Musings on the Motoring World

Bugatti Bolide concept brings the brand back to its lightweight roots

Restrained elegance that belies a beefy beast. That has generally been the best way to describe the appearance of Volkswagen-era Bugatti’s products. The Bugatti Bolide concept, on the other hand, is different. Almost otherworldly in its execution and ethos with its collection of detached panels. Though if you are familiar with Bugatti’s history, this is more of a call back than its futuristic styling would suggest.

Heavy hitter, featherweight frame

Conceived as a “What if…” creation, the Bolide is built around Bugatti’s mega 8-litre quad-turbo W16 engine and running gear. Where the standard Chiron’s made do with 1103kW and 1600Nm, Bugatti cranked the Bolide’s W16 up to 1361kW and 1850Nm. Though power isn’t the most exciting part of the package. That would be its weight.

Where the luxury-laden Chiron tips the scales at a chunky 1995kg, the Bugatti Bolide comes in at a scarcely believable 1240kg. Bugatti’s brief for the Bolide was to be “a track-focused hyper sports car that meets FIA’s safety requirements”. What they ended up with is a tiny passenger pod with extraneous wings strapped to that titanic engine.

Number cruncher

With a weight-to-power rating of 0.67kg/PS, Bugatti’s projections claim that the Bolide would sprint from 0-100km/h in 2.17sec. 0-200km/h in 4.36sec. Hit 500km/h. Lap 24 Hours of Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe in 3min 7.1sec, and round the Nordschleife in 5min 23.1sec.

If true, the Bolide is capable of outgunning LMP1 cars. It would beat Kamui Kobayashi’s 3min 14sec Le Mans lap record, though it will fall short of the modified LMP1 Porsche 919 Evo’s 5min 19.546sec Nordschleife record.

In pursuit of light

Downsizing and skimping on the excess isn’t the only thing Bugatti did to achieve that dainty mass. There is also a fair bit of cutting-edge material engineering involved. The end products of which are both delicate in its construction but robust in its execution.

Take the Bolide’s hollow parts for example. 3D printed from aerospace titanium alloy with a wall thickness of up to 0.5mm, Bugatti claims that it can handle up to 1250 newtons per square millimetre of force.

The Bolide’s features wing struts made from solid titanium, which weighs a mere 600g for the front items and 325g for the rears. Yet it is strong enough to handle the 800kg and 1800kg of downforce the front and rear wings generate.

The push-rod suspension also features a lightweight titanium construction that can take a buckling load of 3.5 tons, whilst weighing in at 100g.

Even the Bolide’s rear frame uses high-strength stainless steel from the aviation world, resulting in a 1mm thick frame that boasts a maximum tensile strength of 1200 newtons per square millimetre.

Change of heart

The Bolide’s engineering sounds like pure hyperbole, though not Bugatti’s ambitions with it. A running prototype of the Bolide was spotted making the rounds at Circuit Paul Ricard before its debut.

That’s not all that is odd about the Bolide. Instead of passing it off as mere whimsy to excite fans, Bugatti stressed that it has not decided if it will put it into production. Meaning that there is a chance. Moreso than many other wild and implausible track concepts from other manufacturers.

Already Bugatti has started showing an interest in track-oriented specials like the Divo and Chiron Pur Sport. Though the Bolide looks like the ultimate expression of a track-focused special, it isn’t going a preposterous notion.

Rather, this pivot in ethos would make sense for the flagship compact since it halted further production speed record attempts.

Return to form

For those more familiar with “Piëch’s Bugattis”, this would be a significant departure from his original vision. On the other hand, from a historical perspective, this represents a return to Bugatti’s pre-war heydays.

Long before Ferdinand Karl Piëch was a twinkle in his father’s eye, the Bugatti name was synonymous with lightweight and sophisticated Grand Prix racers. Sure, Bugatti produced the luxurious behemoth that was the Type 41 Royale and the exquisite Type 57 coupes. But for Bugatti enthusiasts, the greatest car to wear the horseshoe grille was the Type 35 race car.

Forget Mercedes-AMG’s turbo-hybrid Formula One cars, those cars have nothing on the Type 35, which boasted over 2000 wins between 1924 and 1930. The Bugatti’s competitive success was thanks to its use of lightweight materials and construction methods.

Ettore Bugatti himself prefered advanced lightweight engineering rather than outright brute power. So much so he famously called Bentley’s creations “the fastest truck in the world”, as an insult to what he saw as the antithesis to his Type 35.

An ironic statement. Considering under Volkswagen’s supervision in the 21st century, the two brands would adopt heavyweight turbocharged W-layout engines with all-wheel drive.

Bugatti’s penchant for heavyweight complexity wasn’t Piëch’s doing entirely. Instead, Bugatti’s 1990s revival by businessman Romano Artioli did more to reorient the brand’s direction.

Its sole creation, the EB110, was no simple featherweight. The car’s quad-turbocharged 3.5-litre V12 mated to an all-wheel-drive, bears plenty of similarities to Piëch’s Bugattis than Ettore’s.

The last hurrah?

Save for a 1994 attempt in Le Mans, the Bugatti name has never made a return to the track. The closest 21st century Bugatti has ever come to a track car was the Vision Gran Turismo concept, which was designed as an entry into the Gran Turismo videogame series. Not quite the car that would stir Ettore’s spirit from its slumber.

However considering Bugatti’s prospects, the company might not have long to do that. If the Rimac deal comes true, and Bugatti goes down the electrified drivetrain route, the Bolide might be the last great iteration of Bugatti’s remarkable W16 engine. But, what a concept, imaginative yet salient in Bugatti’s historical context. Ettore himself would be proud.