After years of artfully dodging questions of the Chiron’s top speed, Bugatti has finally laid down a top speed claim with the Chiron – smashing the 300mph barrier with a recorded top speed of 304.77mph, or 490.48km/h. Trouble is, the record attempt Chiron wasn’t exactly the run-of-the-mill model.
Sure Bugatti needed Michelin to provide a reinforced version of the Chiron’s tyres that would be able to stand the rotational forces of 300mph, but even then, to get the mighty Chiron to reach that magical number, engineers from Bugatti and Dallara had to rework parts of the car – a job that reportedly took six months. The result was a special longtail prototype that would become the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300.
Deriving extra power from the Chiron’s W16 engine was going to be scarce, and engineers only managed to up its power output by a relative margin, from 1120kW to 1176kW. So, for the Chiron to soldier through the exponentially rising air resistance, its body needed to be drastically reshaped.
To that end, engineers stretched the Chiron’s tail, lengthening the car from 4.54m to 4.79m, ditch the adjustable rear wing for a static item, extend the rear diffuser, and reposition the exhausts to improve airflow. Up in front, the prototype sported large front winglets and perforated front fenders. Significant tweaks, but necessary for the Chiron to surge unhindered to its 300mph goal.
While the record run was verified by Germany’s TÜV, the elongated Bug won’t be going into the record books as the speed was only charted in one direction. Nevertheless, that single run was enough for Bugatti themselves to call it a day, explain why the Chiron could go faster in places where the air is thinner than the air around the Ehra-Lessien test track, suspend further production car speed record attempts on their part, and declare themselves king of the world.
Even with Koenigsegg and Hennessey stepping up to challenge, it seems that Bugatti is in no rush to do a proper speed record attempt, or stretch for the 500km/h prize that lay so tantalisingly close. Bugatti’s president, Stephan Winkelmann, himself a man obsessed with self-image, isn’t paying heed to the small-time players gnawing at Bugatti’s heels. Perhaps Bugatti has caught cold feet.
Seized by an apprehension that even with the safety preparations and the controllable environment of Ehra-Lessien, Bugatti must have figured out that gunning for the title isn’t worth the risk. And as Bugatti greenlights the Chiron Super Sport 300 with only the TÜV-certified run to show, perhaps they are right in putting a stop to it.
Ever since Bugatti smashed the 400km/h top speed target set by Ferdinand Piech, the company realised that they had automatically worked themselves into a corner. Where do you go once you have established yourself as the maker of a car as fast and as supremely competent as the Veyron? Bugatti explored the potential of a luxury four-door sedan, but the 16C Galibier never quite convinced customers or the management. Unlike its contemporaries, nobody knew 21st century Bugatti for anything other than being a maker of the fastest supercar in the world. In the end, the most obvious and logical answer would be a faster Veyron.
But going one-up on the Veyron and its future successors was going to be an increasingly difficult and costly task. The Veyron itself was developed at immense cost – so over the top was its development costs that the Volkswagen Group reportedly lost money on every Veyron made – and it wasn’t just cutting-edge, its engineers were working in uncharted territory.
Repeating this feat for every successor isn’t healthy, especially when other famed supercar makers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche were easily making a buck while making headlines with cars that were focused on lap times rather than outright speed. Winkelmann himself shut any further discussions about production speed records on Bugatti’s part, saying “We have shown several times that we build the fastest cars in the world. In the future, we will focus on other areas.”
Already Winkelmann has applied the golden touch he gained from his tenure at Lamborghini to produce rebodied special editions, such as the La Voiture Noire 57SC Atlantic tribute and the EB110-inspired Centodieci. But as a brand, it would be interesting to see where he will take it to next, especially in the context of the Volkswagen Group. Imagine if Bugatti’s expertise and budgets were aimed towards developing something a little more useable and relevant to the modern world, while being over-the-top.
What is certain though, is that no matter where Winkelmann chooses to steer Bugatti towards, it better be well and clear of the shadow of that 300mph mark.