The brilliance of Bugatti's VW Group revival
The start of another legendary chapter
Throughout its history, Bugatti has had many challenging times. Founded in 1909 by legend Ettore Bugatti, the manufacturer led the way for pre-war touring and sports cars, as well as making a name for itself in racing. His son, Jean, died in 1939 during a testing accident and the factory was destroyed during the war, but Ettore passed away in 1947 before he could revive his marque. Since then, there have been numerous attempts to keep the Bugatti brand going, but none were very successful - that is, until Volkswagen Group came along and purchased the company.
Romano Artioli, an Italian entrepreneur, re-established Bugatti in 1987 - the company produced the EB110 between 1991 and 1995, but financial troubles meant that he had to sell to VW in 1998. The Volkswagen Group didn't waste any time, quickly commissioning Giorgetto Giugiaro to design three concepts. First, there was the EB 118, a 2-door coupé, and the EB 218, a 4-door saloon, but after these came the 18/3 Chiron. This would be VW Group's first Bugatti supercar; a glimpse into the brand's future. All 3 concepts used the same triple-bank 6.3L W18, producing 547 horsepower.
Volkswagen intended the 18/3 Chiron to be Bugatti's new flagship model; a worthy successor to the EB110. In keeping with the traditional Bugatti style, an element of luxury and practicality was very important. A sleek design meant that it was both aerodynamic and quite good-looking, with some of its key elements being used on the production Veyron more than 5 years later. Despite the use of carbon fibre for the body, it weighed a hefty 1700 kilograms, but this wasn't a concern for the company - the Chiron was, after all, more of a grand touring coupé than a proper supercar.
Some of the massive, complex W18 engine could be seen from the rear, which was a curious sight for anyone who wanted to take a look at the Chiron. Most of the downforce came from a large air extractor at the back, thankfully negating the need for a massive wing. Interestingly, the chassis and 4WD drivetrain both came from a Lamborghini Diablo VT, which makes this the Diablo's more civilised, elegant brother. When the 18/3 Chiron was unveiled, Giorgetto Giugiaro complimented the way it drove, as well as how it managed to blend luxury, practicality and speed so well.
Credit: Top Speed
Unlike the other concept cars, the EB 18/4 Veyron was designed by Hartmut Warkuß, a designer who had been with the VW Group since 1993. The styling didn't change too much for the final product, but thankfully they moved that oddly-placed horseshoe grille down a bit. From the very beginning, the company set themselves a goal of making an incredibly fast car, but one that you would still be able to use for comfortable cruising. The shape of the Veyron was smooth, with the curving lines exaggerated by a striking two-tone finish, distinguishing it from the rest of the crowd.
Credit: Top Speed
Due to problems with shifting, the 3-bank W18 was switched for an even more complicated 4-bank engine, comprising of two narrow-angle V9 engines (based on Volkswagen's VR5) mated to a single crankshaft. Weird, right? This new powerplant had the same capacity and power output, and although it fixed some of the problems, the design was impractical. In 2000, Bugatti revealed an updated, W16-powered version - five years later, when the Veyron was finally ready for production, this monstrous 8-litre engine, now with 4 turbochargers, became the heart of a legendary machine.
Credit: Top Gear
And thus, the Bugatti name was reborn once more, with the record-shattering Veyron immediately launching it into stardom. A central figurehead of Volkswagen, the late Ferdinand Piëch, wanted to own the brand, and greatly influenced the development of these four concept cars, as well as the highly ambitious (but ultimately brilliant) production Veyron. Without Piëch, there would have been no Bugatti today - or even VW, for that matter, since the company was just three months from bankruptcy when he joined. For all that he did for the auto industry, we owe him a great thanks.