The evolution of Bugatti, according to 300mph Andy Wallace

Chiron Super Sport is a spectacular finale for pure-ICE Bugatti hypercars. We are excited for what lies ahead

Andy Wallace may be someone you know for many other reasons.

It was not for the recent Bugatti Chiron SuperSport to 300mph. It will be for taking McLaren F1 up to 240mph, winning Le Mans on his very first attempt, or winning the Daytona 24 Hours. Bugatti’s “pilote officiel” has had a long and successful career.

It takes him less than an hour to get to Molsheim, Alsace, France in his Volkswagen ID 3 from Buckinghamshire. It feels as though he hasn’t stopped endurance racing. The shorter you stay stationary, the better.

Cool is the Molsheim gaff. It was the original Bugatti factory home. Despite Rimac , the Croatian EV specialist , taking some control of the company along with Porsche (of Volkswagen Group), it appears that it will remain that way.

In 1998, the Volkswagen Group revived Bugatti. Group bosses believed that customers would travel to Wolfsburg, their group headquarters, to pick up their cars or to have them serviced. It wasn’t so. Owners of multi-million-pound hypercars built on the site have found a draw in the leafy Molsheim campus. It features a small museum, reception rooms in stable blocks, an orangery, roaming wild deer, and a modern assembly plant and servicing operation.

Wallace drove one of the cars to 300 mph at the Ehra-Lessien track in Germany. Andy, how did that happen?

He says “Well,” with a pause, and an infectious laugh. You could say it’s amazing, but you should really try it. It’s true that it does grab your attention. We’re talking 140 meters per second. That’s a kilometre in 7 seconds and a mile around 11 seconds. So it all happens very quickly.

“Here’s something I hadn’t thought of. We used to play with spinning tops as children. You spin it up and then it has a mind of it own, and it goes all over the place. That’s what happens to a car traveling at 300 mph. The wheels spin so fast they turn into large gyroscopes and the force overcomes suspension geometry. It’s almost as though you don’t have a caster angle. The Chiron, however, has -2.5deg which helps stability. You can correct the car if it starts going left. However, a little bit of corrective lock will bring it back. It just keeps going so it’s constantly correcting your correction. It’s almost like a walk in a park at 280mph.

It is possible that it isn’t, but Wallace’s duties include sitting alongside journalists and customers while he drives this 1578bhp car. Perhaps it’s less stressful for Wallace to drive 300 mph.

As I drive through the greater Molsheim region, he sits next to me. Although Bugattis are still made in this area, they’re still rare enough to be a sight that it turns heads and jaws.

The first Chiron Super Sports are on their way to their buyers. This means that Chiron production is coming to an end. All 500 examples have been sold. There is a waiting list in case any buyers need to be notified if their assets are suddenly seized. This will end the internally-combusting era at Bugatti.

Rimac is the world’s leader in high-performance electrification, and Porsche also knows a lot about it. Although I am here to test drive the Chiron Super Sport, and marvel at its incredible power (it consumes 1000 litres per second at maximum revs), can we also talk about electrification?

The Chiron’s W16 engine produces nearly 200 bhp per gallon, which is something that struck me. Two of the turbochargers have been throttled down at low revs to increase response. It builds and spits in a way that an EV doesn’t.

Wallace says that EVs can accelerate at an incredible rate, surpassing all other numbers. However, they are unable to maintain a high top speed.

He explains that to reach 300 mph in any car you must be open for a long time. You will put a lot of energy into the oil and water during that event, but cooling systems can stabilize that temperature.

The inverter gets hot when it draws energy from an EV’s battery and then converts that to power for the motors. The energy can be drawn out for a time, but the inverter will then reduce its power to conserve heat. It’s not possible to reach 300mph with the energy you have, but I am sure it will come.

Is it possible for a Bugatti to be built with a plug in-hybridised W16 engine?

Wallace replies, “That has always been the case throughout history.” “I believe we are a little too early in this program to know the complete answer. But every time a new Bugatti is released, it’s a huge leap over the one before. And I have no reason to believe it won’t again.”

With his ID 3 purchased through choice, Wallace seems to be on board for what’s next.

He says, “I’m certainly not worried.” “I like electric cars a lot. It’s coming. It’s inevitable. There is nothing you can do to stop it. It’s possible to make some amazing things happen if you accept it and get your head around the fact.

I am distracting them from the machine. On the way back to work, we are on an autoroute. There is very little traffic. Wallace said, “If you find space, go down a few gears and send it.” I did.

What does it do?

There are only four miles between the factory’s location and the car park. Andy Wallace, the driver of the Chiron Super Sport, gets out and I board. He has already demonstrated how the engine produces over 900 horsepower at less than 4000rpm. It can also navigate France’s most difficult speed bumps without ripping its undertray.

He says that we are testing it on public roads because it is a road vehicle. It only has 1578 bhp, and a speed limiter of 273 mph.

The Super Sport is slightly less habitable than the limited edition Super Sport 300+. This version replicated Wallace’s original speed of 300 mph. The interior is leather-lined and comfortable, but mechanically it’s identical to the regular Chiron.

