The Story of the Bugatti Veyron
It’s a masterpiece of engineering, a work of art that flies down the road at 253 miles an hour. Part airplane, part automobile. A rare combination of sculpture and speed. Only 300 will ever roll off the assembly line. Base price without options 1750000 dollars; an extreme price for a car that pushes extremes in every direction. This is Bugatti Veyron and it’s unlike any car ever on the road.
Nothing about this car is normal; its engine cranks out an amazing 1001 horsepower – nearly twice as much as most other super sports cars. It has a top speed of 253 miles an hour; few other supercars can even come close. The Veyron is a car whose Brakes come from the same company that makes brakes for Jumbo Jets. A car with light speed sensors to precisely control its own wing; a wing that helps keep the Veyron on the ground because the car goes faster than a jet taking off. A car that required aerospace experts working with Automotive Engineers to build it.
Bugatti wears the initials of Ettore Bugatti the father of the Italian family that built extremely unusual high performance cars from 1909 to 1947. Bugatti comes back to life in 1998 when Volkswagen buys the rights to the brand. Two years later the decision is made to build something extraordinary. A car that would have 1001 horsepower and a top speed of 253mph.
The W16 engine
The very first challenge is vast; how do you build an engine with 1001 horsepower? An engine with 5 times the power of a normal car. even more incredible how do you give such a powerful engine two very different personalities; one where it’s a beast on a racetrack and the other, a gentle giant that can be driven around town every day? It takes the engineers five years to find the answer.
The remarkable W engine configuration. Bolt together two V8 engines and create one giant 16-cylinder monster. They call the new engine a W16. It has more horsepower and a higher acceleration than a NASCAR. The engine is built in Salzgitter Germany – one of the biggest engine producing plants in the world about a 150 miles west of Berlin.
In a small section of the big factory sit’s a small room where 8 specialists build the W-16 for the Bugatti Veyron by hand. Hand assembly actually starts with hand delivery of engine parts. Part’s machined out of solid titanium the material you would expect to find in an airplane and not in a car.
The w16 is built with more than 3,500 points nearly twice as many as a typical engine in a compact car. Each of its 16 pistons is curved from blocks of aluminum. Every bolt is tightened by hand and then checked by computers. It takes seven days to assemble one engine.
Building the Veyron engine pushes technology to the limits. Testing it proves to be even harder. In 2001 at a tiny Workshop in Wolfsburg Germany workers run the engine at full throttle for the very first time. The 1001 horsepower number isn’t really true; the engine actually produces 3000 horsepower. Two-thirds of that energy is heat.
When the engine first runs at full power it nearly burns down the building. The two-thirds heat energy from the engine channeled to the exhaust system on the roof was totally burning it down. The waste energy generated could keep 100 family homes warm in winter. The exhaust gas is so hot that it in an early road test a 6 foot flame shot out the back of the car.
The solution is to redesign the car’s exhaust using tested technology- titanium for the exhaust system. Also used for aerospace engineering. The other challenge was reduce the extreme heat inside the engine. So an extreme cooling system was designed. A single handcrafted radiator that has 600 separate grooves for water to flow through. By stacking 30 separate plates into a jig, welding it all together, polishing it and then pressure testing the unit to make certain there are no leaks. It takes 15 hours to build one radiator and each Bugatti Veyron has 10 radiators.
A one-of-a-kind engine will need a one-of-a-kind transmission. So for Bugatti Engineers the next challenge is critical. How do they make the Veyron one of the fastest shifting cars in the world?
The Bugatti Veyron is famous for its top speed of 253 mph – a class of its own in the super sports cars League. With 16 cylinders sucking in more fuel and air than any other car on the road you can actually hear the unique sound of a Veyron before you see it. But equally remarkable is just how fast the car accelerates. The Veyron can blast its way to 185 mph in less than 17 seconds. Faster than the takeoff speed for a jumbo jet. At 185 mph the car still accelerating HARD.
