According to legend, unconventional spirits often sketch their new ideas on unusual material. A tax reform on a beer mat is said to have seen the light of the world a few years ago, and many tablecloths in posh restaurants were supposedly the basis for bridge constructions or city maps – at least that’s what is said. However, what was created on an envelope in 1997 on a train journey on the “Shinkansen” Express between Tokyo and Nagoya in Japan is not a fairy tale, but is documented with the corresponding document: the development of an 18-cylinder engine for the later Bugatti Veyron 16.4.
At that time, the former head of Volkswagen engine development Karl-Heinz Neumann was sitting on the train, opposite him to Ferdinand Piech, at that time VW CEO and chairman of the supervisory board in Wolfsburg from 2002 to 2015. Piech had already dealt with a larger range of cylinders in racing car engines as a young engineer at Porsche.
In the 1960s, he played a key role in the development of the legendary Porsche 917 and had even designed a 16-cylinder engine for the Porsche 917 PA in the early 1970s, but according to tests at the Porsche development center in Weissach, it never came together Race was used. With a V12 engine, the 917 won the 24-hour race at Les Mans for Porsche for the first time almost 50 years ago – at a top speed of 406 km / h.
Now Piech and Neumann had an assembly in mind that would surpass everything that existed in sports car construction up to then. The engine was designed as a naturally aspirated engine from three VR six-cylinder banks, each arranged at an angle of 60 degrees, totaling 6.25 liters of displacement and generating 555 hp, and with great smoothness an ideal drive for sovereign sports cars or luxury sedans. Years later it turned out very differently.
What was missing at first was the right brand for the drive. A few months before his idea, Piëch was looking for an exclusive name with a glorious history, thinking of Rolls-Royce. However, after BMW had snatched the famous manufacturer of luxury limousines from the high society from his nose, he instructed Jens Neumann, the then group board member responsible for strategy, treasury, law and organization, to examine the rights of the French brand Bugatti and, at best, to acquire them.
The rest is history. In 1998 VW secured the trademark rights to Bugatti, which had been in the hands of the Italian automobile importer Romano Artioli since 1987. Piëch’s plan: to bring the brand back to the bloom in which it had stood at the wedding of the 1920s and 1930s – at the top of the automotive world. Based on the idea of the drive developed on the envelope and the appropriate brand, he now had a tailor-made vehicle developed.
The Bugatti EB 118 was initially developed – a study with 18 cylinders and four doors. The luxury coupé with the specially designed 6.25-liter front engine first appeared in October 1998 at the Paris Motor Show. A little later, in spring 1999, the Bugatti EB 218 was followed by a second study with 18 cylinders. First seen at the Geneva Motor Show.
At the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, Bugatti presented another design draft, the EB 18/4, which was now given the additional name Veyron and was very well received by the specialist public and potential interested parties.
For the time being it remained technically at the number of cylinders specified in the name 18, the future design in its basic elements was also decided. Piëch’s premise was clear: a Bugatti must be recognizable as such everywhere and immediately by everyone. He was based on Ettore Bugatti’s credo: “If it is comparable, it is not a Bugatti”. At the Geneva Motor Show 2000, Piëch announced that Bugatti would build a 1001 hp car that could reach speeds of over 400 km / h and accelerate from zero to 100 on the road in less than three seconds.
When the first near-series Bugatti EB 16-4 Veyron was presented in Paris in September 2000, the numbers changed, but not the nomenclature. The numbers also provided information about the design studies and the number of cylinders. Instead of an 18-cylinder engine, the engineers came up with a 16-cylinder engine. Two V8 engines were interlocked at an angle of 90 degrees and the cylinder banks of each V8 unit were separated by an angle of 15 degrees. This arrangement created a space-saving configuration. For this purpose, the drive allowed a displacement of more than seven liters and the use of turbochargers. In 2001, Bugatti announced that the Veyron would go into series production in limited numbers – with an 8.0-liter 16-cylinder engine, 1001 hp and 1250 Nm of torque.
“The Veyron has catapulted Bugatti into an unprecedented new dimension,” believes Stephan Winkelmann, President of Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. “With the hyper sports car, the brand was resurrected in the spirit of Ettore Bugatti.” And the idea for the Veyron began with a simple drawing on an envelope. (ampnet / hrr)