest, the car felt as far from its natural environment as a racing camel in a doll’s house. The car was too large, the roads too narrow, the driver too frightened.
But then we came to a stretch of empty dual carriageway. Now was my chance. At the time and at least in a road environment, I had never felt anything like it. When the power indicator needle spun around its dial to indicate the full thousand was now being deployed, it felt like a high-speed car crash played backwards. Mad numbers were now appearing on the speedometer too. As for my passenger, he was as impassive as if we were finding our way out of the long-term car park.
By the time I saw the police car at the side of the road it was far too late. He was partially hidden behind a mound of earth, with only the blue rear of his car giving the game away. I hit the brakes with everything I had, hoping now only to avoid a prison sentence. And, finally, a reaction from my gimlet-eyed co-pilot. He simply raised one hand and waved the internationally recognised sign of dismissal that means ‘this is not a situation of any importance or relevance whatsoever’. So I came off the brakes and passed the police car at a speed I don’t feel able to own up to even a decade later.
Bugatti did not, would not and will never say as much, but in that instant I think I found out why they’d brought us to Sicily. And I don’t think it had very much to do with the Targa Florio.
Photography by Softeis, Axion23, Sparzem and Damian Marys via Creative Commons.