The transmission shifts in about 150 milliseconds which is just the same as the blink of your eye. Bugatti Engineers came up with a transmission with a secret. The Veyron has two transmissions built into one. They call it a double clutch transmission which has 2 input shafts; one for the even gears and the other for the odd gears and also two clutches each acting on each input shaft. With two separate transmission shafts, 2 gears can be engaged at the same time. To shift, all the car does is switch clutches. The double clutch concept is why the transmission can shift so fast. The car can be accelerating in one gear and already have the next gear ready to go.
This is only possible with an automatically controlled transmission. That doesn’t mean a CVT/automatic transmission. The Veyron double clutch system is really a unique form of a manual transmission. A computer equivalent to 4 laptop computers controls the system. Not only is the transmission fast it’s also incredibly strong. It has to be to handle the extreme forces generated by 1001 horsepower.
The result is astounding; 0 – 62 mph/100km/h in just 2.5 seconds. “You don’t know what’s around you, your brain is frozen and you feel just the acceleration”. That kind of incredible acceleration leads to the next challenge.
The braking power
The Bugatti Veyron needs the most powerful brakes ever built for a street-legal production car. And the Veyron has massive disc brakes made from high-tech carbon, ceramic and titanium. Each brake disc is Handmade by experts in Meitingen Germany – a small town outside of Munich. The raw materials are hand molded, baked in one oven, polished, baked in a 2nd oven, drilled and assembled.
The Veyron’s brakes work at temperatures as high as 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal car brakes stop working at 1300 degrees. But even the Veyron’s massive disc brakes aren’t enough to handle the cars incredible power.
With two different braking systems built into the car; mechanical brakes to the wheels and an air brake – rear wing that shoots up to a 55 degree angle, the Veyron can stop faster than any production car in the world.
The wing provides almost a third of the Veyron’s total braking power. The air brake alone generates 70% of the braking power of a normal car. Together, the wing and the disk brakes have a total breaking force equal to almost twice the force of gravity.
The Veyron takes less than 10 seconds to go from its top speed of 253 mph to a complete stop. No other car made has brakes that can do that or even come close. Simply put you can break faster than you can accelerate.
Even more amazing is how the power of the brakes dwarfs the power of the huge Veyron engine. Deceleration takes about 4k horsepower to break the car from top speed down to zero. in its up position the wing helps braking. Lowered it adds stability to the high speed runs.
Building the rear wing
The rear wing is a critical part of the Bugatti Veyron but to control the wing means creating something so fast its speed is almost unimaginable. Speed measured in picoseconds – 1000 billionth of a second.
MTS sensors is a high-tech company in Ludensheid Germany, about 100 miles northwest of Frankfurt. It’s here where they build a remarkably tiny sensor unit for the Veyron’s rear wing. The sensor measures the time it takes a pulse of light to travel down a wire hit a magnet and reflect back as an ultrasonic sound wave.
For normal driving the wing is down. Hit 136 mph and wing pops up to a 15 degree angle. For high-speed runs about 230 miles an hour the wing retracts to just degrees. And for high-speed stops the wing hits 55 degrees in four-tenths of a second. The Veyron adjusts its aerodynamic configurations on the fly.
Without the tiny sensor in the wings the car would never be stable enough at 253 mph and it would be even worse if it did go that fast. It could never safely break from that Speed. The sensor controls the wing and sends the information to the on-board computer which in turn varies the angles on the wing.
Heggemann aerospace – a company that specializes in making parts for jets and Rockets install the sensor in the strut assembly for the rear wing. Then it’s checked on a machine made just for the Veyron to make certain both sensor and wing work perfectly. Heggemann aerospace builds 150 sub-assemblies for the Veyron including the rear and front frames for the car. Certified aircraft builders construct the rear frame out of high-strength aircraft grade stainless steel and weld it exactly the same way they weld airplane parts. The rear frame is one of the most complicated and expensive parts of the entire car if taking about 80-90 hours handcraft work.
Heggemann aerospace also manufactures the Veyron’s fuel tank. It took the fuel tank engineers four year from the design to finish. I took that long because the fuel tank needs to Pump Fuel eight times faster than a normal fuel tank. It takes 3 days to weld together the fuel tank for the Veyron. 250 different parts, 5 times the number in a normal car’s fuel tank. There are 2300 different parts in all the Veyron’s sub-assemblies Heggemann Aerospace manufacturers. Each is piece a form of mechanical art.
