Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 16, 2019

Bugatti Doesn’t Need You, Or Your Measly Millions

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“La Voiture Noire” Photos by Jerry Garrett

GENEVA, Switzerland

The showstopper of the 2019 version of the Geneva International Motor Show was “La Voiture Noire,” a one-of-a-kind offering from Bugatti that was sold for $19 million – before the show even opened. It was reputed to be the highest price ever paid for a new car.

And the new owner had never even seen the car. Only a sketch.

The car itself is two to two-and-a-half years away from being built, revealed its designer, Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti’s styling chief. By our calculation, it would be a 2022 model.

“It is one of one,” said Stephan Winkelmann, the luxury carmaker’s chief executive. “There will never be another. I am pleased to tell you that it has sold for 16.7 million euro.”

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Stephan Winkelmann introduces La Voiture Noire

Was that price obscenely high?

Perhaps so, if one thinks of it as a car, concedes Anscheidt, “but perhaps not, if one considers it as a work of art: Something you might see, in some years, in a gallery, or collection, or at a major concours d’elegance such as Pebble Beach.”

Anschiedt’s point is well taken. “There has never been a one-of-a-kind Bugatti. Ettore Bugatti himself couldn’t do it. Not even his son Jean could manage it. What is the value of such a thing?” he asked. “Is it truly like fine art, or sculpture?”

Anscheidt certainly considers it so.

Certainly other collectible, less exclusive Bugattis from the brand’s storied 110-year past have sold for more; for a time, a Bugatti Royale, one of a handful ever made, held the record for a price paid at auction. And particular types of vintage Ferrari sports cars have sold more than twice as much. But “La Voiture Noire” represented a record for a new car, Winkelmann said.

The details of the sale were not announced, but some sort of auction among the brand’s faithful was a good bet.

“We are lucky to have loyal owners,” Anscheidt said. “We have an ownership group of about 380 people who buy everything we make.”

What sort of a person owns a Bugatti? They are classified as “ultra high net worth individuals” (UHNWI).  They are some rarefied fraction of “the 1%.” They each own an average of 42 cars, a company spokesman said.

Bugatti does virtually no advertising. It has only a handful of dealerships – and those mostly exist, to the extent they do, to conduct the occasional service the cars might need. (An oil change can run as much as $25,000.) A performance footnote: At top speed, a Bugatti will run out of gas in less than seven minutes.

As a form of transportation, a Bugatti is not meant to make sense.

So, Bugatti does not need you, prospective car buyers. Each $3 million-plus Chiron, the only model Bugatti has in production, is spoken for as soon a new one rolls out of the factory. (The Chiron, successor to the iconic Veyron, is reportedly the first Bugatti model to turn a profit for the company.)

Occasionally, Bugatti will commission a special vehicle, or series of vehicles, just to create a bit of additional interest in the marque. The Divo, a run of 40 special Chiron derivatives announced a few months ago, the company announced here, is also sold out – despite an asking price twice that of the Chiron: nearly $6 million.

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La Voiture Noire, rear view

Anscheidt said Bugatti’s creme de la creme, La Voiture Noire, was meant to aspire to even greater flights of fancy: To capture the spirit of the marque’s famous designer, Jean Bugatti, and his personal, jet-black Type 57C Atlantic Coupe. Legend has it that after Bugatti was killed in a 1939 testing accident, his Atlantic – one of four built – disappeared in 1940 while being transported by rail to Bordeaux to spare it from the advance of the Nazis.

La Voiture Noire has a similar roofline to what is known of that rather mysterious Atlantic, including a dorsal fin running down the center of the car from nose to tail, the horse collar grille, and the signature swoop of the passenger compartment’s side windows.

“It evokes the past, but it is not retro,” Anschiedt noted. “As my former professor from the Art Center College of Design said, ‘There is nowhere to go with retro.’ So, yes, I can go where I want with design, to the past for inspiration if I wish. But in the end, I must also look forward; I must coordinate with the engineers, to achieve what is technically possible.”

For instance, because the Divo is meant to have a lower profile than the Chiron, to facilitate tighter handling for race track use, there was a slight compromise in the Divo’s top speed. Both cars are capable of 230-236 m.p.h., the company said.

The top speed of La Voiture Noire has not been calculated yet, Anscheidt noted. But something near 250 m.p.h. (400 kilometers per hour) is desired. To achieve that last burst of speed between 380 and 400 k.p.h. is where the black magic is needed, he added.

“Everything on the car must be perfection,” he said.

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Is this a 400 k.p.h. car?

La Voiture Noire’s design is “something that’s been in the bottom of my desk drawer for 10 years,” he said. It had to be reworked countless times to become something that was also aerodynamically and technically feasible, for a car that will have such unprecedented specifications. The engineers must also work their considerable magic for function, as well as form, to realize the car’s intended top speed.

From a technical standpoint, Anscheidt’s design is said to be powered by a 16-cylinder engine similar to the 16-cylinder, 1,500-horsepower monster in the current Chiron.

The vehicle shown, of course, here is powered by nothing, since it’s merely a mock-up of what the finished La Voiture Noire is expected to look like. There is no interior, no mechanical internals.

“What was shown here was put together in 16 weeks,” Anschiedt said. “I don’t even know if I would call it a concept, at this point.” He said the owner was given the option of making changes in the design, should any have been requested.

“He requested only one thing,” Anscheidt said. “He wanted six tailpipes. Do you know how many tailpipes the Atlantic had? No? It had five.”

So “La Voiture Noire”, as seen here, is but a “representation” of what the car ultimately will be. The actual car remains something of a mirage, much as Jean Bugatti’s storied creation. The company currently has no plans to display the finished model.

“Take a good look at what you see here; I doubt if it will be seen again,” Anscheidt said. He expects the finished version of “La Voiture Noire” to largely disappear – into the owner’s private collection, which is said to be “vast”. “Perhaps his son will drive it someday. Perhaps one day you will see it on the lawn at Pebble Beach.”

Jerry Garrett

March 16, 2019

 


Responses

  1. Hello Jerry. My son (Robert) has gone from a wreck that left a formula ford car look like a black bathtub at 15 to signing for Andretti at 18 and will be teammates with Alonso on Carb Day in May. I was wondering if it was a story worth writing. Gary (gary@onedegreepartners.com)

    • Great story! I’m looking forward to following up on a few of these interesting tales at Indy next month! Thanks for letting me know!


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