The Super Sport cars’ rears are extended 250mm, which is the most important feature. Instead of sitting horizontally at the center of the car’s exhausts, they are placed vertically. This allows the diffuser to be more wide and extend closer to the body. This allows the tail to be extended and closed, resulting in a more ‘teardrop-like’ shape.

These numbers are absurd, but they do not add up. It can reach speeds of 0-62mph and 0-124mph within 5.8sec, 0-186mph within 12.1sec, and 0-249mph within 28.6sec. The Super Sport was capable of maintaining its top speed of 273mph until the fuel tank ran out. If you could find a long enough track, it would take eight minutes.

These numbers are amazing if you believe that engineering PS2.75m hypercars is possible. I do. Even though I think a Morgan 3 Wheeler would be a more enjoyable vehicle.

Bugatti’s greatest achievement is not the numbers; it’s that they, like other Chirons or Veyrons have an integrity that makes driving the Super Sport as simple as driving a Volkswagen Golf.

As you slip into the driver’s seat, none of this is apparent. The steering wheel, which is quite small and has a thin rim, can be adjusted easily by hand. The aluminum gearlever is exquisitely machined. The centre console is made from one piece. A similar strip runs down its length. Cubbies, door pockets, and a glovebox are all included. The Super Sport’s small, shallow boot at its front makes it almost a grand tourer.

It’s quite loud. It’s not over-simplified, but it is naturally dramatic. The engine is a quad-turbo W16 8.0-litre W16 that produces 197bhp per gallon. It’s not as smooth as a V12. It emits a loud, imposing sound like a ship or tank. There is a lot happening.

It’s still a Volkswagen Group car so it can creep from rest easily. The steering is medium-weighted at 2.2 turns between locks, electrically assisted, and has a good mix of response and stability in the straight-ahead.

You can hear a little bit of the road, which is not uncommon in carbon-tubbed cars that are extremely rigid. The interior is more muffled than, for example, McLarens.

It can ride at any speed with great body control and very little roll. The steering is heavy as the cornering forces increase so it’s easy to lean on. The car is balanced and provides good feedback, something that is not always possible in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Although it is quite wide and heavy at almost two tonnes, it can still be a pleasant sports car at normal speeds.

The car is extremely stable. The Super Sport is uncomfortably fast. It feels almost like a Porsche Taycan Turbo S at rest, but it starts at speed. It makes a snarling noise, and the engine shifts at 7000 rpm before it starts all over again. If we weren’t on a road, it would continue going and going and going. The experience takes much less time than the time it took to read this paragraph.

It is also exceptional to brake. The anchors can be removed and the rear wings will act as an airbrake. This acts like a calm hand for the car’s back and maintains stability. It is a highly capable car.

Its greatest accomplishment isn’t its ability to go 300 mph. It was that it could achieve that speed while being much easier to drive than a Golf.

Inside the factory

Bugatti has a new ownership structure, but it should not make any difference in the customer experience. Rimac controls 55%, while Porsche owns 45%. Rimac is 35% owned by Mate Rimac, its founder, and 22% by Porsche. 11% by Hyundai, 32% by other people.

The Chiron’s successors are 615 people. 300 in Croatia, 180 at Wolfsburg, and 135 at Molsheim, Bugatti’s original and lasting home.

It is here that cars are assembled. This takes six weeks and produces around 70 cars per year. There were 40 Chirons left to be made when I visited. Production will cease.

There are both old and new buildings. The new is made up of the service facility and the assembly plant. The chateau was not home to Ettore Bugatti, although he hosted parties there. He also kept stables and a building for pilgrims. The site had once been home to a monastery since the 1300s.

As we visit the assembly plant, what strikes me is how much work it takes to put together. Knowing there wasn’t a carbonfibre or foundry, I imagined large modular lumps of metal arriving. As the cars are constructed, there are tiny individual pipes, clips, and intricate parts that can be used.

Andy Wallace says Bugatti is “very much part of the history in this region.” “We are dripping with German engineering, and will be with Croatian technology as well. The way of the Chiron is that you get the best wherever it can be found. We have French tyres and a German engine. A gearbox from the UK. Glass from Finland. Leather from Austria. And a carbonfibre tub, …”from Italy.

Bugatti’s First EV

Ettore Bugatti was a big fan of diverse new technology. Because he believed it was important, there’s an amazing amount of archive footage. A company that he founded from his original (unrelated to the car stuff), still produces local aircraft components.

The Type 56 was Ettore Bugatti’s first EV. It was built in 1927. It was designed to allow him to run around his estate, without disturbing his horses, wildlife, and so that he could surprise his staff. However, he also made six more.

Bugatti purchased one of these, made for Queen Elizabeth II of Luxembourg, in an American auction ten years ago to display in his small museum.

Two-seater drives. The batteries are brand new. It has eight of them powering one motor. It could reach 40mph according to our guide, but it is controlled by a crank rather than a wheel.

Whatever happens to the Bugatti hypercar next generation, it won’t be the first Bugatti electric-powered.