Part airplane part automobile; both come together where the rubber meets the road.
One of the key parts of building the Bugatti Veyron would be something most people take for granted but not Bugatti. Until the Veyron no one had ever made a production car tire that could be used at speeds over 250 mph. tires that would be developed at the Michelin research and test facility outside the small French town of Clermont-Ferrand. An extremely demanding technical challenge. There was no tire available in the market that was able to meet the technical requirement of the car.
Michelin offers two different designs; one for the road and one for the track. But Bugatti wishes for one that could do both. The Veyron tires are huge, almost 14 and a half inches wide on the rear wheels. Twice as wide as a normal passenger car tire. Each tire is made by rolling multiple layers of rubber onto a drum. It takes more than one man hours to complete.
Each layer must be perfectly aligned and checked with laser beams in a microscope. One more combination of car and Aerospace technology.
A set of Veyron tires lasts about 6000 miles. And a set of 4 replacement tires costs $17,000.
The tires are shipped from Clermont-Ferrand to Molsheim France. This is where they build the Bugatti Veyron. In September 2005 Bugatti opens a brand-new Atelier a French word meaning “artist workshop” – a unique place were 17 specialists assemble the Bugatti Veyron by hand.
The rear frame complete with its wing struts is bolted to the engine and transmission. The car then ends up in three sections. The rear, middle and front of the car are put together by just 14 bolts each made from titanium and each bolt costs $100.
Unlike regular cars there’s no frame in the middle of the Veyron. The passenger compartment is built with what’s called a monocoque construction. Just like an airplane fuselage, the skin or outer shell is what makes the middle of the car rigid and strong – incredibly strong. The entire monocoque middle of the car weighs only 240 pounds but has double or even triple the strength of an average car body.
The Veyron is also one of the cars in the world that undergoes most testing. Just before they add the remaining body work they roll the chassis into a test chamber. They fire the engine and for the very first time the car’s huge tires feel the might of 1001 horsepower. To complete the car they place handcrafted covers on top of the turbocharger radiators. Aluminum body panels are polished and then very carefully aligned and bolted to the car. It takes about four to five weeks from the beginning of the assembly of the chassis to the finishing and the polishing and delivery of the car.
Each finished Veyron is then road tested on the only track in the world where Bugatti runs the Veyron to its top speed of 253mph.
The high speed test
One of the most extraordinary automobile test facilities ever built sits in the woods outside Wolfsburg Germany. Protected by barbed wire on top of chain link fences it’s Volkswagen’s Super Secret test facility in Ehra-Lessien. What happens here stays here. Inside the gate sits 60 miles of private roads including a high-speed oval track with a straight away over 5 miles long.
First a few laps to warm up the car. Then driver accelerates to about 155 miles per hour. Here the Veyron is only using 280 horsepower. It needs its remaining 721 horsepower to reach its top speed. When the car gets onto the straight away you floor it and hang on.
At 253 mph the car covers more than an NFL football field in one second. That’s more than 4 miles in one minute. At max power its turbochargers suck in the same amount of air in one minute that the driver would use to breathe for 4 days. At top speed the Veyron gets 3 miles to the gallon. At that rate its 26-gallon fuel tank runs dry in 12 minutes.
Top speed is measured by a GPS unit on the dash. So the magic number is 407 kilometers an hour or 253 miles an hour.
You have to learn when, what, how; take the steering wheel center of the road full throttle and wait. The car could actually go faster as much as 260mph but its computer limited to 253. Above that speed, stability could become a problem.
After the final road tests each car returns to the Atelier in a special light tunnel for inspection and polishing for at least two full days. Perfect is not good enough.
Finally each new Veyron is wrapped inside a protective cover for shipment to customers around the world. People who want to own an extremely rare piece of mechanical art. Part airplane part automobile the Bugatti Veyron, a masterpiece of engineering a work of art in its own class.